This year’s Toy Association keynote speaker was hit musician Wyclef Jean, who had lots to say about the role toys have played in his life. Jean understands the way toys foster play and learning, which helps all children grow beyond their circumstances. I had so many questions for Jean relating to toys, music, and his work as both a musician and Haitian activist. Here are some answers!
TW: I think it’s important that kids see themselves in their toys because children process the world through play. What is your assessment of toys’ true representation of the diversity of kids? Do you see the current toy market as better or worse than the past in this regard? How so?
WJ: Play offers incredible benefits. I grew up playing with every type of musical instrument in a very musical family; I was constantly exposed music of many genres and cultures.
As I look at the list of finalists for the 2023 Toy of the Year® Awards I’m impressed by the diverse lineup of toys. There is such an assortment of cultures and backgrounds among the Doll of the Year finalists; the Playset of the Year finalists encourage creative exploration from cooking to aviation; the STEAM Toy of the Year finalists show all children they too can be a scientist, engineer, or mathematician.
TW: What, in your view, is the relationship between toys and music?
WJ: As a child, musical play was incredibly important in shaping the musician I am today and building respect as a child. I’m delighted to help The Toy Foundation deliver that same power of play to tens of thousands of children to inspire, comfort, and help them find their own voice just as play helped me find mine.
TW: If you were made into an action figure today, but could only have one accessory, what would that accessory be and why?
WJ: A cape, because when you tie a cape around your neck this powerful feeling of confidence radiates throughout your entire body. You become unstoppable in tackling any and every adventure.
These answers provide a rare and insightful look at Jean’s connection to the toy world, and bring a new depth to the singer’s relationship to our favorite playthings.
Jonathan Alexandratos is a NYC-based toy writer. They study toys, pop culture, and the intersection of both.