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August 27, 2009

BélO, Haiti's Newest Music Man


Haitian guitarist/songwriter BélO takes on the subject of AIDS awareness in "Pap Negosye"

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.

More music:
* 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.

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