I met Rosemond Jolissaint the performer known as T-Rosemond at Fete De La Musique in Palo Alto last Sunday. He happened to be scheduled at 456 University, in front of the historic and beloved former Varsity Theatre, a site upon which I have kept a keen eye (the theatre was converted to a chain book store in 1995; when the store left in August, many people started talking about the prospects for music and film returning to The Varsity).
I was so impressed with Rosemond’s set at the street fair that I invited him to return to the same site 72 hours later for Solstice.
What I didn’t realize until having a burrito with him directly before his hit is what an amazing story he is.
Rosemond is famous in his country Haiti. He won a contest at age 16 that is their version of “American Idol”. He is from the provincial countryside and won the contest with a song he wrote himself about the plight of the common man in Haiti. Or so he says: most of his songs are in Creole.
An American, a freshly minted Stanford-trained activist, met Rosemond in Haiti a few years later and sponsored his journey to the U.S., to further his music career here and raise consciousness and maybe funds for his country. He is 21 now, says he has a music visa, and was living in Palo Alto but now is staying with friends in the North Bay. The gigs have been somewhat infrequent, by my reckoning, especially for someone with his prodigious talent and such a compelling back-story. I could envision him gaining some momentum with more frequent shows and then landing a record deal on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe, Cumbancha (Rupa Marya, Andy Palacio) or Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records. He also conjures up: “Once”, “Crocodile Dundee”, Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” and Corey Harris’s MacArthur Funded reggae project. Could he do a Creole adaptation of Green Day’s “American Idiot” show?
I find the story quite compelling and am researching how viable his quest is and how I might help. (I made only a token relief effort so far, by texting a small donation to Wyclef’s Yele fund, right after the earthquake).
I definitely feel Rosemond made a tangible contribution to our community with his shows Sunday and Wednesday.
I counted about 200 people passing by during his 90 minute set, as the beautiful solstice sky slowly darkened.
About 12 people dropped money in his box. Two bought cds, for $10 each. Workers from two different restaurants nearby first popped their heads out and then came by during their breaks. I explained his performance to some passerys-by. Some asked about the Haitian flag he clipped to the chain-link gate in front of the Varsity courtyard.
A frat-type young dude did not break stride but said “Keep it up, bro!”.
A young Latina woman said “I don’t understand what he says, but I like it.”
He played six or seven originals in rotation plus covers by Bob Marley (“Redemption”) and Tracy Chapman (“Talking ‘Bout a Revolution”).
On our way to my car we ran across a young man named Isiah Perkary, 19, who said this was his first time busking. Rosemond and Isiah jammed together nicely on guitar and violin and exchanged contact info.
When I dropped Rosemond at the station I said to him “Your music can change the world”.
Rosemond’s revolution sounds like a whisper but with time it could roar like the Lion of Judah. Stay tuned.
By Mark Weiss