I’m not a big fan of the large benefit concerts for causes: multi-million dollar celebrities playing a couple of songs each for throngs of people who may or may not have any idea of why the music is being played. From Live Aid in 1985 to its sequel last year, I’ve taken a pretty jaundiced view of it all.
Maybe it’s because, no matter what platitudes issue from the stage, most of the people involved are so far removed from the reality that faces the people for whom the concert is being held, they can’t even begin to understand it. They live in a world of mobile phones, personal assistants, faxes, and other goods and services whose value could easily supply clean water for millions of people.
What I found most troubling about any of these concerts was the “one off” feeling they always seem to leave in their wake. There is this incredible build up of publicity leading up to the concert concerning the cause and who will be appearing, but two days later nobody’s talking about it anymore. We don’t even know how much money was raised and what happened to it.
If the concerts are to breed awareness, how many people have gone home and pushed their governments to increase the amount of their GNP (Gross National Product) they give towards the reduction of world poverty? How many of them balk when they find out that it might come out of their pockets via an increase in taxes or an increase in how much they might have to pay for gasoline or some other thing they find they can’t live without?
Maybe the first Live Aid concert was successful in raising money for famine relief in that year, but it hasn’t changed the conditions that caused the famine or the refugee problems in the first place. War still plagues the Sub-Sahara and still displaces people. Women, children, and men are still dying of starvation on a daily basis and aid workers continue to fight a losing battle against disease – and that’s only one place in the world where this situation exists.
In May of 2004, Quincy Jones organized the We Are The Future benefit concert in Rome, Italy with the intent of it being a beginning, not a one off thing. Working with The Glocal Forum, a Non Governmental Organization based out of Italy, the proceeds from the concert through broadcast rights and DVD sales will help to raise funds to build and maintain We Are The Future Child Centres.
The Centres will be located in the places they are needed most: cities and towns that have been affected by war and where the populations are doing their best to recover, but need outside aid. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Iraq and the border towns of Israel and Palestine are only a few of the afflicted areas that are in need.
An event that was organized to run in tandem with the concert was a meeting of mayors from small cities and towns throughout those regions. At one point in the concert, the proceedings were interrupted to bring the mayors of Rome, Jerusalem, and two or three of the border towns on either side of the West Bank to shake hands. The sight of these men, who we view as enemies, clasping hands together in agreement on anything at all, on stage, no matter if it was only purely symbolic, had more impact for me than anything Live Aid or its sequels ever did.
Musically speaking, the event was far more international in flavour then these events usually are. Unfortunately, the line-up lacked any really big mainstream stars from the United States or Great Britain. This, combined with their very inclusive attitude probably causing them political problems, prevented them from selling the broadcast rights in North America save for taped excerpts on MTV.
This is a real pity because people missed out on one of the most diverse line-ups for this type of show that I’ve seen in a long time. From the opening number featuring Angelique Kidjo and the Soundz Of South Afrika Choir singing “Afrika” all the way through to the finale of Carlos Santana joined by Mexican singer Fher and the house band singing a medley of “Oye Como Val El Pito and Sunshine Of Your Love,” the music was from all over the world.
If you’ve never seen the British dance/music/anarchy ensemble Stomp, their piece “Poles and Bins” will take your breath away. Creating rhythms with the poles and trash bins of the title, they are part dance, part gymnastics, and part death defying feats with trashcan lids. Absolutely spellbinding.
More sedate, but equally mesmerizing was the work of Iraqi singer Kazem Al Sahir with his song “Oh Allah, Let It Be.” While it starts off sounding like a traditional Arab song, it evolves into a world beat sound that’s become very familiar, but in this case works really well. Near the end of the song he is joined by Karina Pasian, a young woman signer from the Dominican Republic. At the age of twelve, she has more poise and talent than many performers three times her age.
Karina makes a second appearance later in the program in a duet with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, making the best of a fairly schmaltzy song called “Prayer.” Just prior to them, two American singers had done the same song and had really chewed the scenery in an attempt to sound genuine and sincere. Pasian and Bocelli, by simply standing and singing with grace, are able to make far more of an impact without the histrionics.
The one big star of the night, Carlos Santana ends the concert and perhaps gives a clue in his opening remarks why this event was not widely publicized in North America. Indicating the people on stage behind him he says, “We are the other America, not the Bush America”.
It was the only overt political statement throughout the whole show of that flavour, but it was obvious from the start that the ideals being expressed by those involved with the production were not in alignment with the current American administration’s view of the world. It really wasn’t much of a surprise to hear that view expressed. It also wasn’t much of a surprise that Carlos Santana is still one of the premier live performers around today.
He has such an infectious spirit that by the end of his set he had the members of the orchestra on stage who were no longer performing, up and dancing in their seats. I can honestly say I’ve never seen that before during a concert.
The concert was broadcast live on Italian television and Al Jazeera. The sound quality and picture quality are wonderful on the DVD. The sound is available in DTS, 5.1 Surround, and regular stereo, so it can played through almost any system out there. The special features include some rather lame interviews conducted by Italian MTV V-Jays who are even blanker than their American counterparts.
The documentary on how the show came together is quite interesting because it’s where you find out about how the show’s impact will be felt after it’s over. It provides footage of the historic handshake between the mayors. The documentary managed to avoid most of the self-aggrandisement that usually accompanies the making of features.
It can’t be avoided entirely, but to a large extent we hear more about the work that’s being attempted than about the “great thing” they are doing. It makes for a welcome change in these days of ego-stroking and backslapping among stars and celebrities. This is the main difference between We Are The Future and other events like it all the way around. For a change, the people seem committed to something beyond making sure all the stars are properly pampered and catered to.
There is an undercurrent that runs through the whole DVD of genuine concern and maybe a little desperation, too. As Quincy Jones said in his welcoming speech, “The world’s in quite a mess right now, and standing back and doing nothing is no longer an option.”
Lets hope that We Are The Future is able to live up to its promise, and that their work continues today. Buying the disc is not only an investment in good music, but also an investment in the world’s future generations – two pretty good reasons to shell out some money any time of the year.