And Her Name Shall Be Marie-Christine: An Interview
Canadian rock star Corey Hart knew that he had someone special on his hand when he was introduced to singer Marie-Christine. The green-eyed, Canadian-born daughter of Haitian parents had what it took to be a big star. “She is unique because she incorporates so many varied musical influences to her sound,” affirms Hart. That sound, founded on R&B with a strong jazz influence, and gospel inflections, showcases Marie-Christine’s throaty vocals on her debut album Walk in Beauty on the Siena Records/ Warner Music Canada label.
Curiously enough, Marie-Christine included a track entitled “Port-au-Prince” on the album, about a city, whose ground until recently she had never stepped on. But naturally, the zeal with which she sings the song and the love felt in her voice, exudes native-level pride. Hart—who wrote the song—attests that this was exactly the feeling he was going for. “Port-au-Prince” is a wonderful upbeat message for Haiti adding another dimension transcending the well-documented suffering that is so often portrayed in the news,” contends the singer-performer turned record label exec.
Fellow Haitian-Canadian Luc Mervil is featured on the song; and he and Marie-Christine make quite a pair. She (er rather the narrator in the song) frantically searches for her lover in Port-au-Prince. As she does so, she delineates the beauty of gingerbread houses, the tropical heat, Haitian streets filled with tap-taps and of joyous urban dwellers content in spite of economically-driven difficulties. Mervil’s raspy voice, Marie-Christine’s hurried delivery of the lyrics, the 70s-era konpa-inflected saxophone are meant to evoke nostalgia. By the time the last notes of “Port-au-Prince are sung, it is apparent that something more than a lover’s reunion has taken place; a celebration has ensued of newly found identity.
No less than Stevie Wonder is featured on her song “Keep on Running”. Yes, that Stevie Wonder (do you know of any others?). Walk in Beauty is sectioned off into two parts: Red Soul and Blue Soul. Not surprisingly a furnace-hot rendition of Prince’s “Wanna Be Your Lover” is featured on the album, along with “Girl in the Shades”, a remake of 80s hit “Sunglasses at Night” originally recorded by well, Corey Hart.
“Grey on a Sunny Day” addresses the issue of depression. A woman feels unexpected blues on what should have been happy days. With so much denial existing about depression and mental illness in so many cultures, this song really touches a chord—no pun intended. The blues can transform into yellows and reds and if not, that’s just fine.
You’re the protegée of Canadian rock star Corey Hart. A friend of mine, Michael Litresits, musical director and producer in Montreal, often works with Corey Hart on different projets. So when Michael heard that Corey was looking for a singer to sign on his new label, he sent my demo, simple piano/vocal of Aretha’s classic “Natural Woman”. Corey liked what he heard, and, soon after, we met and connected. It wasn’t long before we tried some songs in studio and came to a recording agreement. Our collaboration created the album Walk in Beauty—a nice mixture of soul and pop.
One of the tracks on the album “Keep on Running” features none other than Stevie Wonder. When Corey Hart and I started working on the songs for my album, I wanted to cover a Stevie Wonder song but I didn’t want to do what had already been done. So after doing some research I fell in love with “Keep on Running”. Funky and groovy tune. Little did I know that Corey had contacted Stevie’s team to see if he’d be interested in collaborating on my album. I couldn’t believe it when I heard that he liked my voice and wanted to do something on my album!! Another dream came true for me! It’s unreal and I’m so honored!
That song “A Little Grey On A Sunny Side” that you wrote for the album. How did it come to life? Not every song I write comes from a real story but for this one it’s very autobiographical. It was one of those days that for no particular reason I wasn’t in good spirits. Woke up on the wrong side of the bed. So instead of wasting time feeling bad, I decided to go sit at the piano and work some music therapy!
You grew up listening to your father’s classical music. Why do you think that in the end you gravitated towards a more R&B and gospel sound? It’s true that I listened to a lot of classical music and even studied classical piano for 14 years. But all that time I also listened to Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, En Vogue, Michael Jackson et cetera. So I’m basically a music lover period. I listen to all kind of genres. But what I always loved singing the most is Soul music. Still, I’m glad I have classical training because it proved to be very useful in the course of my career.
You recently visited Haiti for the first time. What was it like? I’ve been wanting to go to Haiti for a long time, so when I finally got there last April, I was very moved because I was realizing a dream. I got to visit the cities where my parents were born, my dad in Pétionville and my mom from Les Cayes. I imagined in my mind what it was like to grow up there. Everyone I met was so nice, welcoming and generous. I think it’s no coincidence that it took so long for me to go because I could really appreciate every moment. This was the first trip to Haiti, but definitely not the last.
Did your parents ever promise to take you prior? My parents haven’t been back to Haiti in many years, but always cherished the dream of going back. I think with everything we see in the news and media they were a bit discouraged. Now I feel that has changed since I’ve come back from Haiti. I showed them my pictures and videos. I’ve told them many stories and shared my memories, so it’s no secret to them that I really enjoyed my trip. To my pleasant surprise, my dad is going back to Haiti this month after almost 20 years! I can’t help but feel that my taking the step to go had a little something to do with it.
When “Port-au-Prince” was written, you had not yet landed in Haiti. Corey Hart wrote Port-au-Prince as an ode to my haitian roots. He knew it was something I was very proud of. He wanted to write a love story taking place in Haiti because too often we hear negative things associated with this country. So this was an opportunity to send a message a love. I was immediately sold on the idea. But since I’ve gone to Haiti, this song has a totally different meaning. This is no longer a love story between a man and a woman but in fact the love story between me and Haiti—Port-au-Prince.
What did you think of the musical scene there? And will you be collaborating with any Haitian artists that you met in Haiti? My main goal on this first trip was to visit and get a pulse for this caribbean pearl. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to scope out the music scene much. But I know that music is a very important part of the haitian people. I knew that even before my trip. I did get to do two small shows while I was there though, one in a nursing school in Leogane and the other in Belot near Kenscoff at the Montcel Hotel. I received a very warm welcome and I look forward to performing in Haiti again. I also got the chance to collaborate with a Haitian artist that creates art with what he finds in the streets—-tires, metal, cans et cetera. Now that’s raw creativity at its best. His name is André Eugene, you get a glimpse of him in my latest music video shot in Haiti of the song “Port-au-Prince”. He and I along with locals from the area are painting a typical Haitian symbol “kafou” [crossroads] on a wall at the end of the video. Magical moment.
What’s the best thing about being Haitian? I’ve always been very proud to be Haitian but since I’ve been back from Haiti I’m even more proud because I see how resilient the people are there and how they find a way to smile even if their life conditions aren’t ideal. That is the greatest example of hope I’ve seen. I saw first hand how creative they were on a daily basis to find ways to provide for their family. The spirit of the Haitian people is very inspiring. And don’t get me started on the food!! Haha…I looooove Haitian food and love cooking it too. I tasted fruits there I never even knew existed. Eating a mango in Haiti is an experience in itself. It’s actually the first thing I did after landing in Port-au-Prince.
What do you have planned for your next album? I’ve started writing for my second album and I feel like I’m going to reveal even more of myself to the listeners. It will have a sensual vibe and also I will push and explore more of the soul blues and funk styles.
How does one walk in beauty? To me walking in beauty is living peacefully, with respect of yourself and others. Doing good things for people just because. That’s where real happiness comes from. Not from the material things we own or buy but from the moments we share with the people that surround us. It’s basically the philosophy of good karma: “Love is the true pursuit of the body whole.”