After thirty years in music, fifteen albums, several singles and a distinction of “Best Album of the Year” at the Haitian Music Awards in 1996, Michel Martelly aka “Sweet Micky” is currently in trouble. The detractors of the former President of the Republic of Haiti accuse him of misogyny, of having a “depraved” behavior as an artist, but also of being responsible for the chaos in which the country finds itself, notably with the explosion of the gang phenomenon. As a result, a spate of cancelled concerts for the “kompa direct” singer following a strong mobilization of Haitians living abroad.
After leading the first Black Republic between 2011 and 2016, the 56th president of Haiti had returned to his job as an artist and he surely counted on his enhanced notoriety as head of state to continue his career. But, the Covid-19 epidemic that broke out in early 2020 came to freeze the world, with large gatherings banned, all of “Sweet Micky’s” Compas music concerts were cancelled. In addition, Haiti was sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire with kidnappings and murder of hostages by lawless gangs, this wave of violence culminating in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 after four years in power.
Today, it is the resumption everywhere and for many artists after this strong outbreak of Covid-19 but things are not going as planned for Michel Martelly who see all these great shows disappear.
Indeed, the ball of last July 2 scheduled to take place at the Perfect Place Hall in Brockton, Massachusetts, United States, on the occasion of the American Independence, was cancelled. The owner of the hall, a candidate in the State Representative elections, made this announcement. According to his detractors, the former President would be one of the main gang leaders in Haiti and they also sent a letter to the mayor of the city, Robert F. Sullivan, asking him to declare him “persona non grata”.
A secret ball in the Paris region
On June 10, “Sweet Micky” was scheduled to perform at the Espace Venise in Sarcelles, a city located in the Val-d’Oise department and the Île-de-France region, but the event was cancelled under pressure from several associations. The singer was accused of sullying women’s image and even of advocating rape with videos of his performances on stage and press clippings as evidence. There was even talk of turning the concert into a brawl if it were held. Faced with this threat of disturbing public order, Mayor Patrick Haddad, after consulting the prefecture and the police, decided to declare Michel Martelly “persona non grata” in Sarcelles and, by decree, he banned him from singing in his city.
However, on June 18, the artist – with his two sons (Yani and Dro) – was able to give a concert in Paris, but it is impossible to identify this nightclub in the video posted on his Facebook page. According to a fan, the address published on the poster corresponded to a parking lot where a bus picked up the participants to take them to this secret place.
Just before this disappointment, on May 18, “Tèt Kalé” (another nickname of the artist) and his musicians had not obtained permission to perform on stage at the “Best of Haiti Music Fest” in Little Haiti. The mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, did not want any violent outbursts in his city because of the angry Haitian nationals who refused the participation of Michel Martelly in the cultural event organized as part of the Flag Day.
A song in response to his detractors
The show of November 26, 2021 at Bentley’s in Brooklyn, New York, called “Black Friday” had been cancelled by “Sweet Micky” (his nickname but also the name of his band). Another date had been set by the band for January 14, 2022 at the same location.
“(…) Mwen di wòch, wòch pa voyé, Mwen di dwèt-la pa lonjé-l, Moun ki senti li pawfè, voyé prèmyé koud wòch-la (…)” (I say, stones, stones don’t cast them, I say the finger don’t point it, He or she who feels perfect will cast the first stone), had sung in creole Michel Martelly, dressed in white on stage but with a T-shirt that says “I don’t care” and accompanied by his musicians in front of his fans who were dancing.
On May 14, 2021, it was in the Dominican Republic that the former Haitian head of state was not welcome at the announcement of his concert at the Hard Rock Café Santo Domingo. Several political organizations and others had then issued a communiqué dated May 13, 2021 stating that: “Mr Martelly, instead of being in a cafe, continuing his depraved, tasteless, misogynistic show should be on the defendants’ bench at the International Criminal Court”. However, the concert where Haitian personalities and friends of the singer and musician were expected to attend did take place. Since then, Michel Martelly has returned to perform in the Dominican Republic…
In a letter to the former mayor of New York Bill de Blasio, on August 20, 2019, Haitian-American activists had asked for Michel Martelly’s banishment from the West Indian Parade organized as part of the Labor Day. They had denounced the song entitled “Ba’l bannann nan” (Give her bananas in…) written by “Sweet Micky” in 2016 that would encourage the public to insert various objects in the private areas of Liliane Pierre-Paul ; this journalist – winner of the 1990 Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation and victim of torture under the Duvalier regime – questioned the management of the country’s affairs by Michel Martelly.
In addition, these activists blamed the former head of state for his strong support to OJ Simpson, the former American soccer star, known for being accused of murdering his wife and a man with her.
According to them, in 2018, to an audience member asking him about the PetroCaribe funds, the artist would have replied that he had hidden this money between his wife’s thighs…
Note that in August 2019, Michel Martelly and his band were able to perform without incident at the Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) which was organized in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Sweet Micky”, a notorious misogynist?
However, this rejection of the man Michel Martelly began to grow, more than three years ago in Canada. Indeed, on March 22, 2019, “Sweet Micky” had already had to cancel his concert that was to be held at the Plaza Centre-Ville Hotel in Montreal. Described as a “notorious misogynist” now, he was no longer welcome but he had already performed in the city, including in 1994 at the Metropolis hall. This time, Haitians living in Canada – in particular women gathered in several associations fighting against sexual violence – had strongly protested against the coming of the former President because of remarks he would have made on the rape of women but also – as politics is never too far away – because he would have become president in a fraudulent way and would have squandered the Haitian State’s coffers. The mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, said that she had asked Ottawa, which manages Canada’s borders, to study the case of Michel Martelly and, officially, the artist and his musicians were stuck in Miami because of visa problems.
Note that the “Sweet Micky” band had been excluded from the carnival of Gonaïves and Jacmel in Haiti in 2018, these two municipalities wanting to protect this heritage and not make a moment of debauchery, violence, revenge etc.
A premature retirement?
All these cancellations of major concerts represent a lot of money that is not earned by the artist. How long will his musicians stand it in this heavy atmosphere? Will “Sweet Micky” continue to perform in secret so as not to be a target of those Haitians in the Diaspora who accuse him of all evils? Are the balls he manages to organize in secret profitable? Will Michel Martelly be forced to retire as an artist? What is finally the place of the artist’s freedom of expression in this matter?
In Guadeloupe and Martinique, two French Caribbean islands, home of Zouk, but where the Haitian Compas remains very popular, no concert by Michel Martelly is announced for the moment. We remember that before and after his term as President of the Republic, “Sweet Micky” had each time set fire to the stage in front of a joyful crowd. What would be the reaction of Guadeloupeans, Martinicans and especially Haitian nationals if the former President and his band came back for new shows?