LONDON — Thousands of Britons are keeping their ears open for a magical beep from their cell phones on Wednesday, as it could signify a text message from the organizers of Live 8, the must-see concert of the summer.
After hundreds of thousands applied for the free tickets, only 150,000 will be able to attend the event in Hyde Park, and a chance to hear U2, REM, Coldplay, Madonna, Sirs Paul McCartney and Elton John and, among others, a sight as rare as the Dark Side of the Moon — a reunited Pink Floyd.
The free concerts in London as well as shows in Edinburgh, Paris, Rome, and Philadelphia are intended to pressure leaders to tackle debt in Africa. Yet, with only two weeks to go, it's not apparent that everybody understands what the enterprise is all about, even as they covet a chance to attend the musical extravaganza.
In fact, in Britain, controversy has dogged the event ever since it was announced by Live Aid architect Bob Geldof.
For example, extensive publicity spurred more than 2 million text messages (at roughly $3.00 per try) for the chance to win tickets to the July 2 concert. The text competition earned more than $5 million, but none of it is slated for Africa.
About half of the money will go to the Prince’s Trust, a U.K. charity that helps young people, and the rest will cover the cost of staging the concerts. With just 75,000 pairs of tickets up for grabs, many will be left empty-handed when winning notifications stop at midnight Wednesday.
How will Live 8 help Africa?
"One of my friends spent 24 pounds (nearly $44) on text messages just to get the tickets," said 16-year-old student Christopher Pita.
"I think (my friends) agree with the cause and everything that it represents but it was mainly for the bands that were playing — it's music that teenagers are into," Pita said, adding that he didn't know anyone who was planning to follow Geldof's call for a protest march to Edinburgh, where world leaders will be meeting on July 6-8 for the Group of Eight summit.
When the former lead singer of the short-lived Irish band, The Boomtown Rats, orchestrated the 1985 Live Aid campaign to combat famine in Ethiopia the equation was simple: Ticket proceeds were donated to organizations working to stave off starvation.
Twenty years on, “it seemed to be that we could gather together again — this time not for charity but for political justice,” Geldof said at a news conference last month.
Geldof’s plea to “stand up and be counted” in a million-man march on Edinburgh is intended to put pressure on rich nations to cancel debt to poor African states, increase aid, and enact fairer trade laws.
‘Full of himself’
But, in contrast to the outpouring of support for Live Aid, this time around many have criticized the aging pop-star’s upcoming production as a prodigal plan.
"Bob Geldof is a man who's full of himself. Africa needs to be recognized not patronized," said 41-year-old teacher Simon, who asked that his last name not be used.
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Meantime, others interviewed in London this week mistakenly believed that proceeds from the text competition and any money made at the concerts (presumably from concessions) would be sent to Africa.
"I don't know the facts actually, but I assume that some of it will be going to Africa unless they are lying to us, which I doubt," said 30-year-old teacher Amanda, who also asked that her last name not be used.
"The whole event is to help raise money for Africa — I don't know where it's channeled from, but that's what I think," said Amanda, who had sent 10 texts to the competition.
‘Touches of megalomania’
The 50-year-old’s invitations to the pope, Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela have some wondering if Geldof’s succumbed to “slight touches of megalomania.”
Live 8 “is in danger of being a media circus for him,” Lord David Steel, a former leader of the Liberal Party, wrote in a letter to The Times this week.
Criticism has steadily mounted against the singer’s campaign.
Geldof’s rallying cries for a march on Edinburgh, and a flotilla to bring protestors from France to Britain landed him in hot water with police and authorities.
Meantime, the original London line-up was criticized for not including Africans, or any black people for that matter, save the mixed-race American pop singer Mariah Carey. And Geldof has been accused of perpetuating the image of the African continent as a sickly, backward place.
Scottish police warned that the influx of a million visitors on a city with fewer than half a million residents would be “potentially dangerous,” and teachers condemned Geldof’s call to skip school for the event.
Pop star Midge Ure, one of the organizers of the original Live Aid event, sought to quell fears in an interview with the Scottish Associated Press, saying “it’s purely symbolic, it’s just Bob being Bob. We try to rein him in but you can’t control him.”
Further adding to border patrol fears, Geldof told BBC News he wanted British boat owners to launch a Sail 8 campaign to recreate Dunkirk by crossing the English channel to pick up their “French cousins,” so they could join the "Long March to Freedom" converging on Edinburgh.
Despite his apparent success at enlisting record-breaking yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur for the mission, authorities have voiced concern that illegal immigrants will use the opportunity to sneak into Britain.
‘Failing, ill’ continent
Meantime, black rights groups chastised the Hyde Park line-up for having only one ethnic minority artist among its 22 performers.
Following the backlash, Snoop Dogg, British R&B star Ms. Dynamite, and Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour were added to the bill. But, despite Live 8’s Africa-centric mission, N’Dour is still the only major African artist expected to perform at any of the five concerts.
Even Geldof admitted this week that he expected the Live 8 protests to be “a glorious failure” because the leaders of rich nations were unlikely to agree to all his demands on African poverty.
Despite all the controversy, some fans still saw a positive side.
"I think that even if it's only one in a hundred people that it affects, it'll help Africa," said 26-year-old Annalea Doyle, who was wearing a "Making Poverty History" armband and intended to join the Long March to Freedom.
Unlike most of her peers, 15-year-old Gaby D'Annunzio stood up for that one percent, saying she was more interested in the cause than the concert.
"I think it's really important," she said, adding that she had not entered the Live 8 ticket competition, but would like to join the protest march.
"For my GAP year [a break between high school and college] I'm going to Africa to help people with AIDS and stuff. I don't know where yet 'cause I'm not old enough, but I'm looking into it."
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