October 18, 2008 / 12:08 AM / 10 years ago

Slum children wish Happy Birthday to rapper Wyclef

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Scores of children and young adults gathered in Haiti’s largest slum on Friday to celebrate the 36th birthday of Haitian-born rap star Wyclef Jean and vowed to embrace hip-hop to escape misery.

Musician Wyclef Jean arrives at the 2008 VH1 Hip Hop Honors event in New York, October 2, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

In Cite Soleil, a sprawling seaside shantytown in the capital, several young artists took turns rapping in Haiti’s Creole language and said they wanted to follow in Jean’s footsteps.

“I want to become somebody. I want to make myself known and earn my living through hip-hop,” said Josue Morancy, a 12-year-old who called himself “Mr. Jo.” “Wyclef was also poor like us, but he made it. We can do it too. You never know.”

Jean — who was not in Haiti for the birthday celebration — born on October 17, 1972, in the Haitian town of Croix-des-Bouquets, moved to New York as a child.

He rose to fame as a member of the Grammy-winning hip-hop group The Fugees.

He has become a hero in his Caribbean homeland for his efforts to bring peace and education to the poorest country in the Americas, where malnutrition is rampant and most people get by on less than $2 a day.

Jean promotes a movement called “hip-hop Creole,” which encourages young talents, particularly in the slums, to get involved in rap music instead of gang violence.

Several of the children who gathered on Friday sang some of Jean’s songs and rapped their own lyrics.

“My name is MC Mike and I am from the ghetto. I am broke and poor and I go hungry for days. But I won’t lose hope,” said Ronald Michel, 14, in his native Creole.

“My dream is to become a Wyclef. Then I’ll say bye, bye misery and welcome the good life.”

Jean said recently he would set up a recording studio in Cite Soleil to promote and assist young rappers who want to record in Creole.

“I want no guns, I want no violence. Give me a guitar, a beat and a mike and I’ll rap for peace and a better tomorrow,” sang another young artist known as “Jah.”

Haiti, which has struggled through dictatorships and political violence since it threw off French rule in a slave revolt more than two centuries ago, was battered by four hurricanes and tropical storms in August and September.

Torrential rains swamped the country and more than 800 people died in floods.

Editing by Jim Loney and Todd Eastham

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