Buy a single, save the world?

Five years ago, I had a massive rant on my old blog Learning from Sophie about a charity single that has in the past been popular in the UK. You probably know it as ‘Band Aid’. Several of my friends who are from African countries and have lived in the UK, have told me they find the song just ever so slightly patronising. I can see why. In fact I often find myself yelling in response to the lyrics.

In particular lines like

let’s say a prayer, a prayer for the other ones

There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time

They’ve changed the lyrics a bit for ‘Band Aid 30’ (as it’s 30 years since their first version of this song came out) see what you think:

It’s Christmas time, and there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and banish shade
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

But say a prayer, pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard but while you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you

No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa
The only hope they’ll have is being alive
Where to comfort is to fear
Where to touch is to be scared
How can they know it’s Christmas time at all

Here’s to you
Raise a glass to everyone
And here’s to them
And all their years to come
Let them know it’s Christmas time after all

Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmas time again
Feel the world, let them know it’s Christmas time again
Heal the world, let them know it’s Christmas time again

I have a few issues. Firstly the BBC (who are apparently official partners of this single) who had a front page news article on their website about the single which was more like something out of a celebrity gossip magazine showing us all the celebrities who have put themselves on the track. I totally commend these celebrities charitable intentions. But I do wonder how much they have educated themselves about the complex nature of the crisis, or the fact that there is also a famine (sorry: hunger crisis) happening right now in South Sudan that seems to be getting largely ignored by international media. Something that was highlighted on satirical video blog show ‘What’s Up Africa?‘ a few months ago

I personally have concerns about the lyrics of the song still, even though some have been changed (like the ‘Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you‘, which I found particularly offensive on the past two singles has been removed). They seem to have finally spoken to some Geographers and realised that there is snow in Africa at Christmas time and that it’s a bit of a dumb statement to make since in many countries in Southern Hemisphere where people celebrate Christmas there is no snow because it’s summer. Not to mention the fact that many in Africa won’t celebrate Christmas because they are not of the same religion.

There’s nothing on their website about where their money is going other than to their Band Aid Foundation, and I’m not sure why spending money on a song about a crisis that most people are already aware of (even if the international community buried its head in the sand until it affected a white person from the western world). From investigation, it looks like the Band Aid Foundation is essentially a trust fund that charities already working in these countries can apply to for funding for projects.  It is a shame that people aren’t just giving to those projects directly (less money would be wasted on administration costs then).

But I think, if I’m honest, what offends me most is rich, wealthy celebrities telling me that by buying a single is going save Africa. It’s not that I don’t think that we can use art to bring attention to important issues, or do fun or silly things to raise money for worthy causes. It’s the self-righteous attitude of westerners going to ‘save’ the poor Africans. The patronising lyrics. The guilt tripping of people. And the fact their website right now has more about the folks singing on their CD than about how the money is actually going to be helping.

And that makes me wary.

Am I being ridiculous?

I would love to hear some opinions from people like this lady who is from Liberia.


One thought on “Buy a single, save the world?

  1. Rebecca says:

    I cannot stand this song. I have never liked it. I really resent that it doesn’t reflect Africa as a continent! Yes it talks about famine, poverty etc But there are many countries in Africa that don’t celebrate Christmas or have the education to know what it is about….so why release it at christmas here?

    I think the charity is wonderful and the intentions are well meaning. But releasing a song for the third time? Doesn’t bring the message home to me.


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