Skip to main content

Stan’s Stuff

To which poor nation, tribe or country would you give $NZ386 million? Tricky!

$NZ368 million is today’s equivalent to the amount raised by the song, ‘We are the World’ in 1985. Most of this amount went to famine relief in Africa, mainly the Ethiopian famine. The whole enterprise was inspiring and touched the hearts and pockets of millions.
 |  Stan Stewart  | 
The remarkable “We Are The World” choir, recording in LA 1985.
The remarkable “We Are The World” choir, recording in LA 1985.

The project was conceived by Harry Belafonte and driven by Lionel Ritchie. I watched video documentary of the recording. It was mind blowing. The recording took place in Los Angeles (LA) following the American Music Awards night which brought the music stars together in LA.  The session started after midnight on January 28, 1985 and went on until 8.00am. It seemed impossible to form a choir of superstars and enormous egos but they pulled it off. Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Tina Turner, Kenny Rogers, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles and many others. The cream of the crop of American popular music, they were all there. What made it possible was that they all agreed this was a good thing to do – a cause to support.

“We are the World’ drew inspiration from Bob Geldof, the organiser of the Live Aid, “Do They Know it’s Christmas’ concert in the same year. The British concert raised a huge amount of money, NZ$236 million in today’s currency – for famine relief in Africa. Subsequent tracking of the money given has raised suspicion that some of – perhaps much of  – the funds were diverted by militant groups to buy arms. A sour note, but it cannot take away from the brilliance of Bob Geldof’s vision and how British pop recording artists made it happen.

Just suppose that today we had $NZ368 million to give away to the poor and devastated in other countries. Who would we give it to? Tricky! It’s not that we are short of starving and homeless people, but in most cases their plight is heavily politicized. Making a large financial contribution to a needy populace in any country/culture/ religion is liable to cause division and controversy.

As I’ve said above, I find it a bit hard to believe that we Kiwis, or let’s say music artists in the western world, could at this time in 2024, agree on such a project. But just suppose we could. Who would front the concert? On Billboard magazine site, I looked up who are the reigning pop stars. I know of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran but the rest were unknown to me. Most of the current top ten performers had video clips but I didn’t see much in the way of broad social consciousness.

Maybe there will never be another ‘Do they know it’s Christmas – Live Aid’ concert or a ‘We are the World’ concert. The need is there, but the world is too divided. The nations of the world are squabbling about and are suspicious of, the right and wrong of this country, this tribe or people, these nations, these islands. Live world-wide broadcasts and video hook-ups are now simple, everyday events. However, what to say to the people of the planet is more contentious than ever.

One of the things I found most interesting in the video making of ‘We are the World’ was the shots of Bob Dylan. Talk about a fish out of water! Bob Dylan looked completely uncomfortable, out of place. His albums will tell anyone that Bob Dylan is not a choir singer. Towards the end of the project, Stevie Wonder took Dylan aside and gave him two lines to sing solo. Dylan tried to sound like a member of the choir. Stevie Wonder said, “Stop. You are not a member of the choir. You are Bob Dylan. Sing it like Bob Dylan. Use the voice you always use”. Dylan looked relieved. He sang the lines in his usual nasal drone. This segment is included in the final tape. It sounds great. Bob Dylan was really contributing to, ‘We are the World’. That’s it! I get it.

The only way ahead for all of us to sing it (to live it) is in our own way! In the final mix it is needed.

‘We are the world,

We are the children,

We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.

There’s a choice we’re making,

We’re saving our own lives.

It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me’