BélO, Haiti's Newest Music Man
by John Oseid
Amy Wilentz describes her September Condé Nast Traveler feature, "Love and Haiti and the Whole Damn Thing," as a love song to the island. This got me thinking about the enormous amount of musical talent that the country produces, from artists recording in Port-au-Prince to those performing for the diaspora in Miami, New York, and Montreal.
Last year I spoke with Wyclef Jean about his Yéle foundation and brought you a bit of his music. Recently, I started hearing about a 30-year-old from Wyclef's hometown, Croix-des-Bouquets, who goes by the stage name BélO. In a short time, BélO's versatile guitar work and slightly raspy, soulful voice have made a fan of me. His MySpace page has a handful of nice cuts from his new album, Référence. My favorites: He plays "Deblozay" in straight-up reggae style; switches to a jazzy, horn-filled R&B sound on "Pa Ri Nan Malem"; and even throws in some rock power chords on "Istwa Dwol." I missed BélO's recent gig at New York's Joe's Pub, but here's a great clip of the show. I won't be making that mistake again.
* Almost a decade ago, Emeline Michel's album Cordes et Ame introduced me to Haitian rhythms.
* BélO was featured in a 2007 PBS Frontline piece that explored the challenges of mounting an international music festival in Haiti.
* BélO's song "Lakou Trankil" comes from an album of the same name.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.