When I published my Obama Banana Boat Song last week I had big hopes of it becoming an online sensation.
Then it flopped! My light hearted dig at US Presidentvia a humorous re-write of ’s much loved song fell flat on its face in the cold, cruel, uncaring world of cyberspace. Much to my surprise and disappointment, it attracted very few people’s attention – 27 at my last count.
But there’s hope. And what better place could that hope come from than the lips of the very man who immortalized the original Banana Boat Song: Mr. Belafonte himself.
He was speaking with the BBC’s Sarah Montague in an interview which was broadcast this morning on Radio 4’s “Today” programme.
The 85 year old, veteran civil rights activist said it was the worldwide success of the “Banana Boat Song” that taught him that he could make a difference in the world as a musician.
Asked when he first realized he had the power to change things as an entertainer, the man dubbed the “King of Calypso” (much to the chagrin of some Caribbean exponents of the art form) answered “When the world started singing “The Banana Boat Song."
He said, “It was my first realization, based upon a rather prophetic remark that had been made by a hero of mine, by the name of Paul Robeson.”
When Robeson first came to hear him sing, said Belafonte, the iconic crooner of the early civil rights era, “was kind of very lauditory” and told him, “Look, my best advice to you is to try to get them to sing your song and they’ll want to know who you are.”
Belafonte said Robeson’s meaning was not very clear to him at the time. He said it became clear “...when I woke up one day some many months later and the whole world was singing 'Banana Boat – Day-O.' And it was everywhere! Everywhere in the world!”
Belafonte said nothing was more “devastatingly overpowering” than watching 50,000 Japanese sing his song.
“It’s amazing, the power of the song.” he said.
I don’t know what aspect of that kind of response Belafonte found “devastating” – and he does seem to take certain liberties with his use of words – but I would trade places with him at the drop of a hat for that kind of attention to my “Gay-O” (Obama-endorsement-of-same-sex-marriage) take on his song.
Bring on the devastation!
I don’t think I’m in danger of becoming corrupted or morally and emotionally “unanchored” or uprooted like some celebrity performers have done. (And in an extended version of the "Today" interview, Belafonte is critical of some contemporary entertainers' seeming lack of interest in the type of social activism that Robeson and that he pioneered.)
My main worry for the “Gay-O” song is about it being hijacked by Obama’s critics – especially the racist ones, who might try to use it maliciously, playing-up stereo-types of Caribbean countries as “banana republics” and mocking the Presidents Hawaiian islander background, for example.
I also worry that some reading the lyrics of my song might assume that I denounce homosexuality and same-sex unions out of hand, failing to grasp my more tentative, “Gay-light," information-seeking position on the subject.
The song is a “cut” not a “slash”, as persons who have read my latest Obama cricket analogy article at the following link would understand: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-new
I am more concerned about those kinds of idea hijacking or misrepresentation scenarios than the possibility of the success of “Gay-O” leading me to moral degeneration.
Having said that though, I wouldn’t want to underestimate the challenge success and fame presents to all of us.
The tragic declines and demises of, and come to mind.
As does the unfolding saga of my compatriot, who at times seems determined to erase any memory of the well-grounded, young island girl who made it big in May 2005 with her hit single “Pon De Replay” from our minds.
And if you read this Ri-ri, please take on board what I say to you now: doan do it, sweetie! The world doan need a replay of that tragic “soundtrack”.
De “good girl gone bad” ting in real life tired. Really! You’re more original than that! Xxxx. Call me :-) Well, I can dream can’t I?
I’m just as concerned for Mr. Obama’s re-election bid as I am for Rihanna, as a matter of fact.
And I have Harry Belafonte to thank for that too.
Questioned about his take on the first black U.S. President’s performance so far, he expressed serious disappointment – and not for the first time (http://www.bet.com/news/celebrities/2011
Noting that he has worked for Obama in the past and that he would work for him again, Belafonte said he was disappointed with the U.S. president in many ways.
He said: “My criticism of Obama is not based upon petty politics. It’s not Republican versus Democrat. It’s based upon deeply provoking human circumstances.
“America has the largest prison population in the world,” he continued, and added, “By far the largest majority of that population is black and young, and the incarceration machine is relentless in how it carnivorously sucks up the young and people who are poor.”
“America has criminalized poverty!” he said starkly.
“I think the president of the United States has a moral obligation – forget politics – he has a moral obligation to change the direction of this tragedy!” he asserted.
Unfortunately, Mr. Belafonte did not suggest any specific steps Mr. Obama might take to redress the situation.
I note though, that his reference to the deploring incarceration rate of young black males in the America – particularly in comparison to that of their white counterparts – recalls my own argument for the legalization of marijuana.
And I have to say, given the choice of backing cannabis or gay marriage, if I were in the President’s shoes, I would have backed the former.
But if the disappointing response to my “Gay-O” song is anything to go by, it doesn’t seem that I’m likely to get anywhere near such a powerful decision making position anytime soon.
Maybe that will change after I’ve recorded it – complete with a music video – in another month.