Live Aid – test your knowledge of the Global Jukebox

13 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Live Aid did nothing for me’ says poster child of Ethiopian famine.

An Ethiopian woman who became the face of Sir Bob Geldof’s Live Aid campaign says she can’t support her family and has been made a recluse by the fame.

Thirty years ago today, at lunchtime in the U.K. and just before breakfast on the East Coast, 1.5 billion people sat rapt in front of their television sets, waiting for the revolution to be televised.Sixty years separate us from the birth of rock’n’roll – and slap bang in the middle of that is the event that marked rock’n’roll’s passage into respectability. Birhan Woldu, now 34, became the “poster child” for the Ethiopian Famine after she was filmed on the brink of death near a food station in the north of the country. The revolution, which was called Live Aid, was being conducted on two concert stages in London and Philadelphia and then bounced across various satellites to 150 countries, an unprecedented procedure executed with the intent of raising humanitarian aid for famine victims in Ethiopia. There had been a couple of colossal T.V. moments in the preceding 12 months — the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles; Reagan’s second inauguration — but this was to be the largest by a mile, not only that year but in the entire history of the medium.

Introducing the then 24-year-old student, Geldof told the crowd and the millions watching around the world that the Ethiopian had only 10 minutes to live when her image was captured: “Because of Live Aid 20 years ago … last week she did her agricultural exams in the school she goes to in the northern Ethiopian highlands. This song, featuring artists such as Phil Collins, George Michael and Sting, talked patronisingly of Africa — with its four majestic rivers, the Nile, Niger, Congo and Zambezi — as a place “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow”. No one puts money in a jukebox with the intention of playing a record they’ve never heard before, and the cleverest artists who performed that day realised this was no time to shift new product.

Woodstock was larger as a physical event, of course — an on-site audience of 400,000 compared with the 90,000 at Live Aid’s Philadelphia stage and the 60,000 in London — but whereas Woodstock was a gleeful veneration of the counterculture, Live Aid sought to occupy the mainstream psyche with a traditionally uncool message: one of humanitarian awareness and sympathy. Given one song early in the day to rescue his flagging fortunes, Adam Ant sang his next single Vive Le Rock and effectively signed his own death warrant. Bryan Ferry was similarly short-sighted, choosing to perform three songs out of his allotted four from his new Boys & Girls album (the other was his cover of Jealous Guy) over his most fondly remembered Roxy Music hits.

Look at this beautiful woman.” But Woldu, who was put through school, along with several other family members, by the Canadian journalist Brian Stewart – whose Canadian Broadcasting Corporation crew had originally filmed her – has said the fame that was thrust upon her has held her back because “people know my stories and see me with famous people”. A Sahelian drought had been made worse by Ethiopian autocrat Mengistu Haile Mariam’s brutal and misguided agricultural collectivisation policies and forced displacement of 600,000 people. Bob Geldof, the musician turned inadvertent activist who found himself at the helm of the event, envisioned a show “as huge as humanly possible,” one that defied all precedent to bring music to the world, and in turn aid for Africa. I do not have a job and I cannot support my family on my own.” While she said Sir Bob’s campaign had done good work in the last 30 years, she felt they could have done more good by building infrastructure than by sending food packages. Thirty years after “Live Aid”, it is clear that celebrity efforts to “save Africa from itself” have often reinforced negative media stereotypes about the continent, portraying its 1-billion citizens as helpless creatures in need of benevolent assistance from western saviours in a new “white man’s burden”.

As their drummer, Roger Taylor, said at the time: “It’ll make a pot of money for a wonderful cause, but make no mistake, we’re doing it for our own glory as well!” The following week’s chart positions ratified their new status. Queen’s Greatest Hits, The Works and Mercury’s solo album Mr Bad Guy soared up the charts; the following summer they returned to Wembley for a headlining show of their own. That way we can be able to transform our country and offer a better life for our children.” He told CBS News that when he saw her snatched from the jaws of death by a nurse at the feeding station, he “had no sense this would later become the legendary face of famine.”

