Haiti is a nation that has struggled for stability and prosperity for centuries. The people of Haiti are not strangers to plight, but the world rapidly loses interest in helping Haiti combat its struggles. Haitian musician BélO uses song to highlight the problems Haiti is facing and, hopefully, offer solutions.
Few media of communication have the power to connect people like music. While many people might view music purely as an art form, the truth is that music can help cross cultural divides and help different groups find common themes. Music is an expression of personal character from the artist, but in that personal expression are the cultural influences that made the artist who they are.
Who is BélO?
In general there are a few people around the world who know the name Jean Belony Murat. However, if you were to say the name BélO in reggae, jazz, and folk music circles, you might see a numerous people turn their heads in search of one of Haiti’s best musicians of the 21st century. Known by his stage name BélO, Jean Belony Murat was born in a small neighbourhood on the north side of Port-au-Prince in 1979.
BélO’s home country of Haiti has suffered through one setback after another. From civil strife and slave revolts to earthquakes and continued scourge of severe poverty for much of the population, Haitians have struggled for decades to stabilise their nation and move forward onto a better path toward tomorrow. Music plays a critical r ole in Haitian culture. In addition to being deeply rooted in its Creole cultural celebrations, music provides an outlet for Haitian people.
Big Decisions for a young BélO
When BélO discovered at the age of 11 that his natural ability and passion for music could help him make a difference in the future, he knew which path he would follow in the future. It may seem impossible to imagine an 11-year-old with such a firm vision for the future, but BélO will tell you himself that he knew what he had to do with his musical talents.
He described his realisation to Kreol Magazine in the following words:
“I was born in a country where music is everywhere and since my childhood I was exposed to all kinds of music, but when I was living here though I realised that I had a mission… and my mission was to provide a message of unity, and that’s when I decided to become a professional musician”.
The toughest task BélO faced following his decision was convincing his family that a career in music was right for him. His mother did not believe that music would provide for himself or a family in the future. It was only after his older brother stepped in and convinced their mother that, with his management, BélO could in fact succeed in music.
Still, his mother wanted to see her son get an education and be able to care for himself in the event that music did not pan out for him the way he hoped. BélO did not pursue his career in music in earnest until he was 18. He finished school out of respect for his mother’s wishes, and at the age of 18 he attended university.
After completing a four year degree in accounting, BélO began working on his first album. In addition to singing, he learned how to play the guitar to provide accompaniment to his music. Once all the pieces were together, he was ready to release his first album at the age of 21. That first album, Lakou T rankil, gained BélO much local and international attention. Despite this early success, BélO knew that he had to do more with his talents.
Ask BélO what motivates and inspires his music and you will get a simple one-word answer: Haiti. Growing up surrounded by the sounds of his Creole culture, BélO knew that his musical talents could be put to use helping the people of Haiti. Although he speaks English and French, all of BélO’s music is written and recorded in his native Creole tongue.
BélO’s music is not just sung in his Creole tongue to pay homage to his cultural heritage, but also to call attention to the struggles of his countrymen. All of BélO’s music contains lyrics that expose the social problems facing Haitian culture, as well as the cultures of other developing nations. Violence, AIDS, homelessness, and the struggles of children in the developing world are all common themes in his music. As an ambassador of Haitian music, BélO uses his words to expose the plight of his homeland, while proposing solutions at the same time.
In his own words, BélO describes the inspiration behind his music as follows:
“My main source of inspiration is my country, Haiti, I sing all the time in my native language which is Creole, because I think there’s a real need for me to say something, there’s a real need for me to educate the people in Haiti, open the people’s eyes on some stuff”.
Giving Back to Haiti
Music has meant so much to BélO, and given him so much, that he is determined to give back to his Haitian countrymen. BélO works to organize musical festivals in his homeland, and is heavily involved in two festivals in particular. One of the most successful to date is called Festival Music St. Mark. BélO helped or ganize and manage the festival six years ago. There is no charge for the festival because, as BélO put it, there is a need for people in Haiti to have access to some good music for free.
The festival takes place over the course of three days and features performances by BélO and other local musicians. What began as a simple concert series featuring BélO and his friends playing music for free has grown to cover three days, bringing joy and much needed distraction to his fellow Haitians.
Festivals and free music will only go so far in helping the people of Haiti chart a better path into the future, and BélO knows this. He devotes significant portions of his time to charitable works that benefit the people of Haiti. When the devastating 2010 earthquake levelled large portions of Port-au-Prince, BélO was there performing free concerts across the country and raising money for recovery efforts.
BélO has partnered with major charities like the Haitian Red Cross and UNICEF to help his country, but he also helps organize smaller charitable activities. One of his personal favourites has seen him team up with a local orphanage in Haiti, for six years now. Every year on Christmas Day, BélO visits the children at the orphanage with gifts from his family, friends, and sponsors in the musical industry.
He loads up a bus full of gifts and makes his way to the orphanage, bringing along anyone who wants to visit with the children on Christmas Day. The only stipulation for participation is a gift for the children. No gift, no seat on the bus!
BélO’s Message to the World
At the conclusion of his interview with Kreol Magazine, BélO was asked what he w ould tell the world about Haiti. His words reveal a man with a deep love for his country and a desire to help his countrymen succeed and overcome its many tribulations. His message to the world:
“If I had to say just one thing, I would say, don’t just see what you see on TV, if you can come down to Haiti, come make your own experience and then you’ll become an ambassador for this wonderful country”.