Band Aid 30 tonight unveils the fourth incarnation of the iconic Do They Know It’s Christmas. Now, I naively assumed this was a good news story. Stars such as Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Bono are just some of those giving their voices to the recording, which this time aims to raise money for Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.
But no, I really should have known better. For when I did a quick Google-search for “Band Aid” yesterday, the top news stories were mostly negative, ranging from a report that Adele “refused” to take part, to a bizarre report somehow linking singer Marilyn’s subsequent drug problem to the recording of the single.
But one article stood out to me.
Bim Adwunmi of The Guardian called the Band Aid track “clumsy, patronising and wrong in so many ways” and although she admits “there is a humourless danger in taking song lyrics too literally”, she went on to rather pedantically pull apart various lyrics. We were given a lesson in the climate of Africa, because actually ‘it does snow in Africa’, as do river flow, and as large swaths of the continent are Christian, they do know it’s Christmas.
It’s ridiculous to take the lyrics of any song too literally, and it’s clear to anyone that the message of the song is that, while they are perfectly aware it is Christmas, it isn’t going to be a pleasant one, full of the joys of our own.
The motivation for such a negative piece about the song is that the Band Aid singles have exacerbated the stereotype of the whole of Africa as a continent that constantly needs saving by the rest of the world.
I can understand this frustration to a point, but for Heaven’s sake, it’s a charity record which shone a huge spotlight onto the region’s famine and actually made our nation (and the rest of the world) take action and donate millions of pounds. This was all during a time where the western world was on the verge of the mid-80’s boom, an era where we lived to excess, with the birth of the Yuppie. Who knows just how much more ghastly we would have become if Geldof hadn’t picked up the phone to Midge Ure one fateful night.
It’s a 1980’s pop song with incredible intentions, and it has been a huge success in raising money for those that need it, time after time. Geldof himself has made it clear before, if people don’t like the song, it doesn’t matter as long as they buy it and make a difference.
I think Sting, who featured on the 1984 version, sums it up best. “There was a charming naivety about the song, and I think a more sophisticated song wouldn’t have worked. It had to be a kind of Christmas carol/nursery rhyme, simple idealistic vision. And that’s exactly what it was.”
And indeed, the song left a quite incredible legacy. The song, and the Live Aid concert which followed made charity cool, and doubtlessly lead to organisations such as Comic Relief and other celebrity-driven charitable activities. While much maligned, we shouldn’t underestimate the different such fundraising has made to people’s lives. Events such as these have also, on occasion put political establishments to shame with their sheer drive and ambition to raise funds and awareness.
So rather than dwell on the fact that Madagascar isn’t on the map used on the Band Aid logo (yes, another Adwunmi gem) let’s embrace the remarkable contribution this new version of the 30 year old song will make to people that need help.