Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, and with additional support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Asian Cultural Council, and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. General management for Center Stage is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.
BélO, Haiti’s outspoken groove innovator, interweaves the Afro-Caribbean depths of Haitian tradition with a progressive voice for social and political transformation at home and abroad. A singer, songwriter and guitarist, BélO keeps the socially conscious spirit of reggae alive, while drawing on the vibrant sounds of his artsy native town of Croix des Bouquet, and a globally informed, upbeat pan-African vibe.
Based in Pétion Ville, Haiti’s music central, and equally at home among the Afro-French communities around the world, BélO finds powerful sonic ties that span the Atlantic and powerful ways to move audiences, to action and to sing along. His Kreyol lyrics reflect the complexities, joys and struggles of Haiti today.
Hailed as Haiti’s musical ambassador he is a spokesperson for the Haitian Red Cross, UNICEF, is an official advocate for Haiti’s disabled, and a patron of “Hope for Haiti.” These commitments are evident in BélO’s polished, often urgent, always catchy songs, and fuel his onstage presence. Whether playing on a porch or for presidents, BélO longs to engage his audience in ways that go beyond culture and language.
“I was chosen to be an activist artist,” exclaims BélO. “It would be easier to earn more money or be more popular doing love songs. But I was born an activist musician. I live it, I feel it, and I have a vision.”
Haiti Debout (Haiti Stand Up!), BélO’s third album, was released in 2011 and is dedicated to Haiti and the strength of the Haitian people. A lyric from Wozo (Reed), one of record’s many fine tracks, captures its spirit: “Ou se wozo … ou mèt tande’w pliye, ou pap kase.” “You are a reed. You will bend, but you will not break.”
On their Center Stage tour (October 21 to November 17), BélO and his band visits Washington, DC, with multiple stops in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Florida.
Where did get the Belo name from?
My full name is Jean Bélony Murat, when I was a kid my mother use to call me BélO. I keep it for my artist name because it’s easy to pronounce in many languages.
What part of Haiti are you from?
I come from a very small village in the east of Port-au-Prince called Croix-des-Bouquets
What is the music scene in Haiti like?
Haiti has various scenes with different style of music. Haiti has lots of talented musicians. Presently there is a big movement of acoustic and alternative musicians. We have Rap Kreyol, Rasin, Konpa, Hip Hop, and Reggae influence and my style which is “Ragganga”.
You have been doing music for a while now, how has the road been for you?
I have been doing music since the age of 11. I decided to become a professional musician, but waited after I finished school on 2005, that is when my first album “Lakou Trankil” came out. I was lucky enough to win the prestigious “Prix Radio France International Discoveries of 2006.” I have been on the road for awhile now, and it has been very good to me.
You have been touring all over the world, what is that experience like and do you have any interesting stories to share?
Every show is a piece to my puzzle, and giving a better image of my country overseas is my goal; but my favorite story really has little to do with music. My first trip to Africa was Cameroon for “Prix RFI 2006.” The first night when I arrive, the musicians and I were invites to a dinner. I had jetlag, so I really couldn’t stay until the end of the dinner. A couple of the musicians and I decided to go back to the hotel. We took a taxi, and the taxi driver took us for a ride. We were ambushed and stop by the local police. We had to give whiskey money to be released, if you know what I mean…
How did the earthquake affect you and your music if at all?
The earthquake affected every Haitians, in a way or another. The day before the earthquake I had left Haiti for a concert in Guadeloupe. It was very hard for me to stay without any news from friends and family for two days. I decided not to cancel my performance on Jan 16, 2010 at L’artchipel in Guadeloupe, and instead to have a benefit concert and show support to my country. My home was fractured, and I was able to relocate temporarily in France with the help of Cultures France. The experience changed my plan, and my life. I have learned so many things from this bad experience that I want to turn it into something good, like a new beginning for my country. I think every one should learn from this experience, and try to be a better man every single day.
Your album Reference is getting some recognition all over world. I saw you perform on TV 5 Monde. Is this your biggest album to date?
My debut album Lakou Trankil gave me a lot of recognition, this album introduced me to the public, and I received many awards, especially the “Prix RFI Award.” Reference was my first international album because the first, Lakou Trankil, was not distributed globally. I love each album just like my mother loves all her children. They are all different, and they are all good. I really can’t say which one is the biggest, based on which criteria: touring more? sales? message? or musically? It is difficult to say.
What is the next step for Belo?
I want to produce other artists. I have different projects that I am working on right now like: Festival in my village “Croix des bouquet” on Oct 5-6, and new album for a young artist and a cultural center with a library.
Is there anything else people should know about Belo that they don’t know?
I like to be challenged, and mostly I am a risk taker when it comes to composing music. Oh! I would like to open up for David Matthew’s band one day.