Belafonte at Carnegie Hall [LIVE]

May 11, 2007

Pic: RK’s Archives

When I was a Three-year-old, I remember listening to many songs on the Radiogram almost everyday. This was apart from what I heard on All India Radio. My uncle in the US had got this ‘Grundig’ Radiogram. It was always one of the elders in the family who switched it ‘On’ in the evenings. I used to keep my ears glued to the stereo and imagined the singers and the instrumentalists to be sitting inside the huge Radiogram. I used to peep through the stereo but would find no one inside.

I loved hearing to Raghavendraswamy songs by Dr. Rajkumar, Bhadrachala Ramadas Keerthanam by M. Balamuralikrishna, Siri Siri Muvva, Shankarabharanam, and Pt. Ravishankar’s sitar. Another memorable one was ‘Belafonte at Carnegie Hall [LIVE]’. 

Right from the cover showing Harry Belafonte standing with the mike, the magnificent black cover double-LP set fascinated me. It does even now. My dad used to play it so often that even before learning ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ or ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’, I had memorized Belafonte’s version of Hava Nageela and Matilda.

By the time I was in my Fifth class, the Radiogram had stopped working and a few years later, the LPs, Radiogram and my uncle’s other belongings shifted to his home here in Bangalore.

During my college days, I bought a double cassette pack of the same LP featuring Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. Fortunately it had all the 19 songs with the Introduction. I say ‘Fortunately’ because recently I heard in a music shop the CD version of the same concert. The CD contained only fifteen of the original 19 songs, omitting “Take My Mother Home,” “Man Piaba,” “All My Trials,” and “Merci Bon Dieu,” songs that are included in another recording. I remember my uncle telling that the concerts (recorded on April 19 and 20, 1959) were put on as benefit fund raisers for two schools.

While it was drizzling outside yesterday evening, I was hearing to the ‘Belafonte at Carnegie Hall [LIVE]’ cassettes which took me back in time. I feel this is one of the best live recordings ever. If you close your eyes you can almost feel as if you are sitting in the audience. I love the introductions to songs and the audience participation in the last song “Matilda”. With the opening number “Wake Up, Wake Up, Darlin’ Cora,” Belafonte shares with the audience the impassioned song of a man who has a confrontation with his boss and must now take to the road, holding key notes for several extra beats to prolong the song’s wailing sadness as he bids goodbye to “Darlin’ Cora.” With his strong, slightly husky voice and ability to hold a note forever, he follows this with a Lead belly song, “Sylvie,” in which he changes the lyric from a work song to a jailhouse plea. The tempo  increases throughout this set through “Saints” and “Day-O,” and the audience participates. Belafonte explains the history of “Saints” and as an alternative sings it as an old English madrigal. Priceless piece.

The second cassette begins with the calypso novelty song, “Mama Look at Boo Boo,” in which he plays the role of a man whose children say “My daddy can’t be ugly so,” a statement so ironic that even he chuckles. “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” continues the fun and the calypso beat, with hand-clapping, as he prepares the audience for several foreign folk songs–“Hava Nageela” (one of his most famous songs), “Danny Boy” (sung almost completely a capella), and “Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma,” a charming Mexican song in which the orchestra makes bird sounds throughout.

The concert is divided in three sections: “Moods of the American Negro,” “In the Caribbean,” and “Around the World.” All the hits are here: “Day O,” “Jamaica Farewell,” “Mama Look a Boo Boo,” and others, plus calypso, folk songs, chain gang songs, spirituals, and songs from other lands.

Controlling his volume from a whisper to full-out wailing and the tempo from a slow ballad to wild calypso and street dance (in “Saints”), Belafonte is at his peak here, in total control of his audience.

From the opening trumpet fanfare and brief orchestral overture to the epic 13-minute version of “Matilda” (which set a standard for audience participation), the album never lets up. It is exciting, poignant, thrilling, intimate, and at times, spontaneously hilarious. My uncle says that Belafonte’s mastery in front of an audience was never better displayed than here, a mastery that has resulted in him becoming one of the most popular concert draws in history.

Track Listings: 
  1. Introduction 
  2. Darlin’ Cora 
  3. Sylvie 
  4. Cotton Fields 
  5. John Henry 
  6. Take My Mother Home 
  7. The Marching Saints 
  8. Day O 
  9. Jamaica Farewell 
  10. Man Piaba 
  11. All My Trials 
  12. Mama Look A Boo Boo 
  13. Come Back Liza 
  14. Man Smart (Woman Smarter) 
  15. Hava Nageela 
  16. Danny Boy 
  17. Merci Bon Dieu 
  18. Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma 
  19. Shenandoah 
  20. Matilda

As a guide between the songs, Belafonte talks about his heritage and the impact that music has had throughout his life and travels. “Man Piaba,” a calypso retelling of a “facts of life” lesson, is a consummate example of how Belafonte seamlessly weaves his stories into songs. This climaxes with an audience participatory version of “Matilda,” in which different sections of the orchestra, acoustic combo, and even audience are encouraged to sing along. As not to disenfranchise anyone and all in the best of fun, Belafonte even solicits responses from such unlikely participants as “women over 40” and “people on scholarship.” It is this type of unification of all people — through song and personal discovery — that became the bedrock of Belafonte’s enormous popularity regardless of age, sex, or race.

