Major music festivals do make a difference. To the careers of self-indulgent pop stars and fading ex-rockers. It makes the former look a little less like selfish gits and the latter get a veneer of relevance to otherwise jaded careers.
What does it do for the beneficiaries?
The first set of mega-concerts was Live Aid organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. The ostensible objective was to raise funds for people starving after a famine in Ethiopia.
Here’s how the famine happened. In 1977 a communist-supported local tribesman called Mengistu Haile Mariam led a revolution that deposed Haile Selassie. He promptly became the darling of pro-communist sympathisers around the world for having overthrown a corrupt monarchy and “liberating the people”.
In 1991 Mariam was overthrown. He fled to Zimbabwe. Where he still hangs out and advises Comrade Bob on how to run his economy into the ground. In 2006, after a 12-year trial, Mariam was found guilty of genocide. It is estimated that his Derg army murdered, butchered and brutally tortured-to-death over 1.5 million people across Ethiopia. He started a war with Eritrea that has still not ended. His agricultural policies were vicious and as brutal as any Stalin came up with. In short, the famine which struck Ethiopia in 1984 had little to do with bad luck and everything to do with economic and political policy.
Enter the Geldof
Live Aid, the first mega-concert, and its pal, USA for Africa (along with the saccharine “We are the World”), raised over US$ 300 million and earned the Geldof a knighthood. The money went to Haile Mariam who used it to kill another few hundred thousand people. Ethiopia is still a bugfest.
Let me be more direct. Haile Mariam deliberately held millions of impoverished peasants in the north of his country, preventing them from moving south, on land that could not support them. His act was calculated to induce a famine to kill people he felt did not support his rule. Famine turned up. So did Bob Geldof. 1 500 000 people died. Western music-lovers paid for the weapons and fed Mariam’s soldiers.
Congratulations Bob. Haile Mariam hung on for another few years before being overthrown by local activists. No Westerners involved. No questions ever asked about whether Live Aid achieved a thing.
However, the idea that a few sing-along events could cure the world’s ails took hold. Who needs to understand the underlying context? Who needs to know anything at all? We’ll sing the world well.
So Live 8 was held in 2005 to further the fantastic results of Live Aid. The 46664 concert was held on Robben Island in South Africa to end AIDS in Africa. And now we have Live Earth, to end climate change.
The Bleh of Big Events
Big concerts will continue to be popular charity events. Pop stars love them; they make them feel a little less like vacuous nobodies. Concert-goers love them; it reduces all major issues down to fire-side “kumbaya” sing-alongs.
What is lost is the notion that bad decisions lead to bad results in the first place. We have to understand how those bad decisions were made and undo them. The bad results are structural. Poverty in Africa is the fault of overdependence on charity and under-demand for those in charge to be held accountable for their actions.
If a US politician squanders the budget and leaves people starving and ill does he get to blame Norway because they didn’t donate enough this year to cover the mess? So why do African politicians get away with it?
And climate change is about the way we run our economies. Our entire technology and lifestyle is based on producing energy. You can’t just sing a couple of songs and woosh it away. It’s going to take a lot of deep investment and slow migration to alternative methodologies. It’s going to be damn expensive in the short-term.
If you like music, that’s fine. But if you really intend to change the climate, save your money and invest in efficient power systems for your home. You’ll achieve more than simply making Al Gore look more swollen and pompous than he already is.