Born in Casablanca, Morocco, Belolo spent his 20s in Paris, France as a DJ and music producer. He relocated to New York City in 1973 and met another Moroccan ex-pat, Jacques Morali. Inspired by the gay club scene and appalled by American bigotry, the pair determined to form a disco group that would embrace all aspects of diversity and the homoerotic male fantasy: The Village People.
“We were keen of doing something for [gay liberation and the political side of it], because Jacques was gay, and I was feeling that an injustice was done to the gay community, Belolo said in a 2004 interview with Red Bull Music Academy. “And I did not like that American mentality of bigotry and hypocrisy. And I didn’t see why these people would be treated like this. Like black people, as well – I did not like the way they were treated… I really did it as a provocative, subversive way of telling you, ‘This is the way it is.’”
The six-piece group — made up of singers and dancers in costume as a policeman, cowboy, Indian, construction worker, soldier, and leather biker — quickly became pioneers of disco music. Hits like “YMCA”, “Macho Man”, “In the Navy”, and “Go West” are indelible to this day. After a 33-year hiatus from recording, the group released A Village People Christmas last year.
Originally, Belolo was given a co-writing credit on a number of Village People’s biggest songs. However, in 2015, original frontman/cop Victor Willis won a copyright case that removed Belolo’s writing credits.
Still, Willis remained appreciative and fond of Belolo. In a statement to Rolling Stone, he said of his late collaborator’s passing,
“I am devastated by the untimely death of Henri Belolo, who was my former producer, mentor and co-creator of Village People. Henri leaves an impressive body of work that helped shape the disco genre, and as a record executive, he was par excellence. A private funeral was held already [in] Paris, but we are working on a public memorial service which is expected to be announced soon.”