Jazz and soul singer Bellande Montour was born in Montreal, Canada—the third child of a family of four—to Haitian parents. She goes by the name BellA Forte. One thing one notes immediately about her repertoire is that her rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” is one of the most soul-baring covers ever. It ought to be. Whether she’s singing the lyrics of a well-known classic or belting out her own original compositions, the svelte songstress gives it her all.
On stage, she’s alluring. She shows off her pipes, as much as she displays her look: big hair, exotic earrings, mammoth bracelets and rings, and dimpled, powdered cheeks. When BellA Forte sings “I Put A Spell On You”, one cannot help but feel sorry for the man she’s internally dedicating it to. And then there’s “Unchain My Heart” a ballad that makes the listener feels as if she’s entered a travel machine portal and is lounging in one of those nicotine smoke-filled speaksies.
Forte has gotten a contract to sing and tour in Singapore, igniting a new page in her career.
How did you come up with your stage name?
People usually call me BellA, so I decided to keep it also on stage. As for Forté, I wanted to have a last name that really defines the reason why I am singing. For me, music is the most powerful art that exists. It helps me through any situations in my life and it has that unique force of unifying people. I chose the French word Fort which means strong to illustrate this idea. [The] “é” comes from the word emotions to remind me that without emotions a song cannot touch any soul and a singer is simply not a singer if she can’t do that.
What sort of music did your parents listen to when you were growing up?
When I grew up, music was playing in my household all the time. My parents are really into konpa and French music.
You’ve professed to being a great admirer of artists like Whitney Houston, Jill Scott, Aretha Franklin, not to mention Ray Charles and Etta James. And of course…Sade. But you definitely have your own style. I think so many artists that I’ve studied…at times towards the beginning of their careers they might be at loss at to how to develop their own style. How did you develop yours?
I’m growing everyday and I believe that my quest of finding my precise style is still underway. That being said, I’m finding my individuality in my music because I don’t like to imitate or copy an artist. I can admire the way Sade sings a particular song but if I have to sing it, I will put my own touch to it whether it’s on the arrangement or the melody. I want to sing the story as if I had written it
And what sort of guidance do you have for artists on how they can formulate a style of their own, though they may be influenced by others?
First, I believe that you don’t have to be afraid to be you and decide to change certain things in a song even if people heard it 1000 times before you sang it. When it comes to compose original material, you have to write what you believe tells the story the way you felt it… Don’t be to concern about people’s judgement (this is the most difficult part). Second, you also have to be convinced that your ideas are interesting and worth sharing. Third, you also need to be open to constructive criticism and work on your craft constantly.
Did your parents oppose your pursuing a musical career?
I’m lucky to have parents that always believed in me and encouraged my projects throughout my life. My dad constantly told me, “Always be the best at what you do.” My mom, on the other hand, taught me that perseverance is the key to reach your goal.
People see you on stage singing, and they enjoy your performances. What else goes behind the world of Bella Forte in terms of the off-stage creative journey?
I take care of many things in my band so when I’m on stage, I try to give it all and let go. I always want to find new ways to improve my repertoire, the image of my band on stage and the way I market myself. In today’s age with internet, you always have to think of new ways to attract people to your shows and connect with your public.
What motivated you to record a cover of the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine”?
I always loved this song because I connect deeply with it. I had my heart broken once and there was no sunshine in my life for a little while…The words of the song are simple and they touch your soul directly. This is what I call a classic!
When you’re doing a show…say your show is going to be held on a Sunday and it’s Saturday night. What do you do to prepare with the next day in mind?
I don’t go out. I sleep early and I revise my set list. I also put myself in a positive frame of mind.
What would you say is the most challenging thing about being an artist?
The constant uncertainty and the lack of financial support from the government. Being talented is just not enough…unfortunately. You also always have to keep encouraging yourself when things get harder.
Do you visit Haiti often?
Unfortunately, not enough.
When was the last time you went there?
The last time I went to Haiti was in 2004, and it was my second time. I would like to go next year to perform at the Jazz Festival there.
When you’re making decisions about your career, does your gut instinct always win over?
It is a mixture of gut and thinking about what is best for me. I can’t always jump on every possibility without thinking it through. However, I believe that it is very important to take risks and leave your comfort zone at times.
If you were the mentor of a newly graduated college student who had majored in Music and Performance and who was about to launch her career, what would you say to her?
Be confident, the road will most probably be very bumpy but keep the faith and always believe in your talent. Surround yourself with positive and encouraging people. Be curious, respectful and don’t look down on people…you never know what the future holds. Lastly, music is amazing, perform every night as if it was your last show!
[ Color Photo Credit: (second) Marc Aristide; Cyrielle Beaubois, PF, Theodore Béall ]
You can visit Bella Forté’s website by CLICKING HERE.