For sheer scope and genius of performance, this is the quintessential Belafonte package. Recorded when his voice was at his best, the fun of the live recording as well as the wonderful choice of music make the recording fun, easy and joyful to listen to over and over and over again. My favourite English album of all time. And every time I hear this album, it makes me want to go to Jamaica.

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15 Responses to “Belafonte at Carnegie Hall [LIVE]”

  1. praneshachar Says:

    great nostalgia bellur you are amazing so much in store from yeaster years great and simply great

  2. mouna Says:

    i remember a ‘hava nageela’. we learnt it in school. slow in the beginning, it picks up speed later. a different tune altogether. i hope we are talking about the same song!

  3. rk Says:

    pranesh sir,
    nanna truptigoskra, yeno haley kathegalu barithini saar. nimagishta aagattalla, thanks.

    you are right, it starts really slow then fast, then faster.
    interesting to know that you learnt it in school.
    in our school (i studied from 3rd-12th in Kendriya Vidyalaya Malleswaram), they only taught national integration songs like Pillallara, Mohijovathan, Odi Vilayadu Papa, Namma Muddina Makkale, Badthe Chalo…

    Hava Nageela lyrics:

    Hava Nageela Hava Nageela
    Hava Nageela vay mismacha Hava Nageela Hava Nageela
    Hava Nageela vay mismacha Hava na ranina
    Hava na ranina
    Hava na ranina vay mismacha

    Hava na ranina
    Hava na ranina
    Hava na ranina vay mismacha Oo roo ooroo achim
    Oo roo achim belev say maya
    Oo roo achim belev say maya
    Oo roo achim belev say maya
    Oo roo achim belev say maya Oo roo achim Oo roo achim
    Belev say maya
    (repeat all above once)

  4. Gov Says:

    You are one ridiculous person. It is illegal to put watermarks on pictures whose copyrights you don’t own!!!

  5. Gov Says:

    … And stealing from the web and saying ‘from RK’s archives’ is no great tactic either!

    Grow up man…

  6. praneshachar Says:

    yarappa idu GOV antha bandiddu.
    RK’s Archieves andre what is teh problem I dont understand
    definetly it will not indicate any sort of meaning that belongs to him. but in his archieves it was available

    yochne madi bariri sumne yardo blognalli mugu tursi irritate madbedi and namma kutumbavannu fight mado hage madbedi.
    all the best let better senses prevail


  7. rk Says:

    how can you assume the image has been stolen from the web? if you had read the article, you would have got to know that i have both the LP-set and cassette versions of this album.
    posted the image after scanning it.

    (what a coincidence that prathap simha has the same ip address as yours.)

    take care

  8. Emalyse Says:

    Many thanks for your comment and link on my blog regarding Harry Belafonte. Your link was an interesting read and you certainly have an equally interesting blog. I love the contribution element.
    Best wishes and kind regards

  9. rk Says:

    hi Emalyse,
    thanks for visiting RwB.
    glad you liked the post, RwB and the ‘contribution’ element.
    please visit again

  10. mouna Says:

    ya, till today, i somehow remember the lyrics, it’s fun to remember old tunes. thanks for posting the entire thing 😀

  11. U K Says:


    I was looking for Harry Belafonte’s videos.
    Landed here,from comment you made on

    My dad used to play it so often that even before learning ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ or ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’, I had memorized Belafonte’s version of Hava Nageela and Matilda.
    A similar scenario…
    I grew up listening to his songs as Dad used to play them and was most fascinated by the audience participatory version of Matilda !

    Nice post

    Flights Of The Mind

  12. rk Says:

    thanks. glad you liked it.

    U K,
    welcome to RwB.

    we need to thanks our dads for introducing us to Harry Belafonte, don’t we?

    ‘matilda’ was an anthem for me for a long time in my childhood. and believe me, till date, have not come across another song which has such fabulous and wholehearted audience participating. surely harry belafonte made it a legendary number!!

    keep visiting.



  13. rushmenot Says:

    Matilda by Harry Belafonte

    • steve fouraker Says:

      Thank you rushmenot. Hearing the version on the Carnegie Hall shows the way his voice changed over the years. I saw him in northern Californis during that 80’s tour. He was wonderful. I always wish I had seen him at the Carnegie Hall performance.

  14. stephen fouraker Says:

    I first heard Harry in 1956 I believe when I was 8 years old. My mother played him and I took to him immediately. He taught me music before rock and roll. I was in Jacksonville, Florida USA in the South. I was a white boy who’s Mom whould say “now that is a handsome man”! I learned every song and waited for every album and was amazed when I finally heard the live album “Belafonte at Carnegie Hall.” I am so thankful to have found your blog entry though it is almost a year later. I followed him and his politics through all these years. My mother and I saw him in Miami. My brother and my daughter saw him twice in California in the early 80’s. He is a man of the world with great integrity and talent.

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