Twenty years after rocker-turned-aid impresario Bob Geldof ushered in an age of pop star social activism, no band embodies the renewed spirit of playing music for a cause better than rock sensation Coldplay.
The top-of-the-charts British band will headline the Live8 concert organised by Geldof in London Saturday, the flagship event of an eight-city musical extravaganza designed to pressure world leaders meeting in Scotland next week to eradicate poverty in Africa.
The concert is being billed as the biggest musical event in history, and is expected to draw a worldwide live audience of up to a million, with hundreds of millions more watching and listening via television, radio and Internet.
Coldplay will be joined on stage by the reigning doyens of music with a conscience, U2, also known for its outspoken political and social activism.And like U2, most of Coldplays growing clout as spokesmen for the disenfranchised flows from a phenomenal success at the cash register: their first two albums, Parachutes (2000) and A rush of blood to the head (2002), have sold 17 million copies and counting, while their new release X and Y is at the top of the charts in 28 major national markets.
Coldplay's first foray into social advocacy was in support of fair trade, an increasingly popular practice whereby farmers in extremely poor countries are guaranteed reasonable, albeit above market, prices for commodities such as coffee, chocolate, sugar, honey and tea.
The band's singer Chris Martin, who is married to American actress Gwyneth Paltrow, adopted the cause after coming face to face during a 2002 trip to Haiti with the devastation caused to commodity farmers by agribusiness subsidies in rich nations.
"We all live on the same planet and everyone should be concerned" by these social and environmental problems, the 28 year old singer said during a press conference in Paris earlier this month.
"The planet keeps firing down and it will affect all of us, whether you are Coldplay or Jacques Chirac," he continued, taking a poke at Frances president.
Coldplay guitarist Jonny Buckland compared himself to a lobbyist, arguing that the band's high profile not only justifies but compels it to be socially active.
"The most important thing, before the G8, is making you journalists write about it. The more people talk about it, the better it is," he said.
These words and positions echo those of Geldof, organiser of the precedent-setting 1985 "Live Aid" concert to raise money to combat starvation in Ethiopia, and of U2 singer Bono, who has used his highly visible position for similar causes since the early 1990s.
But unlike the politically committed musicians of the 1960s such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Coldplay does not take positions in their songs. "It's hard to find something that rhymes with North American Free Trade Agreement," Martin quipped.
In France, where a Live 8 concert will be held at the Versailles palace, artists such as Zebda and Manu Chao rail against social inequality and intolerance on stage as well as off.
Likewise Ivory Coast reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly, many of whose songs are frontal attacks on the industrialised world's policies toward Africa, especially the United States.
In America itself, erstwhile apolitical artists have also taken up various causes. Bruce Springsteen (whose song "Born in the USA" was co-opted into an anthem of patriotism), REM (participating in Live 8), Pearl Jam and radical vegetarian and environmentalist Moby, for example, all campaigned last year against the re-election of George Bush.
Indeed, the US president has become a favoured target among international pop stars, including the British bank Radiohead, whose last album is entitled "Hail to the thief" (2003), a biting variant on the presidential anthem "Hail to the chief."
Even Icelander Bjork, who has always studiously avoided taking political positions, sings in her last album: "I need a shelter to build an altar away from all Osamas and Bushes." Bjork will participate in the Tokyo Live 8 concert.
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