Amy Jenkins sneaks backstage at Wyclef Jean's star-studded fundraiser
for ghetto kids
[Guardian Tuesday January 23, 2001]
It's two in the afternoon and I'm standing just inside the stage door of the Carnegie
Hall. I've just met Wyclef Jean. He even said hello to me. Wyclef is here to host an
impressive line-up gathered to perform in aid of the Wyclef Jean Foundation: Eric Clapton,
Whitney Houston, Mary J Blige,
Third World, Charlotte Church, Macy Gray and Destiny's Child.
Wyclef, who was only a moment ago the guy in The Fugees with Lauryn Hill is now a star in
his own right - and his foundation provides deprived but musically talented kids with
new instruments, free music lessons and general mentoring.
The kids, here to take part in the show, seem to know Wyclef quite well. A Haitian
immigrant made good from the Brooklyn ghetto, he was encouraged by a music teacher called
Mrs Price. She's here, too, in blouson leather and fur trim, shepherding Clef's Kids, as
they are called, and instructing them sternly to tidy away their empty soda cans. The
green room walls are lined with Isaac Stern memorial posters. It is a historic occasion,
as Wyclef later points out, for a brother to be bringing hip-hop to Carnegie Hall for the
first time. And all in the name of charity.
Coming from another dressing room is a noise that sounds like someone opening a lot of
Christmas presents and having a lot of nice surprises. It's Charlotte Church warming her
voice up. Charlotte Church and Wyclef Jean - an unlikely combo. She, achingly square with
her glossy teenage fringe, pulling "Ohmigod!" faces when Eric Clapton
congratulates her on her voice, and he the hip-hop master of cool.
But Wyclef doesn't call himself The Ecleftic for nothing. He can appreciate an Ave Maria
along with the best of them and, aged only 14, Church symbolises the young talent the
evening is all about encouraging.
At 8pm Clef's Kids are wheeled on to do their bit. The whole thing has the air of an end
of term concert and the atmosphere is not helped at all by an auditorium so overlit that,
Whitney interrupts her set to tell a record executive she recognises in the second row
that she'll call him tomorrow.
Ten minutes later Stevie Wonder himself
appears on stage with reggae royals Third World who are giving proceedings a much needed
bit of oomph with their 20-year-old hit Now That We've Found Love. And that's just the
Wyclef wheels them out one after the other, all of them honoured to do their bit for
charity. Clapton is capable, Whitney thin as a rake, Macy
Gray stumbles around in a blonde afro wig and has her second number cut. Destiny's Child
flaunt their own version of Girl Power as they call on "independent women" in
the audience to stand up and give themselves a cheer.
And yet it's Wyclef who emerges as the force to be reckoned with. He sings like an angel.
He raps in five languages. He steers his way through the show with the greatest of ease,
flinging himself fearlessly across musical barriers, the daring young man on the flying
trapeze. He brings the stiff Carnegie Hall crowd - "the rich white people"- to
The show ends bang on 11. There are queues of stretch limos in the street and much
scrapping among the minions for aftershow party tickets. Those with not much power lord it
over those with none at all, but of course everyone gets in in the end. Gossip comes down
the line that Wyclef has made up his falling out with Lauryn Hill. I'm bizarrely thrilled.
Then I realise I don't even know the guy. Get me out of here.
NEWSFILE: 27 JANUARY 2001