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Endless Power for the Artist

The great Harry Belafonte shares his thoughts on activism, art and the challenges for the next generation.

Harry Belafonte

The rules of life are very harsh. You have to learn how to survive, expect the unexpected. Harry Belafonte, the acclaimed Harlem-born singer, human-rights activist and film producer, knows this only too well, having shifted between the worlds of activism and arts. Belafonte, after facing racial prejudices in the arts world, has come to realise that the power of an artist is endless.

You sing, act and still carry out activism. How are you able to manage the three?
Taking advantage of every opportunity is the only way to success. No matter how small something is, the moment you take up any challenge, then you need to live up to it, for each challenge gives us a chance to bring out the best in every one of us. Having a mission in life makes it easy to take advantage of every opportunity that knocks at our doors. Having come from a not so financially well-off family meant that it was not always easy. Poverty is the greatest problem of injustice against society. The faster we are able to deal with this problem, the better we can correct these social differences.

You are of the opinion that the history of great men is lost to young filmmakers. What is the way forward for this generation?
Emergence of technology that gives young people the ability to do virtually everything is the greatest challenge. With the equipment ready at their disposal, they fail to structure their stories well; they tend to simply reveal details because they have the means. They need to stop looking at the power of the equipment and focus on telling stories that create change in the world. Establishing what kinds of messages they want to portray to the world is very necessary.

Are young people fully taking advantage of technology?
When I see young people screaming on the streets of Cairo, I realise that indeed technology has played a great role in this. With mobile phones, internet and other forms of emerging technologies, it is definite that young people are able to share and communicate what they feel and want.

How did activism influence your art career?
Raised by a village, I grew up in a community that greatly impacted on my social life. The arts were more of a coincidence. It all began when I was working as a janitor: I received two tickets to a theatre house and what I saw greatly influenced the actor in me.

What is your advice to young people who look up to you?
The moment young people realise the power within them, then they are set for the future. They should not let anyone corrupt their personalities.

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