The pianist’s fingers gently caressed the keys, creating sensual arpeggios of sound radiating from the instrument’s strings. Later, Haitian singer Emeline Michel would sing a song entitled “The Story of Water,” a song about drops of water caressing the back of a lover.

Before she began to sing, however, Michel made a grand entrance to the pianist’s arpeggios, floating onto the stage in an orange dress as fiery as her message: “Haiti’s most powerful advocate is its culture.”

Friday night’s performance, part of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Artist Partner Program, forged a union between the Caribbean Students Association, the Global Communities program and the Alternative Breaks program, as well as a community partner, Fonkoze USA, Haiti’s largest microfinance institution.

This web of partnerships led to a beautiful, sensual evening that highlighted the sights and sounds of Haiti. Indeed, Emeline Michel has been hailed as a “diplomat of music” by the New York Times. This certainly seemed to be on the forefront of Michel’s mind throughout the night.

She shared an anecdote about her love of coffee, specifically Haitian coffee, and asked the audience if they also had a slight coffee addiction. This relatable introduction to her song set the stage for her to croon about her country and its coffee-like aroma.

Michel expanded upon the audience participation, inviting them to sing along with her: “J’aime, j’aime, j’aime,” — I love you, I love you, I love you.  Michel laughed and said that she loved the audience as well.

The goal of the evening was certainly to tell a love story.  The song “Mie,” titled after a traditional dance developed after the end of slavery, sings about the world of freedom to let one’s hair down and dance.  

The advent of freedom was captured in the song as Michel floated across the stage, dancing as she sang, a bright orange flame moving about a cool blue backdrop, representing the hope in the endless sea of problems that seem to plague Haiti.

A portion of the proceeds from the event went to Fonkoze USA.  This organization not only provides loans to women in Haiti, but also advising and mentorship as women start businesses to ignite the Haitian economy.

The program notes that Michel is “acclaimed for fusing pop, jazz, blues and traditional Haitian rhythms to create deeply moving and joyful music, delivered with a charismatic live show.”

This description is an incredible understatement, as Michel danced across the stage energizing the audience while providing them with a distinct call to action.

“Haiti’s biggest advocate is its culture,” Michel said.

The culture that Michel portrayed was certainly vibrant and rich. Her performance provided the audience with a desire to help.  Everyone in attendance seemed to have a wonderful time, much to Michel’s credit as her breathtaking songs honored the Haitian people.

The Clarice’s goal of engaging with the community was a huge success.

Michel’s artist statement discusses “creating [the magic of Haiti] with Maryland.”  
In this manner, she certainly exceeded expectations.  The performance was magical and butterflies of hope for a struggling nation were given a chance to not only flutter, but also to soar.

Feature Photo Credit: Photo by Gregory F. Reed courtesy of The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Flickr.

Courtney Steininger is a sophomore English major and may be reached at Courtneysteininger@gmail.com

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