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.


Travel is the cure to prejudice…


I have a bug bear, and it is the portrayal of ‘the developing world’ in our ‘western’ media. It is filled with prejudice, an attitude that one culture is superior and it often gives a single (and warped) story.

It’s been hard to miss the mass hysteria the USA has had over the ebola virus once it entered their country (and failed to recognise it). Politicians in high positions of power making crazy decisions based on perception and prejudice rather than scientific facts. And I quite agree with Chimamanda Adichie’s thoughts on the appalling journalism in American newspapers when Nigeria was declared ‘ebola free’. I’m glad that the first BBC headline I saw regarding ‘ebola free’ Nigeria was mourning the incredible Dr Ameyo Adadevoh and praising her diagnostic skills and strength of conviction which surely saved the lives of many when she treated Patrick Sawyer. Nigeria should be given credit where credit is due.

It is only by travelling, and by other people travelling that I have learned that so many of the cultural stereotypes I have been taught since childhood  are in fact a complete load of rubbish. I’m ashamed to think back when I asked my friend when he was going home to South Africa about track roads and shops in shacks – I had no idea that they had motorways and supermarkets and even *gasp* shopping malls.

Why? Because in school I was taught that ‘Africans’ lived in mud huts, wore grass skirts, face paint and everyone lived in isolated countryside.

And I was reminded of this fact when my friend’s almost five year old daughter told me about how she had been learning about ‘Africa’ at school and how the children had nothing to write with. Then she asked me about what the children wore when I went to South Africa. “the same clothes that we wear” I replied, “but less jumpers, because it was warmer than it is in Scotland”. She looked confused, and I was glad that at that time I had my laptop with me which contained all my photos of the young people who had taught me how to fit glass panes in windows of the school we were helping to fix up during their half-term break and the awesome kids who had been at the school holiday club we’d helped out at (run totally by locals, we were their staff not the other way around).

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And when I went to Morocco at 16, the culture was so very different! The women in the cities dressed very differently to the women in the Berber villages in the Atlas mountains. Two women we met climbing up to the place we were staying for a few nights almost fell off the mountain laughing at my friend who decided to wear his kilt that day.

There has also been understanding as I learned about the differences that at times frustrate me. Understanding brought by learning about the history and variations in culture. And I have learned that often there are far more similarities than the media would lead us to believe.

I sincerely hope that the Englishman sitting next to myself and my Nigerian friend in a restaurant in Paris learned something when he conversed with us. On discovering I was Scottish and my friend was Nigerian he asked (or more to the point, me) ‘But how are you two friends?‘. Asking two people how they know each other is a simple and expected question. But asking how we are friends is a strange one. I don’t think he would have asked if my friend had been French or Australian. He followed his question with the statement “you must be very different people“.

It’s an encounter I doubt I will forget.

Travel is so important, and these days it’s too easy to physically travel and yet still be in our same little corners. Our isolated bubbles of cultural view, absorbing the same one-sided stories that build up stereotypes. Which often leads to misunderstanding, hate and disharmony.

So even if you can’t physically travel, I urge you to travel in other ways however you can. Seek out the films that aren’t show in the mainstream cinemas. Find the newspapers written in other countries. Listen to all sorts of music even if it’s just once and you decide it’s not for you – at least you tried it! Find the authors who write from another cultural perspective.

You’ll find yourself better able to discern the media discourse that is talking rubbish after.

I promise.