MIAMI — As the sun set over downtown Miami, 18,000 people descended on Bayfront Park Amphitheater to hear the musical stylings of Wyclef Jean, Sean “Jay-Z” Carter and, oh yeah, register to vote.
It was a surreal scene, the once-ivory towers of fallen financial institutions encircling a mass of people that could very well be a tangible representation of a fundamental paradigm shift in the good ole’ U.S. of A.
Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign for change sponsored the Sunday, Oct. 5 concert/voter registration rally to help encourage people to register to vote before the Oct. 6 deadline. It was the last chance to register for the November election.
Jay-Z also gave a follow-up concert for the Obama campaign on Monday, Oct. 6.
Wyclef and Jay-Z were fitting choices to rally for Obama, as both have represented change in their respective musical genres.
The concert was one of several events around South Florida that drew crowds in support of voter registration, and many people at the events spoke favorably of Obama’s historic presidential campaign.
Despite heavy afternoon rains, more than 5,000 people attended the second annual Pride and Unity Festival at Belafonte Tacolcy Park in Liberty City. The Oct. 4 event, organized by the volunteer group The Miami Workers Center, promoted a message of voter empowerment and community organization to festival attendees of all ages.
The daylong event featured a variety of vendors handing out information on election candidates, health and wellness, HIV/AIDS prevention, substance abuse and other topics. Many signed up to vote.
“We were determined to do this event no matter what,’’ said Miami Workers Center community organizer Aiyeshia Hudson. “We’re promoting voter engagement in this historic election year. Despite the weather, we were still able to speak out about the need to get out and vote.’’
Hudson said interest in the upcoming election is at an all-time high this year.
“This is the first black presidential nomination in history. A lot of people didn't think it would ever happen,’’ said Hudson, referring to Obama. “Interest is definitely at a higher level this year. With world issues and the economic crises, people are definitely talking about this election.’’
The heavy rain on Saturday also did not stop about 200 people from registering to vote during an event at the Oakland Park Boulevard Flea Market. The event was sponsored by state Rep. Perry Thurston as well as the Broward County chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc.
Thurston, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, joined other members of his fraternity along with members of Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi and Phi Beta Sigma fraternities and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in urging people to vote.
Newly registered voters at the Oakland Park event cited an array of reasons for their decision to vote in the upcoming November election. Among them are the national economic crisis and a desire to support Obama because he is the first African-American Democratic presidential nominee.
Other new registrants cited health care and their opposition to the current presidential administration.
Twenty-five year old Edward Freeman has never voted before, but decided to register because of his desire “to make a change.’’
At the flea market event, Freeman said, “I just don't want to see [Sen. John] McCain in office.’’
At Bayfront Park in Miami on Sunday, the Jay-Z and Wyclef rally began with a spirited performance from Wyclef, who should no longer be considered only a hip hop star. He has evolved into a world music artist. In a set that seemed tailor-made for the diversity of Miami, Wyclef freestyled or improvised songs in English, Spanish, French and Creole.
After warming up the multicultural crowd, Clef proceeded to remind everyone that this was, after all, a Barack Obama campaign rally.
After sprinting 20 rows deep into the theater, Wyclef shouted into the microphone, “You know why I can walk through the crowd with no bodyguards? Because I’m just like Barack. I’m you.”
Wyclef performed an original song titled “If I was the President” in which he touted all of the things that Obama has promised or pledged or that excited supporters have inferred from his speeches. It was a bit surprising how well the crowd shifted from partying to politicking.
“If you’re not waving something in the air, we’re gonna assume that you voting for McCain and kick you the (expletive deleted) out of here,” Wyclef warned during a soca music fueled session of waving, bouncing, and getting low.
Arguably the worst part of the show came after Wyclef left the stage. There was about a 30- to 40-minute intermission as the stage hands prepared for the headliner, Jay-Z. This intermission included sound checks and restless boredom from the peanut gallery.
But when Jay-Z finally hit the stage with his song “Say Hello” playing, the extended intermission was immediately worth it.
His lighting? Perfect. His vocals? Crisp. Swagger? On point.
Jay has had better stage shows, complete with fireworks, pyrotechnics and the like. This show, however, was overflowing with energy. It was ironic that Jay entered to a song that says “Say Hello to the bad guy.”
It is clear that this performer has gone through a grand transformation.
In the prosperous nineties, he was Mister “Money Aint a Thang.” At the turn of the century, he rapped about the gift and the curse of fame and success, and retired. Now, as the decade draws toward a close, he has unretired, married, and discovered the power of his voice to do more than sell clothes and records.
“I can’t tell you who to vote for. All I can do is tell you to vote,” Jay said before offering a disclaimer. “I’m not running for president, so I don’t want to feel restrained. I don’t want Barack or his campaign to be tied to anything I do here tonight. I’m just a private citizen doing my thing. Free speech and all that.”
And with that, Jay-Z’s campaigning for change was done, and the concert was on. Jay and perennial sidekick Memphis Bleek performed with energy and gusto. The audience was at full throat, and the energy was palpable.
Jay bought the Roc Boys with him, a seven-man backing band complete with a horn section and percussionist.
The crowd may have expected both Jay-Z and Wyclef to come out and mail it in, much like the rest of us would do if we weren’t paid for our nine-to-five toiling. What the audience got, however, was a well-conceived, well-rehearsed show, complete with horns and live drums.
Jay finished with about 10 minutes to kill. He moved behind the DJ booth and cued up hit after hit, trying to find the right song to end the show.
The effect of this seemingly random moment was to remind you, the concertgoer, of just how much music this man has. Every snippet he played, the audience rapped along.
He finally closed the show with the song “Encore” and a final plea to not just register, but actually vote.
Hip hop is global music, and the men who were once-reviled street poets in rap’s infant stages are now spokesmen for change.
“For the first time ever,” Jay-Z said as he closed, “We can all be a part of the American Dream. We have a chance to impact this country.”
Pictured above: Jay-Z, left, and Wyclef Jean, right. (Photos by Khary Bruyning)