Bob Geldof, organizer of the famous LiveAid concerts in 1985 is revving up his creaky dog and pony show again hoping to summon the rock ‘n roll masses to Live8, where they will congregate in support of debt relief and international aid for African nations. That’s certainly a worthy cause and I wholeheartedly support these goals.
But in organizing this worthy cause Bob seems to have lost track of one key ingredient: the music. You host a concert for African and you’re going to book some of the great African headline acts, right? Baaba Maal, Femi Kuti, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Oliver Mtukudze, Thomas Mapfumo to name but a few. You’d want at least some of these performers on your bill wouldn’t you? Not if you’re Bob Geldof, you wouldn’t. If you were Bob Geldof, you’d want Elton John, Paul McCartney and the Spice Girls.
As my own form of musical protest, I’m offering the music of yet another African performer you won’t see at Live8. Here is Cecile Kayirebwa’s (Rwanda) Inkindi (hear it).
All this was too much for Andy Kershaw, BBC 3 world music presenter who, on All Things Considered tonight, railed against the idiocy of Geldof’s musical choices (sorry, but I can’t find the story on NPR’s site). But Kershaw wrote an article in The Independent airing his views:
In 20 years [since LiveAid], people have learnt nothing. Geldof has learnt nothing.
I was stunned when I saw the line-up for the five Live8 concerts. I had eagerly trailed my finger along the list of names – but found just one African artist: Youssou N’Dour…Youssou is excellent, but he is on that bill only because of the deeply smug, staggeringly patronising tokenism of the Live8 organisers. Geldof and Harry Goldsmith, the promoter, haven’t even gone so far as to include one African artist at each concert. What does it say about their attitude to Africa?
The response from Geldof’s camp is that he "had just three weeks to put it all together, and he went to his address book and rang the people that he knew". If that’s the case, he has very limited contacts. To compound the snub, the organisers have said they chose only "megastars that pack stadiums around the world… There are no African acts because they are not global superstars." This in a line-up that includes Axelle Red, Yannick Noah and Die Toten Hosen. How condescending can they be?
Ian Ashbridge, founder of Wrasse Records, a label which has signed many prominent African musicians, is right to say that the organisers are "a cartel of well-meaning, white, middle-class westerners…"
I can’t even see the names of many Western artists there who are known for their affection for Africa. Where is Peter Gabriel? Where is Robert Plant?
Why don’t they hold one of the concerts in Africa, where the cream of African talent could have performed? The real answer is that most of the so-called "global superstars" on the Live8 bill would be terrified to go. They have no knowledge of Africa, let alone a genuine commitment to addressing its problems.
If we are going to change the West’s perception of Africa, events like this are the perfect opportunity to do something for Africa’s self-esteem. But the choice of artists for the Live8 concerts will simply reinforce the global perception of Africa’s inferiority.
If the organisers don’t include more African musicians, I think Youssou N’Dour should boycott the event.
The New York Times published an excruciatingly beside -the-point article about the concert which covered the controversy in a single short paragraph. The writer seemed most interested in whether the Spice Girls wouild reunite for a concert appearance. Talk about running with the lead! When they cover New York or Washington, DC, their coverage is quite good. But take them out of what they know and they founder as this story illustrates.