Amid Haiti's Upheaval, Rapper Mach-Hommy Sees The Country's Resiliency In Focus
Updated July 27, 2021 at 2:58 PM ET
Even prior to the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse on July 7, the country was suffering through a difficult period marked by violence and political turmoil that has only escalated in the weeks since Moïse's murder. The events have been traumatic, for the country and also for Haitian communities around the world.
"What's going on right now is kind of like the norm for us, especially abroad, where, most of us, we send more than our prayers back home," says Mach-Hommy, a Haitian-American rapper from New Jersey, in an interview with NPR's Michel Martin. "A lot of our psychological energy and makeup is kind of, like, split between two places because we have to be where we are. But, we also — we can't leave where we come from."
Hommy's latest album, Pray For Haiti, was released earlier this year on the respected Griselda Records and is already being considered one of the year's best. Simultaneously, a place he cares deeply about sinks further and further into crisis. As a member of the country's diaspora, the artist says he's used to holding disparate thoughts, like these, in his head at the same time. Hommy says the political and social issues Haiti grapples with today were inherited from its forefathers. But, the resilience of those living through the present moment and the promise of future generations give him hope.
This interview has been edited and condensed. You can hear the broadcast version of this discussion in the player above.
Michel Martin, Weekend All Things Considered: You just released your latest project, Pray For Haiti, it's gotten a huge response – and yet so much going on in a place that you care so much about. How are you holding both those thoughts in your head at the same time?
Mach-Hommy: That's a good question. Well, for me, I've dealt with these kinds of issues insofar as political unrest and human rights violations and, you know, a whole other laundry list of other struggles that, you know, one just deals with, you know, as a member of the Haitian diaspora. And it's been like that. It's something that I inherited. The people that came before me, my role models ... my predecessors, they kind of passed that concern down to me. So it never really came as a shock to me.
What's going on right now is kind of like the norm for us – especially abroad, where, most of us, we send more than our prayers back home. A lot of our psychological energy and makeup is split between two places, because we have to be where we are, but we also can't leave where we come from. So I wasn't really shocked by the recent events. This kind of theme is a recurring theme with our nation and our history in the Western Hemisphere.
Haiti has always been so important to your art. And like all great art, it's universal, but it's also specific. So I just want to play a short track here from your latest album, Pray For Haiti. It's "Kriminel," and in it, you talk about memories of hunger – I'm wondering whether the centrality of Haiti to your art is something that you arrived at, or was it always there?
My personal mythology, insofar as the way I think about my origins and when I ponder whether or not there are powers beyond our understanding and comprehension, that influence what we do from day to day and where we go in life – for me, that thing in the tangible form is Haiti.
You say this has been what you've been living with. But still, you know – the president killed in his own bed, his wife wounded ... do you find yourself calling relatives every day just to check on them?
Well [sighs] – what's going on right now reminds me of what went on with Aristide in the early '90s and the whole exodus, the whole "boat people," the whole political asylum. To me, it's a broken record that's on repeat. So when I call my family, it's, like, the same conversation. A lot of people are extremely depressed, more than anything, at the recent events. So I'm hearing a lot more of that kind of talk in terms of "Well, what will become of us as a nation?" The dialogue is always, "What atrocity occurred today" now, and "How are we going to deal with it tomorrow?" We've just been consistently doing this collective crisis management since 1804.
Can I ask you a personal question?
Of course. Yes.
Do you ever feel survivor's guilt?
Of course – a thousand percent. All the time. I think that's something that I live with, for sure.
There was an interview with you that I read where you said that you regret the fact that you don't want Haiti to be always seen in the context of this trauma loop. What would you like the conversation to be about?
I'd like the conversation to be about the resiliency of these people and the untapped wealth of skill, thought, language, art. I want people to know that that's there, even through all the trauma and assassination attempts and ... successful assassinations. And even through all of that, these people are still willing to share their culture. And they look to everyone else, not for a handout but for recognition and acknowledgement for what they've contributed, as a culture, to the book of humanity. It's very valuable to me. It's a source of, like, a lot of my power.
Before I let you go, what is giving you hope for a better future for Haiti right now?
I hate to be cliche, but it's children. It's the children – because no matter what's going on in the country every day, there's constantly blank slates being produced, ready to be programmed for the future. There's this euphemism, "Every day, a sucker is born." And then, every day, everything else is born as well. Every day, a rocket scientist is born. Every day, a neurosurgeon is born. Every day, a holistic healer is born. Every day - a phenomenal musician is born. So that's my thing. That's what keeps me going. I know that people are always making babies, and there's a little bit of hope wherever there are babies.
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