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25892: Severe: (post) Miami Herald Article on Haitian Radio DJ (fwd)
From: Constantin Severe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This DJ is tuned to different vibe
BY CARA BUCKLEY
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The 'Haitian Hillbilly' floods the troubled nation's
airwaves with the unlikeliest of sounds.
His brow slick with sweat, his breath laced with the previous night's excess,
the disc jockey leaned toward the microphone and let loose an ungodly squawk.
''Ha-looooo! It's the Haitian Hillbilly coming at you for the Haitian!
Hillbilly! Happy! Hour!'' Alain Maximilien crowed in a wobbly Southern twang,
delivering each word like a verbal punch. ``Keep it locked, Port-au-Prince,
we've got a classic here.''
As Port-au-Prince's scraggly rush hour slunk by outside, Maximilien launched
his assault on Haiti's airwaves. He played The Clash. He played Johnny Cash. He
played the theme song from The Dating Game, all the while chain-smoking
Marlboro Reds and jerking his elbows in what might best be described as a Pee
Wee Herman-inspired dance.
Maximilien, aka the ''Haitian Hillbilly,'' is an unlikely newcomer to Haitian
radio, which is saturated by traditional Compas and Zouk music along with what
are arguably the dregs of commercial American pop. His radio show, on 90.1
Radio One, features a schizophrenic blend of country music, punk rock and
rockabilly, liberally spiced with Louie Prima, Bobby Darin, mariachi and,
Maximilien plays the music he loves, and its selection is partly fueled by
defiance. He spent half his childhood in Port-au-Prince, but always felt like a
misfit among his fellow, privileged classmates. With this show, he not only has
carved himself a niche, but he fulfilled a heartfelt belief: that punk rock --
all rock -- has a place in this troubled land.
''Haitian society is very conservative, and I was considered eccentric. It
sucks to be here and feel like you have to be like everybody else all the
time,'' said Maximilien, 32. ``That's part of what I'm doing. This country is
so difficult to live in -- try to be yourself and not worry what everybody
If Maximilien is an unlikely Haitian radio host, he is also an unlikely
Haitian. Light-skinned and blue-eyed, he speaks in an airtight American accent
and delivers his show in English. Factor in his trucker hat, grimy shorts and
mirrored aviator sunglasses, and he looks more the denizen of a dive bar than
of a perilous, impoverished city.
But Maximilien is Haitian, at least half of him is anyway. He was born in New
York City to an Irish American mother from Pittsburgh and a biracial Haitian
father. His father ran a Haitian garment manufacturing business, and Maximilien
divided his earliest years between Manhattan and Port-au-Prince. He lived full
time in Haiti from the sixth grade through the end of high school, but with his
pierced ear and skateboard -- he built his first half-pipe in his parents'
driveway in Port-au-Prince -- he never really fit in. He still doesn't.
''I feel very American when I'm here and very Haitian when I'm in the U.S.,''
Maximilien said. ``I was always very different.''
Still, for all his post-adolescent wanderings and repeated attempts to find his
way in the United States, Maximilien always found himself back in Haiti,
through tragedy, folly or chance.
In the early 1990s, he enrolled in Babson College outside Boston, but his
lackluster tenure was cut short by news from Port-au-Prince: His father, Leslie
Maximilien, had run in the presidential elections, lost to Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, been imprisoned and, through trickery, escaped. Maximilien dropped
out to help his father rekindle the family business in the Dominican Republic.
He stayed three years before heading back to the United States.
Next he drifted between Pittsburgh and Miami, painting houses, working in bars
and cultivating a solid drinking habit.
''Drinking's like a muscle. You've got to keep it in shape,'' he said.
He had the word ''denial'' tattooed along the webbing between the thumb and
forefinger of his right hand -- his drinking hand. This was a little note to
self, a permanent reminder that alcohol should be consumed to enhance life
rather than to escape its problems.
Haiti beckoned again. During a 1997 Christmas trip to Port-au-Prince,
Maximilien met a former Playboy playmate, of all people, named Susan Krabacher,
who ran a Haitian charity with her husband. Intrigued by both the ex-centerfold
and her cause, Maximilien helped run their orphanage for a year. He went back
to bouncing between Pittsburgh and Miami, but never quite landed. Finally,
during a visit to Port-au-Prince early this year, a radio producer happened to
overhear Maximilien sounding off in a bar and offered him an on-air job. The
pay was minimal, but Maximilien could play or say whatever he wanted.
Maximilien decided instantly he would play the music he yearned for growing up
and called himself the Haitian Hillbilly, for kicks.
It is uncertain what Haitians exactly make of the Haitian Hillbilly, or how
many tune in to his late-afternoon broadcasts.
The show recently moved to Radio One, which has national reach, and Maximilien
guesses his audience is largely made up of the English-speaking children of
United Nations employees and stationed U.S. Marines. The station owners, two
well-to-do men in their 30s, tapped Maximilien because they were impressed by
his irreverence and the unvarnished, deadpan monologue he sometimes lapses into
''A lot of people hate his music, but they can't wait to hear what he's going
to say next,'' said a fellow disc jockey, Michael Moscosco, known also as DJ
During any given broadcast, Maximilien might sound off on traffic congestion
(''How does a country that supposedly has 80-percent unemployment have a rush
hour?'' he once asked) or wryly allude to drug dealers' penchant for pricey
trucks or reminisce about past loves (``This is the kind of song I used to make
out to with Italian chicks.'')
Life in Haiti, though, is worsening, and barely a week passes without one of
Maximilien's friends or acquaintances getting kidnapped or hurt. But Maximilien
is unlikely to leave soon. His father, who now runs an orphanage, loves having
his son close by and helps pay his way.
Maximilien was also recently wedded, though his marriage remains a touchy
The girl, a Dominican, is far younger than he is, too young, as it turned out.
Indeed, Maximilien, the unlikely hillbilly, turned out to have more Jerry Lee
Lewis in him than he ever thought.
Yet Maximilien said even this misstep forced him to finally slow down. With
this show, he's found a sense of purpose, even if it's in a country that only
half feels like home.
''Every time I think I get it out of my system, I come back,'' he said.