ByÂ Anwesha Dhar:
“If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”
What is it about music? What is that power that music has over us, the power to enrapture and take us through the various troughs and crests of emotions? Whatever it be, there is no denying that music is a powerful tool. It is sometimes the one thing that connects two otherwise different human beings. Needless to say, there are some who identified this immense power inherent in music and directed to usher change of the highest degree. Some formed super groups and some organised what is known as ‘benefit concerts’. A platform where well know celebrities, musical stalwarts came together and used this tool sometimes to raise awareness and sometimes to raise funds.
Arguably, the first widespread benefit concert was held in 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York, named ‘The Concert of Bangladesh.’ It was a devastating year for Bangladesh, marred with the war for liberation which killed thousands of people and the Bhola cyclone. Ravi Shankar, who had ancestral roots in Bangladesh, hoped to aid the nation by holding a small concert and donation the funds. With George Harrison’s support, this turned into a tremendous occasion with musicians like Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton joining in. Ravi Shankar was accompanied by music veteran Ali Akbar Khan for the opening act. Even though the concert ran into a few problems later, The Concert for Bangladesh remains remarkable for the sheer awareness it generated for the lesser known cause and problems of Bangladesh.
The Secret Policeman’s Ball, a string of concerts held from the end of 70’s for Amnesty International was in many ways, not only instrumental to raising funds but also in setting new trends and standards. It brought together comedians and rock musicians on one platform, a feature widely responsible for the immense popularity of these concerts. Not only did it have established performers like Monty Python but it gave exposure to many lesser-known alternative comedians as well. Rock musicians like Sting too gave a solo performance here, then uncommon among band artists. U2’s Bono, a widely acknowledged humanitarian has gone on record saying how these concerts became a part of him and encouraged him a great deal to use his talent for wider causes. Many in the industry hail The Secret Policeman’s Ball concerts a precursor of the memorable and hugely popular concert of 1985, Live Aid.
1984-1985 present Ethiopia and Eritrea were struck by a terrible famine, pushing thousands to death by starvation. After this news hit UK, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure got together and formed the super group “Band Aid” with other artists, and released “Do They Know It Is Christmas?” that year. This struck a chord with the people and this idea grew into the legendary concert, “Live Aid” performed simultaneously at John Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia and at Wembley Stadium in London. It was one of the greatest television broadcasts of all time and the crowd roared as Richard Skinner kicked off the show. It had an impressive line up of artists, from David Bowie, Queen, U2, Elton John, Dire Straits, The Who, Sting in UK to Mick Jagger, Madonna, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Bryan Adams, Bill Crosby in the USA among others. The concert cemented U2’s position in the industry as well as that of Queen, which gave one of its greatest performances. The logo of Live Aid became iconic as well, the guitar shaped as the map of the continent of Africa. It became of the highest grossing concerts in history, inspiring later concerts like Live 8. The concert ended with two super groups, Band Aid in UK and USA for Africa, in USA performing “Do They Know It Is Christmas?” and “We Are The World” respectively. The concert remains one of the greatest examples of how music has the power to penetrate into the souls of people and move them into doing something for the society.
In our country, however, benefit concerts are a rarity. Even though artists, both musicians and dancers perform time to time to raise funds, a large-scale concert is hardly seen. This maybe because of the trouble involved to get artists together, the lack of such organisers or owing to the very fact that the Indian music industry today faces a dearth of individual performers. Names like Shaan, Alisha Chinoy, KK who used to release independent albums in the 90’s giving rise to a strong pop music culture, have all migrated to the music film industry or have dwindled away. Even though artists have come forward time to time, and in their own capacity have contributed to raising awareness, concerts themselves are hardly seen. Indian artists hold within themselves this great power of music, hardly used in such a massive capacity, which when used can salvage many from their present turmoil. Whether the future will allow them to make use of this tool is yet to be seen.
The power of music yet remains only half realised. It can push us to think and delve us into deep thinking or make us forget all the cares of the world and enjoy the moment. Whatever it may be, the role music and artists have played over the years cannot be ignored. Language, barriers and other pithy things can hardly prevent it from resounding in every nook and corner of the world, hoping to mould it into something better.