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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Easy Listeners Whoop it Up With Belafonte

The activist Harry Belafonte didn’t get any more overtly political during his Greek Theatre concert Tuesday than to express his well-known anti-apartheid sentiments, but something very odd--and fairly political in its own fashion--was happening in this bravura performance.

The veteran performer took a full house of polite patrons largely brought in by a local “easy-listening” radio station and by the end had whipped them into a whoop-it-up party mode. To the sounds of the black music of South Africa and Jamaica, no less.

It wasn’t especially watered-down stuff, either. Belafonte made his latest album (“Paradise in Gazankulu”) with backing tracks recorded in South Africa, and while he didn’t exactly beat Paul Simon to the punch, his proven proclivity for indigenous/exotic styles gives the material an aura of authenticity few others can match.

Fun, too. Live, the music--delivered by an eight-member troupe that he called “a small, wandering United Nations"--was lively and friendly enough to make Belafonte agreeably aggressive and sexy in both voice and body language. And, perhaps to prove his good intentions to the more unsuspecting easy listeners on hand, he also threw in a few show-biz standards.

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Belafonte sounded smoother and less raspy live than he does on his new album, but what was most welcome in the two-hour concert was the renewed sense of what a smart, gentle, earthy comedian he can be. Even his token world-peace theme song, “Global Carnival,” was more funny than sanctimonious: “Sandinistas sipping tea with the ladies from the Moral Majority / CIA and the KGB swapping secrets in a mango tree,” he fantasizes. Just the thing for bringing political consciousness to middle-of-the-roaders.


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