Despite the nasty cold outside, a rainbow of fans show up to hear one of Haiti’s most talented musical ambassadors. Audience members are not sure what BélO will sing tonight; they are not even sure they will understand most of the Kreyòl lyrics, but that doesn’t matter.
As he begins the hour and a half set, black, brown, blue, hazel, green, and gray eyes flash in concert with cell phones and digital cameras.
“I cannot promise you that I’ll be very serious tonight,” BélO smiles. The braces on his teeth makes him look even younger than his 32 years.
“I cannot be serious at all,” he repeats. This is one of many instances where his repertoire of languages will not convey what he really means to say. The word serious (serye) in Kreyòl has too many connotations to explain. That does not matter either. BélO’s message of unity transcends words.
The audience cheers.
Everyone is ready to be transported to the place where BélO will take them. They seem to know him personally. They seem to trust him. When he asks questions of the audience; they respond like friends at a crowded party.
Now and again BélO asks them to help him translate phrases from Kreyol to English. They are eager to help.
“Are there any Haitians in this house tonight?” he asks finally.
Thunderous applause bounces off the walls. The Haitians shout the names of their back home provinces: Jacmel. Petit Guave. Hinche. “Petion Ville,” I scream. That is my hometown.
“We all want the same things,” BélO tells the audience. “Haitians, Americans, French, English, Asian: We all want the same thing. We all want peace and unity.”
Again, the crowd cheers.
“Let us go together,” BélO coos. “Follow me to Lakou Trankil, the peaceful backyard.”
In this post-performance InnerView, BélO speaks of the artists’ role in Haiti’s reconstruction.
“The artist’s primary role is that of a citizen,” he says. “Before you are an artist, you are a citizen of your country. Each one of us has a job to do. Each citizen has something to contribute. As an artist, however, we may have certain influences that others may not. Therefore, it is our responsibility to engage our people in a positive movement. Those among us who have the opportunity to see other worlds, have to bring our insights to the conversation. We say, Yes we want reconstruction; however, we do not want reconstruction in any sort of condition. We do not want a repeat of failed ways. We are not interested in the reproduction of programs that did not work. The work ahead has to be done according to best possible practices. And I dare say that our country has an opportunity now to study others countries’ mistakes and not make them ourselves. We can now create a Haiti that is stronger and more beautiful than ever before. . . .”
BélO has a message to upcoming musicians: “If you work solely for success, you may not find it. You must work instead to do what you love. When you do what is in your heart, success will follow. Also, young artists should take the opportunity to study the ones who came before them. Study their lives. Look at mistakes they might have made. Do your best not to reproduce those same mistakes.”