A Penny For A Song This Christmas

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 Of Minds And Mixtapes 0 Comments

"Do They Know It’s Christmas?" - Band Aid 30 and raising money through music.
Irish singer-songwriter and political activist, Bob Geldof co-wrote "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in 1984 to raise money for the famine in Ethiopia. The song reached number one in fourteen other countries that year, while Live Aid reached 1.9 billion people across 150 countries, and raised £40m.

This year, on its 30th anniversary of the charity single, it has been re-recorded to raise money to fight Ebola in West Africa and features a host of modern artists including Ed Sheeran, One Direction, Paloma Faith, Ellie Goulding, Seal, Sam Smith, Sinéad O'Connor, Chris Martin, Bono Rita Ora, Emeli Sandé, Bastille and Olly Murs.

I've always had my doubts as to whether celebrity supporters for charity are a good thing. There's a degree of public scepticism about why celebrities are supporting something in the first place. There might also be that sparkling hypocrisy: you know, a bunch of millionaires asking for our money. Makes me wonder whether they've put their hands in their own pockets.

But come to think of it, expecting the handful of filthy rich to bear the costs of dealing with possible pandemic diseases (like Ebola) doesn't really exempt the rest of us from doing our teeny bit to fight it. We have this shared responsibility towards humanity that requires our show of solidarity, monetarily. What most of us only need is a good return investment for our contributions.
Here comes in an initiative like Band Aid: give a penny for a song. Music is used as a fundraising tool, and it makes for a pretty good one too since music plays a huge part in many people’s lives. More than that, music has a lot of numbers on its side --  Spotify has 60 million total users and 15 million paid subscribers; YouTube has more than one billion users, with people watching “hundreds of millions of hours” every day; artists such as Ed Sheeran and John Legend have a combined Twitter following of 19.4m. Imagine the potential!

It isn't a new concept. The Beatles started this way back in the 60s and 70s. There was the Concert for Bangladesh, rock's first big act of philanthropy. The Bhola cyclone had severely damaged East Pakistan and West Bengal, killing 500,000 people and displacing thousands more. The cyclone and its awful aftermath worsened existing tensions between the people of East Pakistan and the Pakistani government, leading to the liberation war of 1971 and the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh. At the behest of Ravi Shankar, George Harrison curated a concert with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and others, and raised $243,000 overnight, also raising awareness for the refugee crisis in Bangladesh.

There was USA for Africa -- Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder co-wrote “We are the World” which has raised more than $62m for humanitarian causes, since its release in the 80s. In recent times we've seen a Campaign by Bono, the U2 frontman. Shakira too is pretty active with her charity for destitute children in Colombia. Coldplay’s Chris Martin curated concerts for raising awareness for development goals. Madonna has campaigned for Malawi (Frankly, I think “Like A Prayer” is enough of a gift to the lot of humanity!)

So it works like this: One celebrity equals 'x' amount of awareness. Two celebrities is 'x' awareness multiplied by two. More the awareness, more the prospect of raising money. But apart from its sheer fundraising potential, bringing such artists together for a cause somehow makes global dialogue on suffering and its solutions more nuanced, thoughtful and tolerant than ever. This I agree is equally important.