The Voices of Haiti choir is part of ABF's Break The Barriers initiative, aimed at supporting and promoting projects to aid populations of developing countries, as well as to give help in those situations where "poverty, illness and complex social problems invalidate or reduce the quality of life." The choir members are Haitian children aged 9-15, and through the experience, ABF hopes that they will enhance their talent with highly specialized training, also benefiting a "wealth of educational, cultural and existential opportunities precious for their future."
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The luncheon cruise, which brought the children for a spin around Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty alongside the Bocelli Family, ABF execs and the family of JSSI chairman Bob Book and CEO Neil Book, was just one of many events of their action-packed week of performances -- not only their international debut, but also their first trip outside of the island nation. During the visit, they performed with Andrea at the Lincoln Center Global Exchange Opening Ceremony and Tony Bennett’s 90th Birthday (Sept. 15), the Childhood Foundation Conference at the UN and Gala (Sept. 16) and they're even set to sing at the 10th anniversary of the Clinton Global Citizen Awards on Monday night (Sept. 19).
During the luncheon, special guest Martha Stewart created the menu and spoke to the children about her relationship with Haiti as well as how to make a new recipe – a jicama citrus salad – from her new book Vegetables, in an effort to impart the value of healthy and delicious nutrition. “Bienvenue children! I started to go to Haiti in the '60s for vacations and it was just so beautiful. I learned so much about tropical foods there,” the entrepreneur told the crowd. “My last trip to Haiti was a less fortunate trip and that was right after the hideous earthquake. To be able to bring the voices of Haiti here today is so nice and I applaud Bob Book [chairman of JSSI] and his sons for working so hard with this amazing group, and of course the ABF.”
After a lunch which consisted of tuna and egg salad sandwiches, salad-tinis (shaken in plastic martini shakers) and a “kids table” option of mini pizzas and quesadillas, the choir performed for the attendees, while the boat circled the Statue of Liberty. “We can’t forget that the day we met [JSSI] was on top of a boat!” reflected Bocelli’s wife Veronica, introducing the performance. “And if there’s a destiny for everything, we’re supposed to be here again, on top of a boat cruising in beautiful New York City, next to the Statue of Liberty, which is a sign for a lot of us – especially Italians – of freedom."
“The choir is not only a choir. The trip is not only a beautiful trip to New York; it’s a moment for us to show what we are doing in Haiti and it’s a dream for the kids," Laura Biancalani, President of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, told Billboard. “The foundation was born five years ago, and the choir is only one of its projects. We have a music program for 2,500 kids every day because we have five schools on Haiti, in the most remote parts of the island. Every day we try through music to change the culture, and what is better than discovering the talent of your children, or the talent of your citizens? We try to involve through music the parents and the teachers, but the kids are the most important part. We try to teach that inside their children is the future.”
As the ship docked back at Chelsea Piers following the 3-hour cruise, the young children circled the ship’s deck dancing, as they finished their dessert of gourmet cereal-and-ice cream popsicles, taking turns to hug Bocelli — his mission (and his presence) clearly resonating immensely with them. “This is the result of the choice that I made a long time ago -- the choice to be on the side of good, to see happiness and hope in people that don’t have any,” Bocelli told Billboard. “Of course this may sound banal, but music is part of me -- rhythm, harmony, melody are elements that are integral parts of me. And Music is an instrument in itself, it develops the soul, the spirit of each individual child. Music moves you. And hope is one of the most important things in life, and it goes hand in hand with faith. I think each one of us is called to do the best they can, and the rest God disposes.”
As for the children, it’s clear the trip is keeping their eyes fixed squarely on the future and the opportunities that await them.
“I like the choir very much, I sang at a concert, a cathedral today, at many places. I love to sing. I was excited to sing with Andrea. He’s a great artist and he’s sung at all of the great places,” choir member Djasmy Love Djina St. Fleur told Billboard via a translator. “I really enjoyed singing with him too," echoed Weenscheyster Lohv Nicolas.
As for their hopes for the future? “I want to sing all around the world. I want to be an artist!” said Djasmy. “I want to sing around the world too,” Weenscheyster added.