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About Fenner Pierre Gilles
Famed Haitian Singer to Visit Falls
By Sheligh Love
Famed Haitian singer-songwriter Black FeFe, or simply FeFe, is expected to arrive in Niagara Falls next Tuesday (Aug. 5) to negotiate his first American recording contract.
He is the guest of Frank Parlato, the publisher of the Niagara Falls Reporter and a businessman who worked with the late Pete Bennett, promotional manager of the four members of the Beatles from 1967 to 1977.
Parlato said he is considering several opportunities that may be available to promote the popular Haitian singer across the country.
FeFe, whose real name is Fenner Pierre-gilles, has received offers in Miami, Los Angeles and New York and Parlato said he will work with Pierre-gilles in evaluating the offers before making any announcement.
Pierre-gilles came to prominence in Haiti in 1999 with the rap song School is Cool.
At the time, hip hop songs sought to denigrate the straight, clean path of going to school and, perversely, encouraged young men to seek illegal and unethical money from selling drugs and being a gangster.
American music companies, in their quest for money, produced and marketed these songs to adolescents and even children.
In protest of this, an unknown Pierre-gilles wrote his song as an attempt to encourage young people to remain in school, where, he felt, there would be a better chance at achieving lasting success in life.
Pierre-gilles’ song lyrics are written in Creole and French and sometimes in English.
Radio stations in Haiti do not usually pay royalties to artists, and much of it is pirated. Once a radio station has a recording, they play it freely and as much as they like.
And they liked School is Cool and the upbeat, happy, 4:28 song became a hit and remained on the Haitian weekly countdown charts for months. It is still played on many of the more than 100 Haitian radio stations.
Despite the song's enduring popularity, Pierre-gilles earned next to nothing for this national hit.
The copyright process in Haiti does not require payment arrangements when an artist's song is played on the radio.
In effect, music is often free in Haiti and this in itself may lend to the freedom and creativity of this land of troubadours and songsters.
Money is earned by performing at concerts and festivals, from endorsements and, to a lesser extent, from sales of downloaded or streamed music.
After his hit record, Pierre-gilles began to tour and perform at concerts and appear in television and radio commercials.
Many of Pierre-gilles commercials had a humorous, spontaneous bent.
In 2006, Pierre-gilles, with his group 'P.I. ', won the Soleil Sound Reggae contest - an open call for Haitian artists to compete over three weeks - to win the right to a recording session.
In 2006, he recorded his first album. And while the album was never distributed, radio stations were given a copy of one of the songs, Viktim.
It became a national hit, one of the most played and instantly recognizable songs in Haiti.
The upbeat, infectious song, part Creole and English, is a song of hope, of a man who places responsibility for success solely on himself.
The song was featured in the Haitian movie "Dezobeisans" (In English- When You Reject an Order).
It was used in television commercials and, to this day, is one of the most played songs on Haitian radio.
Ironically, and perhaps what is characteristically Haitian, where music is shared like the sun and the rain, Pierre-gilles never earned a dime in royalties for a song that has been enjoyed by millions.
"In Haiti, it is not money that is the reward for the best a man can do," Pierre-gilles said. "It is the sharing. This is why, while this nation has been said to be poor, the secret of the nation lies not in money but in the people, in their strength. And this is the secret that Haiti has to offer to the world. It is another kind, an alternative kind of wealth. The spirit of the Haitian people. And that is why Haiti is not one of the poorest, but one of the richest nations of the world. "
In 2008, the urban rap group Brimad took one of Pierre-gilles songs, Ki Mele'm, and added additional lyrics. Pierre-gilles had his third national hit.
After this third hit song, Ticket Magazine named him Artist of the Year.
Later, in 2008, Pierre-gilles was introduced to national television audiences when he was invited to play live for the premier of Ayiti Deploge, a new Tripp TV show, and what is now the Haitian equivalent of American Idol, but without a winner.
It is sponsored by Digicel, the largest mobile telecommunications operator in the Caribbean.
His popularity from his first appearance led to a two-year weekly stint, as the only recurring artist. He became known to television audiences as “Mr. Unplugged. ”
In addition to singing, Pierre-gilles would occasionally replace Steve Azor as host, and regale audiences with his droll humor.
This show established his reputation as both singer and comedian to a nationwide audience.
Azor said of him, "FeFe is the king of unplugged and improvisation. "
In 2009, Pierre-gilles was featured on the cover of "Panoramag," the distinguished French language magazine which, in effect, showed he had arrived into mainstream Haitian culture.
In 2010, Pierre-gilles wrote, produced, and performed the sound track for the acclaimed documentary, Lift Up, which follows two brothers, Clifford Muse and Huguens Jean, as they return to their native Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to commemorate their grandfather's passing, the disaster having prevented them from attending the funeral. The documentary aired in Haiti, the United States, and Canada.
After two years as one of the most popular television singer-comedians in Haiti, Pierre-gilles quit the show to concentrate on touring and writing new songs.
He performed throughout Haiti, headlining shows from Les Cayes to Cap Haitian and from Port Au Prince to Jacmel.
A regular at Karibe Hotel in affluent PÃ©tion-Ville, he sings to capacity audiences of both locals and tourists. He appears at the prestigious Park Historic Canne a Sucre (Sugar Cane Park), Presse Cafe, and at the nationwide festival Kanaval.
His song, Kale Tet Kale Ana A (Change) was written for Kanaval in 2009 and is played throughout much of Haiti during Kanaval time each January.
During the last few years, Pierre-gilles has appeared on billboards, TV commercials, and radio; his likeness is used to sell everything from yogurt to college education.
His likeness is also used as a draw for major music festivals. In fact, promoters have used his image on promotional material for festivals in the U.S. , even though Pierre-gilles was not scheduled to appear.
In 2011, Fabrice Rouzier, a leading producer in the Haitian music industry, undertook to produce an album of songs written and performed by Pierre-gilles and, in 2012, an album of 10 songs was completed and entitled Jus Pou'm Tchupp (Just for Fun).
Although the album has not been released, one song, Amba, Amba (Something is Not Right) was already a popular song from his television show, Ayiti Deploge.
Today, in this island nation of 10 million, where Haitians often use battery powered radios (power is often sporadic), his songs are in regular rotation.
Two radio commercials he made in 2009 where he talks and sings have achieved almost cult-like status: Valerio Cameg (Seller of generators, and building supplies) and Alliance Ecole Informatique (a college) are played constantly.
Both the Alliance Ecole and Valerio Cameg have made Pierre-gilles their spokesperson, a symbol of their product and services
When not performing, Pierre-gilles shares the simple life of his people, in simple environs, at his home in the valley of Bon Repos, La Plaine, just outside Port Au Prince, where he quietly composes music.
He attracted an audience outside Haiti, with more than 10,000 internet (Soundcloud) followers in four months, 60% were from the United States, 15% Canada, 10% France. There were more than 15 thousand listens and downloads.
On YouTube, videos of Pierre-gilles live performances have attracted attention outside of Haiti.
Videos, uploaded by him, associates, and by fans who took homemade videos, have had, collectively, millions of views.