Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Belo's Music of Haitian Hope

By Natasha Del Toro
Troubled island sells music and hope
[flv: 480 360]
Given my experience in Haiti last summer, I could have called this story "My Haitian adventure: The masochistic delight of shooting a documentary about a chaotic first-time festival during rainy season in a country where nothing works."

It all started with my friend Frank Eaton's kidnapping in 2005. He was making a music video in Port-au-Prince for a local musician named Belo, when he and his co-producer, Haitian-American Alain Maximilien, were taken by gunmen and held for ransom in Cite Soleil, one of the country's worst slums. Fortunately, after paying, they were both released unharmed.

Despite the incident, Eaton said he wanted to return to Haiti for the first-ever Jacmel Music Festival, an event designed to draw tourists to the island. He also wanted to reunite with Belo, who has become internationally recognized for his socially conscious songs.

The music festival was held in the town of Jacmel, which is being promoted as a touristdestination.

The music festival was an attempt to lure travelers back to this once booming vacation spot, by showcasing the island's beaches and culture. Reviving the tourism industry would not be an easy proposition, with Haiti's reputation of violence, poverty and disease.

But in recent years, the country has become more stable with the election of a new president and the presence of U.N. peacekeepers, and Eaton said he felt safe going back.

If he had the nerve to return, I figured I would go too and film the story.

But my friend never made it on the plane. Two hours before we were due to depart from the Miami International Airport, he got spooked and drove back to North Carolina, where he lives.

I could have bailed, but I decided to try and rescue the production. Through the Associated Press, I tracked down Trent Jacobs, an American cameraman living in Haiti, and two days later, I was on a plane to Port-au-Prince.

I caught my first glimpse of the capital from the cracked window of an exhaust-filled car, while in rush-hour traffic and a rainstorm. Rivers of mud swept through the street, as people ran for cover with car headlights and candles as their only light.

After a grueling three-hour drive along a windy mountain road, we arrived at the festival in the beach town of Jacmel around midnight.

Haitian musician, Belo, has become internationally recognized for his socially conscious songs.

The situation only worsened over the next 48 hours: The driver disappeared with Jacobs' tripod in the trunk of his car, our audio equipment crapped out and our cell phones were stolen. Belo, the Haitian musical star I had arranged to interview, left the festival early because of poor event planning; the minister of tourism, my other main interview subject, came down with malaria; and the last day of the festival was canceled because of a tropical storm.

That night, feeling defeated, I spilled some Haitian rum into the sand as an offering to the gods for better luck.

What I started to understand about this trip was that the chaos around me played directly into my story. Haiti operates by its own rules and on its own time, which certainly made it hard to produce a documentary. But looking past its rough exterior, the country has natural beauty and a nutty charm unlike anywhere else. Since returning from the island, I've developed a strange affection for Haiti, its people, beaches, rhythms and spiritual energy.

Belo and others want the world to judge their country by these good qualities, rather than through the usual reports of violence and unrest.

In November, Belo came to Florida, where I live, to perform. Driving home from the concert, I was caught in the middle of a shootout in downtown Tampa. Though I jokingly call it the coda to my crazy adventure, the truth is, no one involved in the incident was Haitian, and the event never made the local news. It just goes to show, it can happen anywhere.

-- Natasha Del Toro

Additional Photos: Frank Eaton

Source: PBS

No comments:

Post a Comment