Mirlande ‘Milan’ Butler
A native of Gonaïves, Haiti, and current resident of Andover and Milton, Butler, a social worker by trade and blues-calypso singer by craft, is also president of the Eritaj (Heritage) Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes redevelopment in Haiti through cultural and business development, rather than government. The foundation’s latest project, a music CD titled “Artists for Haiti,’’ features Haiti natives and other international musicians, with all proceeds going to Haiti development, in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake there that killed more than 200,000. Information on “Artists for Haiti’’ can be found at www.eritajfoundation.org.
Q. You make it very clear that “Artists for Haiti’’ is not a relief effort but rather a development effort. What do you mean?
A. What I mean is that myself and other natives of Haiti, who have been fortunate and blessed in life and in business, believe strongly that the way to move Haiti forward is not necessarily in rebuilding in the government sense. We believe that efforts would be better spent establishing and reestablishing culture and art. Those are elements that could drive the Haitian economy. Rather than concentrate on rebuilding this building or that and what jobs it may bring, why not concentrate on the arts and culture that surround Haitian beaches and promote those beautiful beaches as potential tourist destinations? That is why the songs on “Artists for Haiti’’ are about the beauty and the art and the joy and the sadness of the country, not about politics.
Q. This untitled album features a diverse group of artists, from French classical instrumentalists to reggae legends Third World. It has a very “We Are the World’’ feel to it. Was that African hunger relief effort inspiring in any way, as you worked on the “Artists for Haiti’’ album?
A. It was inspiring. I’d say that effort, which brought together so many stars, laid a blueprint for how to use art to accomplish disaster relief.
Q. A couple of songs on the album are yours. Your sound is unique. I hear the bubbly beats of pop sometimes. There’s bossa nova, calypso, even jazz. Who are your musical influences?
A. I would say À cause des garcons and Serge Gainsbourg, who were very popular French musicians in the 1980s. There are more, but those come to mind. Serge Gainsbourg had a wonderful song, “Charlotte Forever,’’ which was a tribute to his daughter, a wonderful actress and musician. I have always loved his work, because people also said of Gainsbourg’s style that it was reliant on many different genres.
Q. I have to admit, I like that the performers on “Artists for Haiti’’ are not celebrities. Have you encountered critics who say this CD could raise more money if it featured stars?
A. Not really. The thing is, Haiti is not impressed with celebrity. There are Haitian celebrities. But for the most part, the average Haitian suffering in broken-down conditions wants to live a better life and will accept any genuine effort to that effect. And people who love good music, well-performed music, will appreciate the quality of this album.
Q. I don’t want to get you in trouble with your artists, but do you have a favorite? I’m familiar with conductor Adrian Dupuis and New York-based singer and pianist Julienne Dweck, whose song “Happy’’ is on the album. But I’m curious about your tastes.
A. Oh, nice try. But I love them all. The common thing about them all is they’re full of palpable emotion, full of heart.James H. Burnett III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/jamesburnett.