View From the Side: Bob Geldof, Band Aid & Africa
By now you may have been unfortunate enough to encounter the bleak, waxen face of Bob Geldof smudged over the TV schedule. Like bad fashion and shit pop music, every ten years Geldof makes a comeback, tethering himself to whatever the latest complex African issue is and then patronising it to meaninglessness via the medium of song. This time Ebola has provided plucky Bob all the ammo he needs to start swearing inappropriately on the telly, majestically conflating a problem affecting 3 African countries into a narrative that suggests the whole continent is fucked – or as Bob puts it;
"There’s a world outside your window and it’s a world of dread and fear, where a kiss of love can kill you, where there’s death in every tear"
To be honest, that whole 'kiss of love can kill you' bit sounds like he's been watching too much Nollywood – except we all know he hasn't. We know he hasn't because Bob Geldof seems entirely, almost willfully clueless about the culture and lifestyle of a continent he's scraped a handsome career out of. So it should come as little surprise that despite the last decade being a widely acknowledged golden age for African pop, with a galaxy of feted stars worldwide, Geldof hasn't managed to find a single contemporary African pop musician to sing his dodgy lyrics.
Yesterday Fuse ODG – the most credible Afrobeats star the UK has yet produced – revealed over a series of tweets that he turned down the invitation to appear on Band Aid 30 after seeing the lyrics.
"Big up Sir Bob Geldof & his heart, He approached me about being on the Band Aid song, however upon receiving the proposed lyrics I felt the message of the Band Aid 30 song was not in line with the message of The New Africa movement (TINA)…"
"After some consideration, I spoke with Geldof and informed him I would be unable to attend the studio session… Sir Bob Geldof respectfully acknowledged my decision."
This 'respectful acknowledgement' was in precious little supply later in the day, when Bob spoke to the BBC, moaning that,
"His thing was you had to be positive about Africa, but then you have Angelique Kidjo and Emeli Sande who were on the same attitude and I said there's the world's press, tell them about your point of view."
"If there's a line you can't sing, change it and he said he just felt awkward."
It's nice of Bob to have neatly apportioned the blame onto Fuse, rather than questioning why the Band Aid lyrics may be off key in the first place. In fact, it seems quite remarkable that Fuse's refusal to perform didn't ring alarm bells in Geldof's head, perhaps giving him some inkling that maybe – just maybe – Africans aren't that into his annual portrayal of their continent as a homogenous mass- from Mali to Madagascar- 'of dread and fear.' But no. Instead Geldof, magnanimous as ever, managed to attribute the rapid economic growth of a number of African countries to – guess who? *Spoiler – it's him*
"He's quite right Fuse," Geldof said. "This ridiculous image of this continent, seven of the top ten fastest growing economies in the planet are African and of those seven, five are countries where Band Aid operated."
This is a simply breathtaking moment of ego. It's so outrageous I'd suggest Bob submits it to the Turner Prize as a high art performance piece. Geldof is implying that, despite the fact it's now accepted that huge chunks of Band Aid cash got siphoned off into sly Swiss bank accounts, wasted on doomed, cack-handed projects run by rich SOAS graduates, and splashed out on weapons for warlords – it is Band Aid, and by proxy Bob himself, that is responsible for the economic boom some African countries are enjoying. Remarkable.
Naturally, if that were the case we can probably assume Geldof would be overrun by African artists hoping to leap onto Band Aid 30 – he could have looked to D'Banj, Wizkid, Wande Coal, Timaya or Burna Boy from Nigeria alone (you can Google em if you want Bob, I doubt you've listened to their music). But instead, other than Benin singer Angelique Kidjo, there was a conspicuous lack of African faces belting it out at Band Aid. Claiming African artists are 'not popular enough' is not an acceptable excuse – an artist like Wizkid commandeers millions of views with his videos – he's got a combined total of near 100,000,000 hits across his songs – which is a hell of a lot more than chubby X Factor loser Olly Murs is ever going to see.
Here it is: If Geldof ever had any intent on changing the framework of Band Aid, moving it beyond a weary narrative of Europeans telling Africans that their lives are shit, he needed to actually involve Africans. But he couldn't – Fuse ODG, an amenable young man who had told me in interview last year that he would happily work on Band Aid if it came round again, even he couldn't swallow Geldof's patronising propaganda when it stared up at him, stark on a page. Geldof may have convinced himself that he's a saviour, doing something that matters and bringing light to a 'dark continent', but really he's just another in a long line of meddling arseholes, perpetuating myths, obscuring genuine relief efforts, and clambering, once more, over the fetishized bodies of the African dead, right to the top of the charts.
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