By Bobbi I. Booker
The Birmingham Times
PHILADELPHIA–With over one million people jamming a one mile stretch of land that led to the site of the American Live 8 concert at the Museum of Art in Philadelphia, PA, questions where abound as to whether the event’s message would ring clear to the attendees. The mission of the Live 8 concerts was to raise awareness of the on-going poverty in Africa and to pressure the G8 leaders to take action by doubling aid, canceling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa.
Backstage at Live 8 in Philadelphia, performers and presenters where on message, praising the concert’s global efforts to increase awareness of AIDS and hunger in Africa, the world’s largest continent. “I think its important for Africans and African American people to step up to the plate and support this effort.,” said Rev Ben Chavis, co-founder of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a coalition of hip-hop artists and community leaders dedicated fighting the war on poverty and injustice. “Africa is long overdue to get world wide attention. Africa is long over due to get world wide support and we’re hoping that today is just not a one day event but it marks a renewal of those efforts.”
While rock & roll lead the day other Live 8 cities, including London, Tokyo, Berlin, Germany and Johannesburg, South Africa, hip hop and rap were king in America. The original Live Aid, held 20 years ago in both Philadelphia and London, featured no hip hop performances.
“Twenty years later, hip hop is no longer just an American phenomena; hip hop is a global culture,“ noted Chavis. “Geography transcends geo-political situations. [Live 8] today reflects the growth and expansion of hip hop all over the world.”
Calling hip hop “the best brand building in America,” media mogul and hip hop impresario Russell Simmons explained that Live 8 needed the hip hop community to support its message. “No idea carries in America without hip hop. You don’t sell no expensive cars ; you don’t sell no Coca Cola or Pepsi cola. None of that happens unless hip hop says so.”
In addition to requesting artists such as vocalist Alicia Keys and actor/comedian Chris Tucker to participate in Live 8, Simmons says his real support was in getting urban media to cover the event. “BET was not involved. Radio 1 was not involved. Clear Channel hip hop stations were not involved. They are all carrying this now.”
Stating that she felt “honored and proud” to participate in Live 8, Keys practically glowed after her performance. “I really feel extremely inspired when I walked on that stage and saw a million plus people–my reflection, our reflection–saying that we all wanted to stand and say to the global governments that we want to reduce the debt and we ant to end poverty ultimately.”
Tucker recalled that he was moved to activism after visiting nearly a dozen African countries recently. “6,000 people die a day in Africa and a lot of the disease can be prevented,” said Tucker. “I went to villages that didn’t have clean water. You couldn’t imagine in America not having clean water; that’s a necessity. I went to hospital full of babies, and there were only two nurses. That really affected me and just motivated me to do something.”
American-based performers with African roots, like actor Djimon Hounsou, hailed the efforts of Live 8 to bring awareness to their country‘s plight. “No matter how independent we are in Africa, we still depend on the West for our well-being,” said Hounsou of Benin. “The one thing we do need is to be able to trade with the rest of the world, and certainly with the developed world. Certainly the G8 leaders will need to find a solution for the corruption in Africa. The world is advancing so fast in order to survive, we need to keep up.”
Many of the fans gathered along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where just happy to see some of their favorite performers, but some questioned the event’s potential political effectiveness.
“I think it’s much more of a commercial event than we’re making it out to be,“ said college student Ryan Neal, 21, of Oakland, CA as he left the day-long event. “I don’t understand where the dollars are going or how the money is going back to Africa. Who’s to say this is going to change anything?”