Africans not included

The aim of the Live8 concerts is to persuade the world not to neglect Africa. Yet that is exactly what the organisers are doing - and demonstrating typical Western arrogance, argues Andy Kershaw, one of the original presenters of Live Aid
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Back in 1985, I was one of the television presenters of Live Aid and was dismayed that the two big concerts - supposed to draw attention to an African disaster, the famine in Ethiopia - included no African musicians. Three years later, I was at Radio One when the station was included in a 70th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium for Nelson Mandela, still in jail. Again, there were no African artists, so I kicked up a fuss. They finally included Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, a South African band who turned out to be one of Mandela's favourite groups.

Back in 1985, I was one of the television presenters of Live Aid and was dismayed that the two big concerts - supposed to draw attention to an African disaster, the famine in Ethiopia - included no African musicians. Three years later, I was at Radio One when the station was included in a 70th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium for Nelson Mandela, still in jail. Again, there were no African artists, so I kicked up a fuss. They finally included Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, a South African band who turned out to be one of Mandela's favourite groups.

When Mandela was released there was a second Wembley concert, in March 1990. This time he attended - they sat him in the royal box - but again the line-up was the usual suspects from rock's aristocracy, with one token African band. Topping the bill was Simple Minds.

I met Mandela three weeks later in Zimbabwe, at a huge stadium gathering to mark the 10-year anniversary of independence (this was before Mugabe went bonkers). "You spend 27 years in prison, you get out, and they give you a Simple Minds concert," I said to him. "I'd have gone back to Robben Island." He just laughed - but the story is indicative of the prevailing mentality then and today. In 20 years, people have learnt nothing. Geldof has learnt nothing.

I was stunned when I saw the line-up for the five Live8 concerts. I had eagerly trailed my finger along the list of names - but found just one African artist: Youssou N'Dour, appearing in Paris. Youssou is excellent, but he is on that bill only because of the deeply smug, staggeringly patronising tokenism of the Live8 organisers. Geldof and Harry Goldsmith, the promoter, haven't even gone so far as to include one African artist at each concert. What does it say about their attitude to Africa? Do they think African musicians just aren't up to it?

In March I went to Dakar, Senegal, for Africa Live, a UN Roll Back Malaria concert (it will air on BBC4 in July). For three days and nights, everyone who is anything in African music performed to a crowd of 40,000 people in a football stadium. One of the bands playing was Tinariwen, former guerrilla fighters from the depths of the Sahara desert who turned up in Timbuktu in the early 1990s, at the end of the Touareg uprising, carrying electric guitars and Kalashnikovs. Their rolling desert rhythm-and-blues was absolutely riveting. Why won't they be at Live8? Another band, Kekele, the cream of rumba veterans from the former Zaire - what we now laughingly call the Democratic Republic of Congo - make the most exquisite music. Eric Clapton isn't fit to tune the strings of their lead guitarist, Syran Mbenza. Where are they going to be on 2 July?

One of the other artists there, Baaba Maal, is a Grammy nominee who gave one of the most sophisticated performances I have ever seen. Furthermore, he's a very good spokesman on African issues - specifically the issues Geldof is trying to highlight. Why isn't he on board as a comrade?

The response from Geldof's camp is that he "had just three weeks to put it all together, and he went to his address book and rang the people that he knew". If that's the case, he has very limited contacts. To compound the snub, the organisers have said they chose only "megastars that pack stadiums around the world... There are no African acts because they are not global superstars." This in a line-up that includes Axelle Red, Yannick Noah and Die Toten Hosen. How condescending can they be?

To have such a striking absence of African artists on the bills for five concerts which are supposed to support and draw attention to Africa is a disgrace. Ian Ashbridge, founder of Wrasse Records, a label which has signed many prominent African musicians, is right to say that the organisers are "a cartel of well-meaning, white, middle-class westerners who say what they feel", and to highlight the absence of Africans "on stage, backstage, or acting as spokespeople". The organisers of Live8 are saying to the politicians: "Don't neglect Africa". But that's precisely what they themselves are doing.

From my own experience of concert promotion, I don't believe Geldof put together an event like this in three weeks, and nor will many promoters. There was plenty of time to arrange for acts he didn't personally know to appear. I can't even see the names of many Western artists there who are known for their affection for Africa. Where is Peter Gabriel? Where is Robert Plant?

Instead, for an event that is supposed to draw attention to Africa's plight and its poverty, and say to the politicians that we need to lift Africa out of this misery, the London show's headline act is a man noted for his outrageous extravagance, a model of grotesque consumption.

I do side with Elton John, however, in his argument with Geldof over the invitation to the Pope. This is a man representing an institution whose main purpose, so far as I can see, is keeping the poor people of the world in fear and misery. He is a man who denies the people of Africa contraception, abortion and the basic means of Aids prevention. What on earth has Geldof invited him for? It's like asking Dr Harold Shipman to open an old people's home.

Why don't they hold one of the concerts in Africa, where the cream of African talent could have performed? The real answer is that most of the so-called "global superstars" on the Live8 bill would be terrified to go. They have no knowledge of Africa, let alone a genuine commitment to addressing its problems. The organisers probably think a concert like this can't be staged there. (It can, as Africa Live showed.)

