Once upon a time (1984) there was this guy. We’ll call him Bob. Bob saw that there was this famine happening in Ethiopia and wanted to do something about it. He was in a band, so he wrote a song, invited a bunch of friends to sing it along with him (they called themselves “Band-Aid”), and thus “Do they know it’s Christmas” was released.
Now, don’t get me wrong…whatever else I might say, the effort did some good. There were some very real political problems keeping food and supplies from the Ethiopian people, and if it weren’t for the consciousness-raising efforts of the Live Aid movement, they probably would have been ignored.
At any rate, Bob and his friends did very well with their single, and it spawned a similar effort in Canada (“Tears are not enough” by “Northern Lights”) and the US (“We are the World” by the very straightforwardly-named “USA for Africa“). I was only about 12 years old at the time all this stuff happened, but I can remember exactly where I was when the concert was taking place that July: I was at our next-door neighbour’s cottage in the Ottawa Valley, listening to the music while sitting on their dock. It was, and remains, my most vivid memory of musical charity. I think there was quite a bit of musical activism happening around that time, what with Peter Gabriel and Sinead O’Connor heading off in one direction, and celebrations for the tearing down of the Berlin Wall bringing musicians together elsewhere.
I’ve heard a bunch of different versions of “Do they know it’s Christmas” in the past couple of years: Glee, the Barenaked Ladies (one of my favourite versions, actually)…but I don’t know if the message is there. It’s a catchy song, but the Glee cast is obviously not singing for starving children in Africa no matter what the lyrics and the royalties forwarded to the Band-Aid Trust say (and while I like Glee, I started checking out when the use of auto-tune overshadowed the actual musicality of the songs). The message has become lost in the catchiness of the melody, and to be blunt, the world has moved on. Sure, there were a couple of musical concerts for the victims of 9-11, and I believe there was some effort for the people of Haiti, but there really is no community of musicians to stand up and lead the way. Musical taste has scattered all over the place, for starters, and there’s so much happening in the world right now, what with hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, fires, and other natural disasters that trying to keep up, keep track, and make an effort would seem to be a measure of insanity.
Plus, I’m not exactly sure where the funds go anymore. You see commercials asking for financial assistance on the TV all the time, but I’m not sure if the money is actually going to starving orphans in Africa for their day-to-day needs, or whether they’re going to a missionary fund. I’d rather a kid got medicine than a bible, and I’m pretty sure that the Christian God would understand and appreciate that. I’m also pretty sure that there are kids a bit closer to home who could use the assistance as well.
My outlook these days? Appreciate the music. I have the memory of that time, and that’s something I can tell my nephews and nieces (and possible children of my own) about when they start asking questions about the 80’s. As for the donations of aid? I recommend Medecins sans frontieres / Doctors without Borders (and if I could find the accent keys on my MacBook, the french name would be spelled correctly). They send aid where needed, whether in far flung areas or closer to home. Also, thanks to the efforts of Yarn Harlot Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, knitters have adopted the charity as well. You can find more information about Knitters without Borders on her site.