Interview: Rosemond Jolissant, Haitian Wunderkind

Suite903's worldly reach has zoned in on Haiti with an interview with Rosemond Jolissant. A past winner of Digicel Stars (the American Idol of Haiti), he is one of the most promising artists coming out of the country. We sat around, chatted (in CREOLE no less), and then he played some music for us. Besides getting over his shock of flying to New York in the middle of snowicane, from a country where the average temperature is 85 everyday, he was pretty chill and super sweet. He was on a trip to raise funds for the organization that he works with, SOIL, a cause now spotlighted in the media due to the devastating earthquake, which he experienced. We were glad to have him come by and cheer up the office on a dreary Friday evening in the midst of his hectic schedule. Don’t get it twisted though, this kid is the one of the most laid back people we’ve ever met. You’d never guess he’s flying all over the world, recording albums with international musicians, raising funds for his country and still going to high school. All we managed to do in high school is develop bad life habits and sorta get into college. Check our translated interview and a video of one of his original songs after the jump. -Judnick Mayard

Note: Translated from Creole.

Since what age have you been singing? When did you start playing music?
So I started playing when I was 12 years old. It was a cousin of mine who taught me how to play instruments and then I went to a music school in Cap D’Haitien and while I was in school I started writing songs and performing with an evangelical choir.

You play guitar?
Yea I play guitar. I play keyboard and drums. I also play bass because I learned all those [instruments] in school. But I mostly play guitar when I perform because I’m more comfortable playing it while I sing.

You were in the Digicel Competition only once?

That was 2007. How old were you?
At the time I was 15 going on 16.

When the competition was over how did your life change? What kinds of opportunities opened up?
Digicel is one the largest phone companies in Haiti. One of the prizes they gave me was unlimited phone service through the company. Another was a prize of $100,000 dollars and I became a Pepsi Ambassador. That was very cool. They took me to Jamaica and other countries abroad.

How did you start working with SOIL?
So way before I won the Digicel contest, I met Sasha at a Haitian rap radio station while I was doing an interview. Finally, I started playing a lot of the songs that spoke of Haiti during the interview. Sasha had come to make an announcement on the radio because she was a reporter in Haiti at the time. Sasha is one of the heads of the organization, and then she met me at the radio station and was quite captivated when I sang and then we started to work together.

What kind of things do you do with the organization?

SOIL is an organization that works on the sanitation in Haiti and works in the cities of Chada, Cap D’Haitien and other densely populated areas. Me, what I do with SOIL is work with the kids, and we have a program called “Garbage Doesn’t Exist.” What we mean by that is that we have the kids take little things out of the trash and create new, beautiful things. Like they take pieces of plastic and such and make beautiful…artistic things out of it. Its very cool.

How long have you been working with them? Are you happy with the work you do with them?

So I’ve been working on these projects sine 2007. Whenever we do a final presentation with the kids we have a huge street fair in O’Cap [Cap D’Haitien] and we get a bunch of artists from Port-au-Prince to come and participate. The street fair is open to the entire community and the kids have their art show. We usually do it every December.

So do you live in PAP or O’Cap?
I was living in Port-au-Prince sporadically for events but ever since September I moved there permanently.

What are you doing in PAP?
Well you know, that’s where I go to school now.

Music school?
No, high school. Haha.

How did you end up in school in Port-au-Prince?
So, I mean I should mention that Haiti is a bit centralized in Port-au-Prince. Everything that you would want to do has to be done in PAP. Any kind of work I would want to do in music or if I want to work with another artist, do a show, or raise money, or work on an album I have to go to PAP. So I preferred to go to school there and everything became easier for me. That’s why I have to live there.

You were in there during the earthquake?
Yeah, I was there in Delmas 62. It was truly horrible because I can say that’s the first time I ever saw something like that in my life and I was very scared. But then afterwards…I have a lot of my friends who died and family that were injured and hospitalized but it.. really hurts me.

I had family too, in Delmas 18 and Vivimichel but they’re in Saint Marc now.

Yeah? Well that’s good.

What would you like to do with all the money you raise when you go back to Haiti?
Since SOIL is an organization that works in populated areas we’re always going to keep working with these people because SOIL finances getting toilets and plumbing in the areas. There are many areas, for instance Chada. Chada is an area by the sea, that’s kinda like a shantytown with a bunch of shacks stuck together. There’s no plumbing or bathrooms. There’s a lot of garbage and we try to clean up these areas. We’re trying to raise money for SOIL so they can do more in PAP; go into the city and do some work because that would be quite positive because recently PAP has come to have a lot of major problems for the population.

Do you write all your music?
Yea I write all my music.

When you write, do you write the lyrics first or compose on the guitar?
Yea sometimes but there is a melody that appears in my head. After I flesh it out then I can start to imagine something beautiful and write a song with it. But at times I just think of a subject, I write about it and then I put it to a melody.

And where do you find ideas and inspirations for the songs?
You know, sometimes you’re thinking and reviewing events and you see the things that are happening in front of you. It makes you think because in Haiti I write a lot of music that talk about situations of life. In Haiti there are many living situations where there are children in the streets. They sleep in the streets. They can’t go to school. So if I write quite a few songs that talk about these things. The song that I won with at the Digicel competition is a song called “Timoun Yo” (The Kids) that speaks of the street kids. And in Haiti its things like that an artist can draw upon to write about. You see these things happening in front of you and music is something I would say is life. Like if a person has problems that are tormenting him—like the subject of love itself. If the person has a problem that is eating away at them, upon hearing a song about the subject this may give him more problems or it may get it off his mind.

Is there anyone you want to work with? Any artists you want to collaborate with?
Well I finally have a studio in Haiti so I always have a lot of musicians around me. We have a whole house so they can come and rehearse in the house when they want to work on an album, which is pretty important. Like Fabrice Rouzier who is a very popular Haitian artist is working with me. He’s the one that’s recording /mixing the music for me too. I’m going to work in Washington [state] this week because I have a studio that promised to work with me on my album with foreign musicians, African musicians and other nationalities so the album can have a different and unique sound.

What would you like to do with your music? With the success?

I would like to release an international album. That’s why I want to invite foreign artists to work on my album. A lot of them are my friends and I want to invite them to come work with me and put their two cents in on the album cause this kinda stuff is always interesting. Even in Haiti, if you have a popular international artist, it's cool. Saul Williams is a good friend of mine and Wyclef’s manager was paying for me to go to school in Haiti.

Interview: Rosemond Jolissant, Haitian Wunderkind