I’ve been recently reminded that my own activism has roots in the campaigns for Africa in the 80’s. I convinced my mother to make a donation so I could order a Live Aid t-shirt. I’m sure she hoped the purchase would buy her some quiet time but it wasn’t about the t-shirt for me. I wanted to be a part of something. The t-shirt connected me to concerts in the U.S. and Great Britain, so I wasn’t going to leave the TV when the concert was broadcast.
I know I announced each performer to the whole house. I was convinced my parents and siblings must care as much as I did. I reveled in the idea that music could change the world as Queen, U2, Elton John and George Michael performed. The memorials of Michael Jackson took me back to a few of those moments and Bono’s recent op-ed in the NY Times brings the question of music changing the world back down to earth.
Well, there is a moment where he suggests a tourism slogan for Ghana, “the birthplace of cool” where he imagines “the music of Miles and the conversation of Kofi.” This isn’t the most grounded moment of the piece but demonstrates Bono’s ability to toggle between the celestial possibilities and gritty facts. He celebrates what Ghana has contributed to the world of music and walks through its political and economic accomplishments. Bono suggests Ghana is the new face of Africa where aid money makes the difference we all hoped it would. He looks to the news from the G-8 summit and calls for more aid for Africa. He pleads to a world he believes should see itself in the success and failure in Africa:
Africa is not just Barack Obama’s homeland. It’s ours too. The birthplace of humanity. Wherever our journeys have taken us, they all began there. The word Desmond Tutu uses is “ubuntu”: I am because we are. As he says, until we accept and appreciate this we cannot be fully whole.
This question of wholeness and the suggestion that one people’s success or failure reveals the nature of people in countries far away resonate with the work of the National Academy. Music is a representation of our experience, the world as we know it and sometimes imagine it to be. Changing the world still requires people who are moved by the music and the words to take action. Bono uses both and recurs to political ideals recognizable across international boundaries.