Sunday, 30 September 2012

Harry Belafonte and other Musicians give voice to activist causes to change the world

                                                                 by Nancy Snipper

 Most of us know Harry Belafonte as that amazing singer whose sensual swagger and sparkling smile gave a face to Calypso. But how many of us know that Belafonte was an activist who happened to become an artist (as he puts it). Early on in his career, he took munificent measures on and off stage to begin the process of empowering Blacks and rattling the White American elite whose political powers were second to none in the world. It was Belafonte who got Bobby Kennedy to travel to the South and witness first hand the plight of the “negro”.  The young senator, now on side with Dr. King was murdered shortly after that trip in 1968.
It was Belafonte, who was banned from celebrity bathrooms on the very nights he was bringing millions of dollars into Las Vegas during his sold-out performances there. In fact, all Black performers were forced to hole up in a nearby shanty hotel neighbourhood, so that they would remain out of sight. Belafonte was even banned from swimming in the pool of the hotel where he was performing. But, typically Belafonte defied the guards keeping watch on the hotel roof. He proudly plunged into the pool, whereupon several 'White' women left their lounge chairs to jump in to join him. The guards retreated inside.
Belafonte was Martin Luther King’s close friend. He worked tirelessly for him, even worshipped him to an extent. Wherever the great leader went, Belafonte stood beside him on one side and Cora King on the other. In fact, the singer risked his life to go down to Greenwood, Mississippi in 1964 with Sidney Poitier and thousands of dollars of hidden cash for the civil rights workers in that state.
Belafonte traveled into Biafra and South Africa where he began a youth college program in America for Africans, and was instrumental in getting Quincy Jones on board and others for the We Are the World project. For the past 60 years, this Day-o singer has traveled into the world’s hotspot where poverty and apathy have deadened his own people. Harry Belafonte has garnered as many awards for his humanitarian work as he has for his artistry.  His speaks daily on the phone to his “friend” Nelson Mandela.
I met this legendary activist/musician recently during an International Film Black Festival event. Now walking with a cane, his energy and eloquence are mesmerizing. Now in the twilight of his life, he was so candid in assessing his experiences which included reference to failures he feels he had, particularly as a father and husband.
Mr. Belafonte believes there is a collective failure happening in the world. “There is still so much work to be done in the world,” he said with intensity and passion. Now 85, he tells his life story directly into the camera in the film, “Sing Your Song”. In this remarkable film, he ties his singing into his personal journey as an activist.
Now when I listen to him sing, I no longer just see him as a singer, an actor and a handsome man.  He also said that good outweighs evil, but things have gone wrong in this world because we do not connect to our young people, that we create divisions that lead to multiple downfalls.
Hearing him speak, I realized that most artists are really activists hiding behind paint, words, music and dance. Each has his own cause: Buffy Saint Marie for first Nations people, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan – iconic protest songwriters.
Think of Peter Paul and Mary and Joan Baez with whom I had the privilege to share a conversation several years ago at a private house party upon her return from Israel. She told me how wonderful it was to perform there, that the people really responded powerfully to her songs. She was thrilled but tired, I recall, but the implication from the gist of our chat was the concert was she felt it was an important concert, for she was singing to people who knew about suffering and resilience.
No doubt about it, Musicians who sing to bring awareness to global problems have a huge impact on our psyche, our values and our will to eradicate the woes of the world.

For article on the 8th Film Black Festival CLICK HERE / Pour l'article sur le 8e Festival Film Noir   CLIQUEZ ICI