Haiti has nearly vanished front page headlines only a few months after the devastating 8.0 earthquake struck Port-au-Prince.
A massive media-powered spotlight on Haiti that captured world attention has quickly faded, celebrity telethons ended, massive donation drives shut down, politicians turning to a new cause célèbre of choice, while on the ground Haitians continues to struggle to survive in real time, in neighbourhoods and communities across the country largely still picking-up the pieces.
Artists like celebrated Haitian singer Bélo provide direct cultural conduit to the ground in Haiti at a time of continued crisis. Recently Bélo performed in Montreal along side local Haitian hip-hop artist Vox Sambou of Nomadic Massive, a concert highlighting progressive Haitian music direct from Port-au-Prince and also from the Haitian diaspora in Montreal.
Bélo music is clearly inspired by both Haitian musical traditions but also by reggae, both the socially conscious character of classic reggae artists and the rhythm that shapes the sound of international cultural icons like Bob Marley.
“As an artist it is most important to sing about the reality today in Haiti, not about fantasy, only through addressing the reality of Haiti can we work towards change,” outlines Bélo in a phone interview for Art Threat.
Bélo scored a major hit in Haiti with Lakou trankil (Quiet Streets), the title track for Bélo’s first album, a reggae-driven track written in the years after the 2004 Canadian-backed coup d’etat in Haiti that lead to major political violence across the country. In Lakou trankil Bélo takes on social violence in Haiti calling for social solidarity, appealing to youth put down guns pointed at fellow citizens. “If you really want things to change, you have to show your good intentions,” sings Bélo in Lakou trankil, a hit track accompanied by a video shot in Cité Soleil, conveying a powerful message on Haiti from one of the most violent and impoverished areas in Port-au-Prince.
In light of major social ills and political turmoil that significantly shaped contemporary Haiti in the years prior to the earthquake, the current situation in a country, home to the first revolution in the Americas, with millions displaced into refugee camps, remains on edge.
Two million are displaced across Haiti, mainly living in tents or in impromptu shelters, fears over public health rise while the majority of hospitals in the Haitian capital were destroyed and the Ministry of Health remains in rubble. As the rainy season begins in Haiti many internally displaced communities facing flooding, accompanied by a stifling heat underneath the plastic sheets that are too often house walls.
“Clearly Haiti wasn’t ready or equipped to deal with such a catastrophe,” continues Bélo, “actually Haiti couldn’t deal with the needs of our own people without a crisis, so things have now gotten quite extreme in the sense of poverty, so as a singer my words hopefully will inspire people to take action for their communities.”
Certainly Bélo is attracting growing attention as an artist both inside Haiti and internationally, while at this time Bélo is a critically important independent voice for justice in contemporary Haiti. Having worked with celebrated international artists like Tiken Jah Fakoly, Côte d’Ivoire’s international reggae representative, it is certain that Bélo will only increasingly become one of Haiti’s most cherished cultural icons in the upcoming years.
For more information on Bélo visit belohaiti.com.
Stefan Christoff is a journalist and community, a regular contributor to Art Threat, you can find Stefan at twitter.com/spirodon.
Photo by Bernard Mauran