Haitian songwriter BélO will perform at MCLA in North Adams
NORTH ADAMS -- With his non-traditional mix of jazz, reggae, rock, world beat and a little bit of Vodou rhythm, Haitian com poser and singer BélO is taking his guitar and goodwill on the road with a stop in the Berkshires.
His home, country, Haiti, has often called BélO its musical ambassador to the world. He will take up a short residency at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts from Saturday through through Wednes day, wrapping up his visit with a performance open to the community on Tuesday.
"MCLA's Presents!"-- a project of the college's Berkshire Cultural Re source Center --hopes, through visits like BélO's, to introduce the campus and North Adams community to different cultures by bringing in performers from around the world.
"We work hard to bring in a diverse, varied group of performers -- varied in discipline, in cultural heritage," said Jonathan Secor, director of MCLA's Berk shire Cultural Resource Center. "Hopefully, it's things people might not have opportunity to see elsewhere, or at least not in North Adams."
BélO's visit to Berkshire County is also part of a larger initiative by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Edu cational and Cultural Affairs called "Center Stage." The program gives funding to bring artists from countries with a troubled relationship with the United States to rural towns like North Adams to expose both parties to new cultures.
Secor was one of four people from across the country chosen to go to Haiti to help pick the artist for the state department's program.
"What we think of Haiti is a Haiti in desperate need," said Secor. "So many of us have that image, but what we actually saw when we visited there is a rich culture. I was reminded of its rich artistic heritage and history including contemporary art. They are doing such interesting work there."
Secor said BélO stood out to the group not only because he's an excellent musician -- who has mixed tradition Haitian sounds with different genres to create a sound truly his own -- but also because of his work as an unofficial ambassador for the people of Haiti, for people with disabilities, and for AIDS and the environment.
"He's extraordinarily personable," Secor said. "He's young, and he's connected to Haiti. We're definitely looking forward to him connecting with students."
The Tuesday performance starts at 8 p.m. at the Church Street Center. MCLA students will provide the opening acts: NeXXus, the college's stem team and senior Jessica Jean-Charles, a classically trained vocalist who will be singing some old jazz favorites.
"I picked music based on [BélO's] genre, which is kind of a new wave jazz," said Jean-Charles, an arts management major. "I'm really excited to be preforming."
For Jean-Charles, who is Haitian too, it's exciting to have an artist like BélO visit the campus.
"I basically grew up listening to old-school Haitian music with my family, and I've never heard anything like his music before," she said. "To get the chance to meet him and talk with him is amazing."
Secor said they work to keep the ticket prices low so that more people will come to hear the music.
"He's a really good musician," Secor said, explaining that BélO sings often in his native Haitian Creole. "He can connect even though he's singing in different language for the most part."
What: BélO will perform
When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
Where: Church Street Center, North Adams
Admission: $10, or $5 for all students
Information: (413) 662-5204 www.mcla.edu/presents