Jason Derulo On Going From Pop Superstar To Philanthropist With Haiti Gala

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In this June 2, 2018 photo, U.S. singer Jason Derulo poses for a photo at the MTV MIAW awards in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Berenice Bautista)

Jason Derulo is about to hop on a plane from New York to Los Angeles when we speak on the morning the platinum singer has released his latest smash, “Goodbye,” a collaboration with David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj and Willy Williams.

While he has a lot on his plate, filming a video for the track, promotional stops, etc, his heart and head are firmly in Haiti when we speak on this day. Derulo, a Haitian-American, is holding his first-ever “Heart Of Haiti Gala” in Los Angeles September 6.

Featuring performances by Derulo. Shaggy and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard, the seated dinner event is a major step for Derulo, who sees it as a responsibility to give back to the country his family comes from.

I spoke with Derulo about how an insult to Haiti by Trump motivated him to put on the event he had been wanting to do for years, booking his friends for the show, what he wants people to know about Haiti and his dream headliner for the gala going forward.

Steve Baltin: Where are you this morning?

Jason Derulo: I’m in New York City. We had the launch for my song today, so I made a couple of rounds to radio and shot some of the music video last night here.

Baltin: For “Goodbye”?

Derulo: It’s for “Goodbye,” the video is not out yet. It’ll be a while.

Baltin: Does it have a very NY feel?

Derulo: Actually not at all. It has a very island feel. It feels very party and, as you can imagine, the clash of worlds with David [Guetta], myself, Nicki [Minaj] and Willy [Williams] we all come from very different places, but it all meshes so chaotically well.

Baltin: Talk about how it inspires you getting to work with all those different artists.

Derulo: It’s always amazing to come together with other talented people and other big personalities too. It’s not like you’re working with people that blend in. You’re talking about some of the most influential people in the world. So it’s amazing, because like you said everybody has their own thing. And when I’m creating a song I have a specific vision in mind. And you can never know what the ending product is. So that’s always the fun part, you start an idea and you have a picture in your mind, you start in a room by yourself and it ends up being this whole other thing after everybody has done their thing. It’s really cool. I’ve never had a song with this many collaborations, I gotta say it’s exciting. It feels like a very world record and I feel part of that reason why is we come from so many different places.

Baltin: Do you see yourself wanting to work with more collaborators like this or this song lent itself to that?

Derulo: I probably won’t continue to do songs like this. I think there’s only space enough for one of those kind of songs on a project. So I probably won’t be doing that, but it’s fun to come together for a music video like that as well. It’s something really cool to see it all come together. Our performance might not need backup dancers. We might fill up the whole stage.

Baltin: Moving to the event, do you feel like you’re at the point you can use your name for good and it’s part of the inspiration for starting this event?

Derulo: I think it’s important as a human being to help others. I believe in my heart of hearts if I was a teacher I would have the same goals. The fact that I’m a musician and I have a platform and a stage and a voice, so to speak, is just a cherry on top. It’s added bonus and it makes things easier. But I don’t think I’m doing it because of who I am. I’d have the same heart if I decided to have another career. I’ve been so blessed in my life. And I always wondered where my big impact would be humanitarian wise. And I wrestled with myself for years and years where my place was and what the perfect situation was. Finally one day I was like, “I can’t wait another day, I’m starting today. I’m gonna put a gala on and I’m going to start a benefit based on my home country, one, but also people that are less fortunate around the world.” And that’s what it took.

Baltin: Where does your philanthropic bent come from?

Derulo: It’s something I always wanted to do because I grew up in a household where it was the norm. My grandmother was a very charitable woman and my mother grew up that way. So we grew up that way as well. We would get up on Sunday mornings. My mom would fill up these bags with clothes we didn’t feel we needed and I’m like, “Why are we doing this?” Then we get to a location and we’re giving our clothes to the less fortunate or waking up on a Saturday morning, my mom is cooking pasta, pasta, pasta, boom, we’d take those pasta bowls to the homeless. Feeding the homeless at a young age I’m getting to see the impact that a plate of food means to somebody. I grew up in that environment. So with this concert it’s been interesting reaching out to people for a different reason. It’s not to come to a party or get on a song. It’s for a great cause and it’s really incredible to see the response.

Baltin: Are there artists you really have looked to or learned a lot from in how they balance music and philanthropy?

Derulo: I visited Sean Penn’s work in Haiti firsthand. It was really impressive what I’ve seen. I didn’t know what to expect. I was going into it blind. And I really admired the work he did. And for a country that’s so close to my heart, obviously it strikes a different chord. It’s one thing to do something for a place just because that place is suffering. But it’s another thing to feel the same pain because essentially you’re from there and those are your people, they’re family. So I feel like it’s my responsibility. It’s much more than me wanting to lend a hand. I feel I’m responsible to a degree for the Haitian culture. I wake up in the morning and I think and I’m strategizing on what the next steps are because I feel like I have to. I feel like God gave me a gift for a reason. It’s not because I was necessarily inspired by another artist, but because I feel the need.

Baltin: What finally made you say, “This is the day?”

Derulo: I’ll tell you exactly what it is specifically. It’s when Trump called Haiti a “S**thole country.”

Baltin: It’s so great that rather than get into a war on social media you took action. Talk about the importance of being a role model for people who aren’t sure what to do or how to help.

Derulo: I think it’s difficult starting somewhere. And I think we don’t get started for different reasons. We don’t get started cause we’re looking for the perfect thing. And also think we don’t get started because we don’t think what we’re doing it is worth enough. But every penny counts, every bit of effort counts. It all counts. And I think if you start somewhere it’s like a snowball effect. It’ll continue to grow until that small impact that you started with becomes a huge one.

Baltin: You have Shaggy there and Tyler [Hubbard] from Florida Georgia Line. Talk about the talent for this night.

Derulo: Reaching out to friends of mine, it was a no-brainer and they have the same feeling, just wanting to do something right now. And I think this was a perfect start for them. This event is the start for me. But why not just give a performance and start there? It doesn’t necessarily have to be your night for you to make a large difference. Having them there is so helpful, man. I couldn’t ask for a better pair. For those artists to come out and perform at this gala I am so super thankful. Most galas I’ve ever been to I’ve been one performer. I’ve performed at some of the largest ones in the world. So it’s not all the time where you go and get a trifecta like that. So for all our guests to come and receive this treat, I’m thankful because I know people are gonna want to come back the next year. “Who’s gonna do it next year? We had so much fun this time, what’s gonna happen next year?” I want this to be an annual thing. I want this to grow and grow and grow until we change the world.

Baltin: Who is the dream artist for you to do the gala in the future?

Derulo: I’d love to have Stevie [Wonder], man. I’d love for Stevie to come out and perform. He’s just incredible. I’d love J. Lo to come out. The lost can go on and on. Anybody that I’m a fan of. I’m a very normal guy, like I’m an average dude. All the big legends, Earth, Wind & Fire, Justin Timberlake. I can go on and on.

Baltin: What Stevie song would you want to do with him?

Derulo: “Ribbon In The Sky,” you gotta do your favorite song, right?

Baltin: What is the most important thing you want people to learn about Haiti from the event?

Derulo: The most important thing I want people to know about Haiti is the fact that we have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and there is such an opportunity for this to be such a destination. It is not a country that is just turmoil. It can be such a destination and it’s a shame these beautiful clear waters haven’t been tapped into on a larger scale. It’s such a beautiful place that has so many nooks and crannies and its beautiful waterfalls. It has such a negative light on it all the time, but it’s a place people will want to go to for their vacations, their honeymoons.

By: Steve Baltin for Forbes.com | August 31, 2018

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