Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Live 8 Charity Gigs Not African Enough For Critics by Emmanuel Legrand
As Bob Geldof rallies artists and lobbies world leaders to relieve African debt, his Live 8 initiative has come under attack for not featuring African musicians in its concert series.
"This initiative is just incredible," Island Records founder and Palm Pictures chairman Chris Blackwell says. "Geldof and his friends deserve a major accolade for pulling it off again. What a fantastic opportunity to expose African music -- but where are the African artists?"
Irish rocker, activist and Live Aid founder Geldof launched Live 8 on May 31, announcing plans for five free, simultaneous, outdoor concerts to take place July 2 in five countries.
Blackwell is among several industry figures who have pointed out the absence of African artists. The only one scheduled to perform at Live 8 is Senegal's Youssou N'Dour, at the Paris show.
"It is ridiculous not to have African artists when it should be such an easy thing to fix," says Nick Gold, founder of the World Circuit label, which counts Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure among its acts.
Leading the initial charge against Live 8 was U.K. broadcaster Andy Kershaw, a presenter at Live Aid 20 years ago. Writing in British daily The Independent, Kershaw said the attitude of Live 8 organizers was "condescending" toward African artists. He added, "To have such a striking absence of African artists on the bills for five concerts which are supposed to support and draw attention to Africa is a disgrace." He was not available to comment.
Live 8 organizers hope the concerts will raise awareness of poverty in Africa ahead of the G8 summit, to be held July 6-8 in Gleneagles, Scotland. A sixth Live 8 concert has been scheduled for July 6 in Edinburgh, Scotland, with performers including Travis, Annie Lennox, Snow Patrol, Dido, Texas and the Proclaimers.
Blackwell says he does not want "to put any negative vibes on this initiative" but adds that African artists should have been part of the planning process. He cites such artists as Palm Pictures-signed Baaba Maal, from Senegal, as "very much involved in African causes."
"I spoke to Geldof," Blackwell continues. "He said he was going for the biggest-selling artists around the world. That's his main criteria."
However, other critics contend that though booking top sellers might have been a priority for the London and Philadelphia concerts, the Paris, Berlin and Rome lineups include local artists who are not necessarily well-known outside their home country.
They say organizers could have enlisted such acts as Cheb Mami, Khaled, Rachid Taha and Souad Massi from Algeria; Salif Keita, Mory Kante and Tinariwen from Mali; Thomas Mapfumo from Zimbabwe; Manu Dibango from Cameroon; and Ladysmith Black Mambazo from South Africa.
"If people from Africa are excluded from these concerts because they are not having global reach -- and it also depends how you define global -- then when would they have it?" Gold asks.
Ian Ashbridge, founder and co-managing director of leading U.K. world-music label Wrasse, points out that the 1985 Live Aid concerts were fund-raisers, so the lineup had to appeal to as many people as possible. In contrast, Live 8 is intended to raise awareness, not money. "It is about politics," Ashbridge says, "and you have to be careful about how you present the message."
He believes the lack of African performers erodes the event's credibility: "If they had a Baaba Maal or a Femi Kuti talking about African issues rather than white, middle-class Western boys, it would have made a difference."
Live 8 promoter Harvey Goldsmith agrees that having African acts performing at the concerts "might enhance the message." However, he adds, "We do not need to be politically correct -- we need to get the message over, and we'll get the message over anyway. We support a continent that is dying. That's what we are doing."
Editor's Note: This article first appearead at Reuters/Billboard
Tuesday, June 14, 2005