Two years before The Joshua Tree confirmed U2’s position at the vanguard of superstardom, Wembley Stadium stood rapt as the group delivered a twinkling rendition of the now-mostly-forgotten “Bad,” with a mulleted, wholly unpretentious Bono leaping from the stage to dance with a young woman in the front row. Bob Geldof and Bono are seeking to “end poverty”, Angelina Jolie is “protecting” refugees and rape victims, George Clooney is “saving” Darfur, Sharon Stone is campaigning for mosquito nets, Madonna has adopted children in Malawi as if buying new pets, and Prince Harry is on his way to Namibia to “save” the black rhino. When Elvis Costello covered The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” the stadium joined in. “The audience was at the center of it — they were the stars of the show.

Ensuing shows by Simple Minds, Genesis, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and U2 meant Wembley was being used almost as much for music as it was for sport. The acts who succeeded that day were the acts who realized that,” David Hepworth, the British music journalist who co-presented the BBC’s Live Aid coverage, told TIME. “That’s what Live Aid changed in the music business — afterwards, you had this explosion in scale, the rise of these massive, often outdoor concerts.” It wasn’t perfect, of course. By helping create a new superleague of rock stars, an event conceived purely to raise money for African famine victims ended up generating just as much revenue for the labels to whom the artists were signed.

When Paul McCartney played “Let It Be,” the microphone on his piano failed for the first two minutes of the song (not that it mattered much—in one of the most moving moments of the entire broadcast, the audience sang along anyway). She married at 28 but has since separated and lives in a one-room house with her two daughters. “[People] question how it is I am not able to support my family,” she said. In Philadelphia, Bob Dylan allegedly infuriated Geldof when he suggested onstage that some of the day’s proceeds go toward struggling American farmers.

As much as a sixth of aid money ($250bn) between 2000 and 2012 was spent on administrative costs, debt relief and hosting foreign students and refugees. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that, in the intervening years, the music industry has been desperate to relive Live Aid – a major live pop event, usually charitable, that reinforces the status of established artists and anoints a handful of new ones.

According to ACET she received half of the advance of a book about her life, Feed the World: Birhan Woldu and Live Aid, 10 years ago, and has received money from media interviews. TIME’s coverage was decidedly ambivalent, noting Live Aid’s success as a charity benefit but seeming nonplussed about the larger idea of it. “Television may be great for raising big bucks, but it is no friend of live music, especially not of rock ‘n’ roll, which needs urgency, immediacy, volume and balance,” TIME’s critic Jay Cocks wrote. “If this occurred to Bob Geldof … it obviously did not give him serious pause. Woldu is positive about change in her country since the famine of 1983-85, which took the lives of her mother and sister, sparing only her and her father. “The country has come a very long way since then,” she said. “We now have schools and hospitals and road access to remote areas. As the Ebola crisis unfolded in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea last year, Geldof recorded “Band Aid 30″ for yet another cause, singing that “there is no peace and joy in West Africa”. Music was the come-on of the day, not the essence, and world television was like a vast electronic banking window.” Other critics were — and still are — harsher, deriding the concert as a failed exercise in misguided imperialist sympathy.

The more than $150 million it raised, they said, did next to nothing to relieve the suffering in western Africa, and maybe even worsened the political situation there. The festival which, according to the editor of fRoots magazine and inaugural attendee, Ian Anderson, started out as “just one stage, a bunch of hippies, with free milk handed out from the farm”, now caters to two audiences. Decades before the first online sympathy story went viral, Live Aid demonstrated that compassion could be commodified in the interest of the greater good. Lionel Richie is playing his hits to 200,000 people whose desire to experience a moment of musical togetherness radiates outwards into the sitting rooms of middle England, in the process giving Richie a No 1 album and further ratifying Glastonbury’s place in the cultural fabric of Britain. Africa certainly needs to seek partners in a globalised world, but it may be time to light a bonfire of vanities for the celebrity missionaries who are so intent on saving us from ourselves.

Here you can write a commentary on the recording "Live Aid – test your knowledge of the Global Jukebox".

* Required fields
Twitter-news
Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site