Music for Social Change

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.

For many, music is the universal language that speaks when ordinary words cannot. Often an instrument for social change, music will be speaking very loudly next month, with concerts around the globe to engage the conversation.

A massive event is being organized by Media mogul, Kevin Wall and Former Vice President, Al Gore. It's billed as Live Earth: The Concerts for A Climate In Crisis. The concerts will be held on July 7 in locations covering seven continents; New York, London, Johannesburg, Rio De Janerio, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, Hamburg and Istanbul are all hosting cities. And the talent is plentiful: Dave Matthews Band, Madonna, the Beastie Boys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Damien Rice, Babba Maal and Chris Cornell are just among the 100 musicians slated to perform.

The concerts are intended to give two billion people a reason to start a global movement to solve the current climate crisis. Green has become the new Black.


Music has always been at the forefront of social change. Think about it. Whether black slaves singing gospel spirituals as a form of resistance in the early 19th Century or Woody Guthrie riding the railroads, singing This Land Is Your Land and sporting the slogan "This Machine Kills Facists" on his guitar, music has been the language for cultures to rise up for, at least two centuries. And never is it more evident than with rap's stinging indictment of the economic and cultural imbalances in America today.

Benefit concerts do focus the conversation. The Concert for Bangladesh took place in 1971 at Madison Square Gardens, organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. The concert raised some money, but the real benefit was the raised consciousness. The information trickled down to everyone and suddenly, the tragedy of a small country thousands of miles away became the concern of millions. Several major benefit concerts were held in 1979, most notably the Amnesty International's Secret Policeman's Ball in London and the No Nukes concert in New York. Again, massive awareness shifted the consciousness of attendees and the general public. Live Aid took place in London and Philadelphia in 1985, and the same year, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp organized Farm Aid. Unlike the other concerts mentioned, there have been 19 Farm Aid benefits since the first one.

Perhaps that should be the goal of the Live Earth events. Concerts may educate, but changing the world's self-destructive habits will require consistent attention.

In a related story, Bono is crafting his own version of change in the print medium. He's guest editing the July Vanity Fair issue on newsstands now. It's the first time Vanity Fair has allowed a guest editor onboard. The pop star is making Africa the focus of the entire magazine with special attention to social change. It covers the causes and problems, the leaders and the solutions. Those working directly in the field speak to the issues affecting this important continent.

Leadership is when someone recognizes a problem, sees an opportunity to change it, and takes a risk in that direction. We all have the ability to be leaders. Change is difficult and there are many obstacles along the way. I am reminded of the Voltaire quote, "Perfect is the Enemy of Good." It's highly gratifying to see music icons in our lifetime take such important and relevant risks for everyone's benefit.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.