In Honor of Dessalines: Martha Jean-Claude Sings ‘Mwen Gen Fòs!’

Martha_JeanClaude

By Dady Chery
Haiti Chery

This performance by Martha Jean-Claude in 1986 celebrated her return to Haiti after more than three decades’ exile. I met her for the first time that summer, and we spent several memorable hours talking and sharing her best bourbon.

Her admonition then was: “Tell everybody you’re Haitian!” I do. And I pass it on to you.

Martha was a beloved Haitian singer-actress and revolutionary who fought Paul Magloire’s dictatorship and had to flee Haiti after being imprisoned in 1952. She married a Cuban journalist, lived in Venezuela for several years and later in Cuba, where she supported the revolution, raised a family of musicians, promoted Haitian music and culture, and became a treasured figure in the artistic community. She died in 2001 at age 82.

VIDEO:

Audience member.  We came to see Martha.

Interviewer. What does Martha Jean-Claude represent for you?

Audience member. She represents a whole generation. Martha Jean-Claude: for us, she was something extraordinary. I’ve never seen her before, but I know all about her from her reputation. I’ve got her records, I’ve got her music that I still sing today.

Announcer. A warm welcome to Martha Jean-Claude!

Martha Jean claude performingI Am Strong!

Music and lyrics by Martha Jean-Claude | Lyrics transcribed and translated from the Kreyol by Dady Chery for Haiti Chery

Boliva ak Petyon / Bolivar and Pétion
Nan kafou verite / At the crossroads of truth
Pral site Lamerik / Will show America
Pou youn lòt konvansyon / Another way to be

Mwen gen fòs… mwen gen fòs, mwen gen fòs / I am strong,… I am strong, I am strong (2x)

Boliva di Petyon / Bolivar told Pétion
Sa pap pase menm jan / Things won’t continue so
Kankou nan Panama / Like in the Panama
Tout Lamerik kanpe! / America’s standing!

Mwen gen fòs… mwen gen fòs, mwen gen fòs / I am strong,… I am strong, I am strong (2x)

(tanbou) / (drum roll)

Tout tanbou frape / All the drums are beating
Tout gwo nèg yo moute / The greats are saddling up
Desalin moute / Dessalines saddles up
Tousin tou moute / Toussaint too saddles up
Nou pral galope / We’ll go galloping
Sou tout Lamerik / Through America

Mwen gen fòs… mwen gen fòs, mwen gen fòs / I am strong,… I am strong, I am strong (2x)

N ap gade mizè / See the misery
Mizè nèg pase / Our people suffered
Nèg mouri —– / We die anywhere,
Nèg mouri plen van / Our bellies empty

Mwen gen fòs… mwen gen fòs, mwen gen fòs / I am strong,… I am strong, I am strong (2x)

Intevansyon marin / Marine interventions,
Grangou ak diktatè / Hunger and dictators
Y ap fè n peye w janbon / They make us pay for ham
Nou pa konn gou janbon / We never tasted ham

Mwen gen fòs… mwen gen fòs, mwen gen fòs / I am strong,… I am strong, I am strong (2x)

Boukmann roule tanbou / Boukman beats out a roll
Pou nou kapab gaye / So we may start out
Tout kontinan kanpe / Let the continent stand
Pou l fè oun sel patri / As a single nation!

Mwen gen fòs… mwen gen fòs, mwen gen fòs / I am strong,… I am strong, I am strong (2x)

Yo te di pep la mouri / They said the people had died
Mwen te di se manti / I said this was a lie
Yo fè l tounen w zonbi / They were turned to zombies
7 fevrye l manje sèl / February 7th brought salt

Mwen gen fòs… mwen gen fòs, mwen gen fòs / I am strong,… I am strong, I am strong (2x)

(mizik) / (instrumental break)

Mwen gen fòs… mwen gen fòs, mwen gen fòs / I am strong,… I am strong, I am strong (4x)

Mwen gen fòs! Mwen gen fòs, mwen gen fòs! /I am strong! I am strong, I am strong!

Personalities and events noted in the song.  Boukman presided over the Bwa Kayiman Vodou ceremony that launched Haiti’s slave revolt in 1791. Toussaint picked up the torch and freed Haiti from the British and Spanish. Dessalines evicted the French once and for all at the Bataille de Vertières on November 18, 1803. Independence was declared on January 1, 1804. Later Pétion assisted Bolivar with his project of liberating South America by supplying weapons and Haitian fighters in return for a promise that the liberated territories would be free from slavery. On February 7, 1986 Jean-Claude Duvalier was ousted from Haiti. Lest we forget: according to Haitian lore, even zombification can be undone by a taste of salt.

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