After the 1988 Mandela gig, some creep in television told me that I was wrong, that people didn't want to watch African acts. He said viewingfigures showed that when the Mahotella Queens and Mahlathini came on, people went for a cup of tea. My response was: their loss. Are we driven simply by commercialism here? Or by some genuine sympathy for Africans and desire to support them?

What I've found, during 20 years of championing African music on the radio, is that if people are given the opportunity to listen to it, they love it. One of the most familiar responses I've had is: "I didn't think I liked African music, but I like this." The success of groups like Buena Vista, who sold more than four million copies of their 1998 Grammy Award-winning album, shows there is a market for non-Anglophone music.

If we are going to change the West's perception of Africa, events like this are the perfect opportunity to do something for Africa's self-esteem. But the choice of artists for the Live8 concerts will simply reinforce the global perception of Africa's inferiority.

If the organisers don't include more African musicians, I think Youssou N'Dour should boycott the event. And if it isn't too late to include more Africans, Bob Geldof can borrow my phone book. If he needs any inspiration, I've listed five obvious omissions on these pages.

Rachid Taha

Taha started his musical life as a DJ in a tiny nightclub in France, after his family had moved there from Algeria at the height of the independence war. It was only one in a succession of jobs which included dish-washing, cooking, and working in a factory, but it was one at which the young Taha excelled. Taha soon moved away from dance music and formed a rock outfit, Carte de Sejour, heavily influenced by rebellious Algerian rai music. Although dance influenced, he is primarily now a rock artist. A charismatic live performer, he produced his self-titled debut album in 1995. Today, his album sales are in the 300,000 per album category. His 2000 release, Made in Medina was a true world music production, with recordings made in London, Marrakech and New Orleans. With his themes of alienation, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, his 14 albums have become a kind of blues movement for the Algerian-French population, heard by millions worldwide. Admired by Joe Strummer, he has also produced an Arabic version of The Clash's "Rock The Casbah"

Some of the acts not invited...

Thomas Mapfumo

Thomas Mapfumo is a revolutionary in more ways than one. His chimurenga "music of struggle", was a prominent voice of dissent during the darker days of Ian Smith's Rhodesia, and in 1977, Mapfumo was sent to a prison camp for subversion.

After Zimbabwe's liberation in 1980, Mapfumo formed Blacks Unlimited and released Lion in the Bush to celebrate his country's new-found

independence. He was soon signed by Earthworks' Jumbo Van Renen, who, when he became CEO of Island Records UK,

re-signed Mapfumo to an international contract. While not

garnering the sales figures of some of his African counterparts, he has been a significant figure in African music and politics for decades.

Souad Massi

Souad Massi was born in Algeria in 1972, but cannot now perform there because of her outspoken, anti-terrorist stance and feminism. She is, however, incredibly popular in France, where she has lived since she performed in the Femmes d'Algerie concert in 1999. It was that performance which brought her to the attention of Island Records, and her resulting debut CD Raoui introduced her to millions.

In France, Massi is treated as a mainstream pop star, and she continues to be a voice of dissent at festivals and concerts around Europe. Both her albums Deb and Raoui have sold more than 200,000 copies worldwide, and her reputation is growing all the time.

Baaba Maal

Although he now vies with Youssou N'Dour and Patrick Vieira for the title of Senegal's biggest superstar, it could have been so different for Baaba Maal. Born in 1953, into the fishermen's caste, rather than the musicians' caste, he was encouraged by his parents to become a lawyer. Little did they know that 52 years later their son would be a household name on three continents, a Grammy-nominee, and count Michael Stipe as a fan.

Maal has 15 full-length albums to his name and regularly tops 150,000 record sales per album.

As his performance and speech at the Africa Remix festival attests, he has emerged as an eloquent political voice for Africa, bringing the world's attention to the fact that HIV/Aids is ravaging his homeland.


Tinariwen spend their entire life on the road. Not because they have a slave-driving manager, but because they are from a nomadic Saharan culture. Members of the Tuareg ethnic group, or Kel Tamashek, Tinariwen are from Mali in west Africa, and their music is infused with the concerns of the Tuareg independence movement. Indeed, they met as guerrillas at an Algerian military training camp, and famously walked into Timbuktu at the end of the Tuareg uprising in the 1990s carrying electric guitars and Kalashnikovs.

Their hypnotic desert blues and mesmerising live shows have won admirers around the world, including Robert Plant, who played with them at the Festival in the Desert, in Mali. Their second LP, 2004's Amassakoul saw the collective win global critical acclaim, sales of more than 100,000 worldwide and several awards.

... and some of the 'global superstars' who will be playing

A spokesman for Live8 said that aside from Youssou N'Dour in Paris, "there are no African acts because they are not global superstars". Not all of the acts meet that criteria, however. Notable exceptions include Die Toten Hosen, a punk band whose tracks like "Friss oder Stirb" (Eat or Die) are big in Germany, Bulgaria and Serbia. Another is Axelle Red, the "queen of French soul". Last and possibly least is Lorenzo "Jovanotti" Cherubini, an Italian pop-cum-rap artist, who has moved on from early rap recordings (in excruciating English) to achieve cross-continent infiltration through his song "Piove", on the CD soundtrack of the TV series The Sopranos.