More On Wyclef Benefit Show...

[From New York Newsday]

For Wyclef Jean, Music Is His Message
Rap artist hosts a multicultural benefit for kids at Carnegie

by Glenn Gamboa
Staff Writer

RAPPER WYCLEF JEAN'S wildly ambitious benefit ended with the stage filled with many of today's music elite singing "Guantanemera," the aisles of Carnegie Hall overflowed with a Brazilian drum corps and African dance troupes and a packed audience cheering for more.

"We're going to try to mix every culture in here tonight," said Jean, who served as the evening's host and featured performer. "I'm going to try to show what music is really all about. It's universal, really." Jean certainly tried his best. Parts of the nearly three-hour concert, the first- ever rapper-headlined show at Carnegie Hall, were brilliant, as he stretched hip- hop's boundaries, infusing Bach's "Double Concerto" with a big backbeat and scratching through a hip-hop version of "Summertime" with Charlotte Church. However, others missed the mark, especially since stars such as Marc Anthony and Stevie Wonder didn't even get to perform an entire song.

Whitney Houston's appearance was a highlight, as she moved easily from the gospel standard "I Go to the Rock" to the Jean-penned "My Love Is Your Love." Dressed in a  black-beaded pantsuit, Houston was in fine voice and seemed to be in good spirits as she musically sparred with Jean and the singing group Sunday, even though she did not return for the finale.

Eric Clapton's reggae version of "Wonderful Tonight" was excellent, though "My Song," a new duet with Clapton that Jean wrote for the evening, needed some work. Jean and Mary J. Blige brought down the house with a strong version of their current hit, "911." Though Destiny's Child got the crowd moving with the mega-hits "Say My Name" and "Independent Women," the trio's choice to perform to backing tapes instead of using a live band seemed like a missed opportunity. Because the group flew in from performing at a pre-inaugural concert for President George W. Bush, it played late in the show, which slowed the momentum building after Jean figured out how to best use the performances from the children in his foundation.

Jean had just started to hit his stride. Great collaborations were rolling out at that point, with a great version of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" with Macy Gray and an impressive, orchestral version of "Gone 'til November" that included an amusing freestyle rap by Wonder, who also livened up Third World's version of "Now That We've Found Love." Jean did not let the audience, which included J Records president Clive Davis and supermodel Naomi Campbell, forget about the uniqueness of the evening, regularly referring to how few blacks make it to Carnegie Hall. He also made sure politics was on people's minds.

"Count the votes," said Wonder, which Jean agreed with, adding later, amid an ongoing rant against Carnegie Hall's union restrictions, that "Y'all need to leave Jesse Jackson alone." Jean's rebellion was far more than the jokes. It was his breakdancing with the Rock Steady Crew on the Carnegie Hall stage. It was getting the crowd to "raise the roof" and wave their hands in the air.

The evening's message was simple: Music can change the world. It helped Jean rise from a Haitian refugee living in Brooklyn to a growing musical force - "I am the new Clive Davis," he declared at one point-and a social force through his foundation.

Future benefits will likely run better, making it easier for him to reach his goal of using music to change the lives of underprivileged kids. That belief is a wonderful star of any evening.



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