Harry Belafonte was in Iceland last week to promote UNICEF. I confess I knew very little about him before he came (except that he sang songs and has a daughter named Shari who is an actress). Last night, however, I got around to watching an interview with him on Icelandic TV* and am completely smitten.

What a gracious, intelligent, generous and kind man! One of those people who by their very presence inspires admiration and respect, to say nothing of when he began to speak. It was like he was plugged directly into some Universal wisdom – every word was absolutely true and real and appropriate, no matter how idiotic and ridiculous the questions that came his way (and there were plenty of those – one cringed repeatedly). Even when watching the interview on Windows Media Player, the impact was profound. Excerpts:


With the dawning of so much economic interest in Iceland… we wonder, will Iceland just become fat and rich, or will Iceland also continue to have a soul and a moral sense of the world around it?….


Poverty is very critical to choices I’ve made in life. With all the degradation one finds in poverty, [it] is also where one finds the centre of one’s own humanity. A lot of people in poverty care about one another… when I became an artist and got this great global popularity, beyond personal wealth, my biggest question was, ‘what do you do with your platform?’ [He went on to instigate the We Are the World movement].


Interviewer: Did you ever feel bad about your success?

HB: No I never felt badly. There was no reason to. The way in which one can begin to feel badly is when you look at the world and see so much to do, and then ignore it.


What really struck me [having been in Africa in 1985 in the midst of a famine] was the global indifference. Nobody cared. Nobody said anything; nobody responded… day after day it was all this humanity being wasted. […] When I went back to America… I said ‘our indifference is really a definition of our moral collapse. How can we be so affluent, how can we have so much, and be so distant from people who are in need?’


“There is something terribly wrong with the world of culture… there was a time when… the men and women who ran it came out of culture. […] Now we have manufacturers, we have business and they make decisions each day that seriously narrows the world of culture.[…] But I think that artists have got to understand that they are the masters of their own destiny. My voice is my voice; what I do with it as an artist is in the final analysis my choice. And I let the banks and the lawyers and the agents and the heads of studios … and just say ‘look, you cannot manage my destiny. I cannot give you that right’. I think we have to reclaim our rights to our destiny and let them know that without us there is no art. And let’s reshape our own values.”


Breezes from the northeast and east; snow or sleet in the north, showers or rain in the south. Temps currently 5 degrees. Sunrise was at 10.26; sunset is scheduled for 16.02.

* For the complete interview, go here, click on ‘television’, then choose Saturday the 20th and ‘Laugardagskvöld með Gísla Marteini’. The amazing HB is the last of three guests (you can skip the first two if you want. They pale in comparison.).