Bélo, citizen of the world with firm roots
New album, Natif natal
Two years after Haïti debout, the singer-guitarist Bélo, winner of the RFI Découvertes Award 2006, has released a fourth album Natif natal. In Port-au-Prince, RFI Musique met up with a young man who hasn’t lost sight of his artistic ideals.
Between flights to the United States or Canada to perform, Bélo enjoys the simple charms of family life in Port-au-Prince, like lying in his hammock with his baby daughter. Nine years after the release of his first album Lakou Trankil, the 34-year-old singer still champions the same principles, far from the flashy star system that attracts other big groups in his country.
Even the title of his fourth collection, Natif Natal (“native born”) smacks of integrity: "I am a native-born Haitian, rooted in my country’s culture. It’s reassuring for my compatriots, who frequently see me on the international scene and who might be scared of losing me. And for foreigners, it’s a way of sharing a little piece of Haiti with them through these 16 tracks.”
On his new album, Bélo shares his lyrics with a clutch of Haitian artists (Queen Bee, BIC, etc.) He sees it as a natural payback: "Nine years ago, I was supported by Fabrice Rouzier and Clément Bélizaire, who are well-known musicians in my country. It was time to pay them back and give other young talented artists a chance to share their creations with the public.” He also enjoyed singing a duet with Eddy François, a figure from the hit groups Boukman Eksperians and Boukan Guinen, and a singer that Bélo ranks among the top three in the world.
With his songs about insecurity, the dramatic fate of boat people and childhoods sacrificed to poverty, Bélo has so far spent his career denouncing the ills of society. Set to tunes that blend Haitian sounds, reggae and funk, the lyrics on Natif natal convey that same commitment to opening people’s eyes up to the truth.
From the street vendor to the motorbike taxi driver, Bélo wants to show how Haiti is: “Here, so many jobs are looked down on, especially informal work. It’s a way for me to acknowledge people who ultimately make up a very high percentage of the national economy,” he explained, hoping to play his part in reducing discrimination.
The international performer also sings about themes that go beyond Haitian borders, like ecology, and even drops his Creole mother tongue on the evocative track Citizen of the world. "The song isn’t necessarily aimed at Haitians, even though it defends their cause: people who struggle to obtain a visa or travel abroad. But it’s a song that opens out much further... so it was logical to sing it in English,” he said with a broad smile, stipulating that he’s working on a French version.
Following a series of concerts abroad, Bélo will be presenting his new songs to the Haitian public with a tour starting on 3 May in the capital Port-au-Prince. His fans still ask him to play tracks from his popular first album. “I understand and of course, I’ll be playing Jasmine and Lakou Trankil. But my priority will be to introduce the audience to my new album.” With his own “ragganga” style (a mix of reggae, rock, pop, folk and traditional Haitian music), Bélo is not content to rest on his laurels. With Natif natal he thinks he’s hit on the right formula: “An album with an international sound that still appeals to Haitians.”
Bélo Natif natal (BéloMusic) 2014
Bélo's Facebook page
Bélo’s Haitian tour:
Saturday 3 May: Port-au-Prince Signed sales and concert (Karibe Hôtel)
Wednesday 7 May: Jérémie
Thursday 8 May: Les Cayes
Friday 9 May: Jacmel
Wednesday 14 May: Cap-Haïtien
Thursday 15 May: Gonaïves
Wednesday 28 May: Port-au-Prince