I’m watching the DVD of the “A Conspiracy of Hope” Concert in Giant’s Stadium in 1986. The all-day concert was the last in a ten-day series to raise money for and awareness of the work done by Amnesty International, and it featured folk acts Joan Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary; Jazz artists artists like Mary Joni Mitchell, the Neville Brothers and Miles Davis; Latin and World Music stars like Ruben Blades, Carlos Santana and Fela Kuti; and some of the biggest artists of the day like Lou Reed, U2 and the Police. One of the highlights for me is Peter Gabriel’s performance of “Biko”, an powerful song that tells the story of a South African anti-apartheid activist who died in detention in 1977.
That song moved me so deeply I had to find out more. I don’t know what it says about my education or the media in America that I, a child who enjoyed reading and learning about the world, knew nothing about Apartheid before that song inspired me to explore the topic, but so it was with many a world crises. Rock music educated me on the events of the world. I learned a lot about the troubles in North Ireland because I wanted to know what songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day were about. When the Clash released an album called Sandinista!, and I had to find out what the title meant. Ruben Blades and Sting had song lyrics that sent me investigating current events in Latin America, though it took songs by Jackson Browne and Little Steven to really make me to start being critical of my country’s role in those crises.
For those reasons I just don’t understand artists who say they avoid politics and that good music is only entertainment, it can’t carry a message. Politics is decisive, they say. It seems to me that there are issues of politics and power, and then there are issues that are so obviously about life, death and justice. How can that be divisive?
The first concerts are on two DVDs that are part of a six-DVD set, Released!, which I highly recommend. There is also a 2-CD set. Both include highlights of 4 concerts presented by Amnesty International over a 12 year period:
1986: A Conspiracy of Hope
5 hours including over 50 songs by U2 The Police Peter Gabriel, Bryan Adams Joni Mitchell Miles Davis Jackson Browne Joan Baez & Aaron Neville Joan Armatrading Lou Reed and more!
1988: Human Rights Now!
3 hours including 19 songs by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Sting Peter Gabriel Youssou N Dour Tracy Chapman and more!
1990: An Embrace of Hope
71 minutes including 10 songs by Sting Sinead O’Connor Jackson Browne Peter Gabriel Wynton Marsalis and more!
1998: The Struggle Continues…
2 1/2 hours including 28 songs by Radiohead Bruce Springsteen Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Alanis Morissette Peter Gabriel with Youssou N’Dour Tracy Chapman and more!
I had the good fortune of seeing the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour in Philadelphia, and I will never forget it! I haven’t watched that DVD yet, so I’m not sure how much my memories are romanticized by time. I’m saving it for last. Check it out, and support Amnesty international at the same time.
While your at it, check out “Chimes of Freedom, The Songs of Bob Dylan.”