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Tied for First: 'Gade Papi' by Emeline Michel

Kenbe la, today and tomorrow

Haitian singer Emeline Michel is the proud mastermind behind the greatest song of all time, “Gade Papi.”
Haitian singer Emeline Michel is the proud mastermind behind the greatest song of all time, “Gade Papi.”

Streaming services are an interesting microbiome. I imagine Spotify — the indisputably correct and proper streaming service — as a vast, ever-regenerating jungle. In my lifetime, there’s really no possible way I’ll discover every species that lies within — I’d have to flip over every rock at least five times to get even close. And, even collectively, we don’t really have time for all that. 

I mean, at least for now. We’ll see how that statement develops. There’s too much Animal Crossing to be played.

Within this age of music streaming and immediate access comes positives and negatives. The positives are easily visible — users have the potential to flip over any and all rocks they want on their own accord. You can go from Sade to Sahbabii to Selena with an index finger. The negatives are less obvious and more disputable — most arguments pertain to oversaturation, fans’ entitlement to content and diminished attention to detail. These arguments are solidified, for example, with albums like “Culture II” by Migos — the 2018 follow-up to the previous year’s all-time classic “Culture” — which unfortunately ended up being a nearly 2-hour pay-per-stream vacuum. I respect the hustle, but still. My left arm goes to anyone who’s listened to that album all the way through — no breaks — more than once. 

But whatever opinions you have about the ripple effects of the advent of music streaming, there’s no denying that these services provide a vast landscape. There’s a seriously overwhelming number of rocks to be turned.

And one night, in my existentially vapid, quarantined stupor, I was lucky enough to find myself blissfully lost in the jungle. To beat the “rock-in-the-jungle” metaphor to a pulp one last time — I turned over a boulder, and underneath lay a cavern. Down the cavern lay an array of incredible Haitain artists — such as Nemours Jean-Baptiste, Boukman Eksperyans and more. And here, I found Emeline Michel — the proud mastermind behind the greatest song of all time, “Gade Papi.” 

For the past few decades, Emeline Michel has been revered as a superstar of the French Carribean. Her music challenges the confines of genre, carefully combining savory herbs from her musical cupboard — a cupboard containing a multitude of influences including jazz, bossa nova, blues, kompa — a modern Haitain variant of mérengue — and much, much more. Her acclaim reaches far and wide, beyond the Carribbean — American-based media publications have dubbed her the “Joni Mitchell of Haiti.” The comparison, frankly, feels more back-handed and reductive than a genuine compliment — based in a needless anglo-american centrism and disparate expectations for female artists of color. All deserved respect for Joni Mitchell, but Michel isn't “the anybody of anywhere.” She is Emeline Michel — hers truly.

“Gade Papi” starts and ends as a warm ray of sunshine through your bedroom window. From the whispering guitar riffs that splatter hues of yellow across the soundscape’s canvas, to Michel’s gently powerful serenade, to the jumpy, kompa-flavored drums, “Gade Papi” provides your daily mental Vitamin D supplement. Rain, fog, a dreary cold, you name it, “Gade Papi'' knocks over Mother Nature’s easel and brings summer into your headphones. Her message of unwavering determination, positivity and hospitable assurance transcends language. Being a half-Peruvian resident of Virginia, it goes without saying that I’m not even remotely proficient in Haitin Creole. However, as with all music, you don’t need to speak the language to taste the flavor — and there’s no denying the citrusy-sweet of “Gade Papi.”

But of course, you know, artistic inquiry reigns supreme. I took to handy-dandy online translation services and YouTube comments to come to a better understanding of the lyrics and meanings behind and beyond this track. The lyrics reflect the values of determination and dream-chasing that helped Michel transform her destiny into reality. In the final verse, she sings “Se pa reve map reve / Se lavi mwen map chante” — which roughly translates to “I don’t dream of dreaming / it’s my life that I sing.” The end of the track winds down with chants of “kenbe la” — “hang in there.” Her sonic guarantee for a better tomorrow becomes richer with language, like adding Tajín on your mango slices. 

In these times of overwhelming uncertainty and a perpetual mental fog, it’s important to find your escape. Through “Gade Papi,” I feel awash with the radiant futures we’ll eventually attain — somehow, some way. Whatever your facade of productivity or normalcy — be it Zooming with friends, working on your reading list, Animal Crossing or anything else — allow Emeline Michel to take you, sit you next to her under the mango tree and feel the sunshine. It’s coming. 

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