Stephen Thompson | At this point in his life and career, Wyclef Jean can do just about whatever he wants. He’s sold millions in many configurations: as a leader of The Fugees, as a solo artist, as a featured guest on Shakira’s eternal “Hips Don’t Lie,” as a producer and collaborator on Santana’s Grammy-winning 1999 blockbuster Supernatural and more.
His latest project is an endearing exercise in torch-passing called Wyclef Goes Back to School, an album in which he collaborates with college students he’d scouted in a talent search. At NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Family Hour — held last week at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW — Jean showed up with an electric guitar and a pair of young mentees: Jazzy Amra and Jeremy Torres, the latter of whom joined him for a loose and appropriately smooth take on “Maria Maria.”
As polished as the result sounds once it gets rolling, the performance’s improvisational nature gets stated right upfront for the audience to see: “So Jeremy, what I’m gonna do is, I’m just gonna vibe. And just keep up. OK? Keep up with Uncle Wyclef.” Jean cowrote “Maria Maria” with Carlos Santana and others, so it’s only natural that he and Torres would breathe new life into it before our eyes.