During his musical career, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly lived the quintessential life of sex, drugs and konpa. Martelly’s bad boy image pushed to its very limits Haiti’s stodgy and deeply conservative social mores.
We all remember that pink skirt and the language that makes even the most liberal person cringe. He was controversial to the core lyrically and made no apologies. Along the way, Martelly became a handsomely rich person and has done some philanthropic work for the poor in Haiti.
Sweet Micky, which Martelly disbanded after announcing his candidacy for the presidency of Haiti in August, was one of the most successful bands to come out of Haiti in years. T-vice and Djakout Mizik are the only other bands to have attained such success and both of them haven’t been at it as long as Martelly.
But there are some darker sides to the musical life of Sweet Micky, lawsuits, civil and criminals have been filed against Martelly personally and his treatment of his band members leaves lots to be desired.
These are all part of the strapings and pitfalls of being a celebrity and few in the entertainment business, particularly the Haitian Music Industry, can escape unscathed.
Martelly’s presidential candidacy is as controversial as his musical career. There are many people who are focusing on the vulgarities he became known for and his mooning of the public, including then Prime Minister Gerard Latortue during carnival procession on Champs de Mars. Latortue was with Taiwan’s Prime Minister at the time, enjoying the festivities on a reviewing stand when Martelly showed him his derriere.
Now Martelly wants to separate Sweet Micky, from himself. As far as he’s concerned Sweet Micky was at best an alter ego and at worst, a performer who was doing his thing.
I agree completely with this assessment and while we love to call Arnold Schwarzenegger “The Terminator” we never associate his roles as a character flaw. We are sophisticated to understand that he was an actor playing a part and that he wouldn’t unleash a reign of terror in California as governor of the United States largest state.
But where I take exception to Martelly is that he is pinning his campaign and his qualifications to be the next president of Haiti on his success as a musician. Martelly was in New York recently and his aides organized a black tie fundraiser in tony Great Neck. He spoke to me and other journalists about his aspirations and his vision for his beloved homeland.
I was deeply touched but not enough to want to vote for him as the leader of a country that needs to be completely rebuilt for it to become a functioning republic.
Martelly badly managed his band. For one thing, most of his associates were thugs who stole money from naïve promoters with the tacit approval of the musician. I remember one of his managers who came to our offices and proclaimed. “now I understand why Jojo is the way he is,” the manager said referring to Jojo Lorquet, Martelly’s New York rep for a long time. “Michel pushes people to steal for him.”
Even the Haitian Times had its legal issues with Martelly. In 2000, we gave Lorquet a deposit for Kreyolfest when he knew that the band was booked in Miami for that same date. When I asked for the deposit back, Lorquet refused and I called Martelly to explain the situation. He couldn’t care less and told me that it’s his manager and not him and too bad.
The Haitian Times sued and won a judgment in small claims courts and we never pursued the issue, although we could have put a lien on his property. We decided that winning the suit was more important because it sent a strong signal that the Haitian Times, which was barely two years old and a novice in the music industry would not play business as usual in the community.
Martelly pistol-whipped one of his musicians in public because of a dispute. He has humiliated his musicians on stage when he felt they weren’t performing up to his satisfaction. The only millionaire to emerge out of Sweet Micky is the man himself. It’s not that he’s the most brilliant businessman; it is because the lion share of the money stayed with him.
Sadly to say, Martelly is one of the top candidates for the November 28 vote and may very well become president. I wouldn’t be too surprised because the list of past presidents is not too illustrious.
But I urge the Haitian people to think carefully before casting a vote for a person based on celebrity or notoriety. This election is perhaps one of the most important ones the Haitian people have faced in its embryonic democracy. There are billions at stake and the future of the country hangs in the balance. We need a leader that can garner respect in Haiti, the United States and the rest of the world.
I believe neither Sweet Micky nor Michel Martelly is up to the task.