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07 décembre 2005

Live 8 at Eden: Africa Calling

Live 8 at Eden: Africa Calling
Contributed by Tony Whitt

Monday, 05 December 2005

The Live 8 project was a dream given form: ten concerts took place around the world on the same day – Saturday, July 2, 2005 – with the aim of making poverty history. The concert that took place at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, however, was subtly different from the rest. Named Africa Calling, this concert was co-hosted by world music guru Peter Gabriel and Johnny Kalsi of the Dhol Foundation, and it featured a lineup of nothing but African artists, in a celebration of the music of the country arguably suffering the most from poverty in the entire world.

The risks of putting on a concert such as this, with only a few well-known Western personalities like Dido and Angelina Jolie, and with headliners with such unusual names as Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Etoile and Kanda Bongo Man, were understandably considerable. As the concert organizer points out in the excellent Africa Calling At Eden documentary film produced by the BBC, there was every possibility that someone might tune in for this segment of Live 8, see an artist performing that they'd never heard of before, and then switch right back off. But that's also what makes Rhino's release of a DVD of the best performances of this concert so extraordinary – and what makes the fact that it's so enjoyable such a welcome surprise.

Granted, not every performance in this concert is going to get your feet tapping, and some of them are every bit as obscure as you might expect music produced under the rubric of "world music" to be. For instance, it's rather hard for anyone but the most ardent world music fan to get worked up over Zimbabwean performer Chartwell Dutiro playing a tune on the mbira – that's one of those instruments that looks like a hand-held piano with "keys" fashioned out of copper. And a major flaw both in the disc and in the original concert is that, while each set of performers sings in their own language, no translations of the lyrics are provided, making listening to these songs a purely auditory experience.
(Even those who know French might be a bit annoyed at this lack, as Algerian performers Akim El Sikameya use a dialect rather different from the français you learned in school, and Senegalese rappers Daara J simply rap in French too quickly for you to catch anything.)

But once you get past that particular stumbling block – and the rare, truly awful performance such as the closing group singing of the African national anthem – there are treats in store on this disc. Were it not for the language barrier, the Mozambique-born Mariza would probably be topping the alternative music charts here in the US; and it doesn't take knowing what the lyrics mean for someone to get into the foot-stomping rhythms of the South African dance group Shikisha. The same goes for the frankly electrifying Touareg singing group Tinariwen. Sadly, nothing on the discs nor in the documentary explains such basic things as what "Tinariwen" means nor what the Eden Project itself is all about – but it might just get people interested enough to go out and learn for themselves. B (Movie) B+ (Disc)

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