There is nothing, literally nothing, in the whole world, that I dislike more than sweeping generalisations and crass oversimplifications – nothing!
It is out of this bugbear that [at least part of] my dislike for Band Aid/Band Aid 30 comes from.
I plan to take off from where the ever-awesome Bim Adewunmi left off when she wrote in the Guardian about how the lyrics of the original Band Aid still haunt her. Under the headline ‘Band Aid 30: clumsy, patronising and wrong in so many ways’ Adewunmi writes:
“…there were a few parts of the song that always stuck in my craw. For example, the lyric that begins: “And there won’t be snow in Africa …” It does snow in Africa! I say under my breath every December when shopping malls roll the track out.”
Well indeed – just as I can assure you there is snow in Africa so I can also assure that the original Band Aid song is filled with idiotic sweeping generalisations and crass oversimplifications – you know….the sort that niggle at me until I am forced to write an irate blog post.
Adewunmi finishes her article by offering what I feel to be premature credit though saying:
“To his credit…[Geldof] has said some of the lyrics will be tweaked slightly for this new version. Gone are the references to Africa’s “burning sun” as well as the assertion that it is a place where “no rain nor rivers flow”.
Well yes, this may be true but believe me, it does not seem that he has learnt any lessons about crass generalizations. While reference to famine and starvation have been removed (acknowledging that those “inappropriate” lyrics did not reflect that swathes of Africa that are “booming”) he has instead replaced them with these pearls of linguistic idiocy:
“At Christmas time, it’s hard but while you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear”
Firstly, let’s clarify something Bob – we (the generalised European/American masses) are not all having fun at Christmas. We are sleeping rough, dying of cancer, being beaten and raped by our partners, choking on pieces of lego and/or drinking ourselves into oblivion. I have no doubt that many people enjoy Christmas day greatly but this hits at the heart of the problem Bob, not everyone does.
Just as not all Europeans enjoy Christmas, so (it should be axiomatic but evidently it isn’t) not all ‘West Africans’ live in a ‘world of dread and fear’ because ‘there’s death in every tear’.
Ebola has killed around 5,000 people at the time of writing and has impacted on many more. It is a crisis that is as terrifying for those as involved as it is potentially life-threatening. According the MSF latest update:
- Guinea has 1,760 confirmed cases and seen 1054 deaths,
- Liberia (Cases 6,619. Deaths 2,766),
- Nigeria (Cases 20. Deaths 8),
- Sierra Leone (Cases 4,862. Deaths 1,130),
- Senegal (Cases 1. Deaths 0)
- and recently Mali (Cases 1. Deaths 1). (all WHO figures)
Now in West Africa alone this leaves (off the top of my head), The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea – Bissau, Mali, Niger, Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso etc etc who have nothing more than a vague geographic connection to the Ebola crisis.
But hey – why let the reality of millions of people get in the way of a good song?
The lyrics of Band Aid 30 continues:
No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa
The only hope they’ll have is being alive
Where to comfort is to fear
Where to touch is to be scared
How can they know it’s Christmas time at all”
These lyrics are as fatalistic as they are simply not true, as patronising as they are utterly bizarre.
Did no one think to point out to Geldof that when you get some very well paid Europeans to sing that there is “No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa” that you are rather undermining the millions of West Africans who will be living in peace in West Africa this Christmas – including I might add the courageous, well organised, and utterly wonderful Nigerian health workers who contained and then removed Ebola from their country?
And then the back to that line again, “How can they know it’s Christmas time at all” – well here is a suggestion…. Either through the wide-spread access to the internet or perhaps because a few of the approximate 400 million Christians in Africa know when one of the own most important celebrations of the year takes place.
This song, in both its literal lyrics through to its conceptual approach is depressingly archaic. What is more depressing though is that so few of the mistakes from the cringe worthy original Band Aid seemed to have been rectified. As much as I have focused here on the simplistic idiocy of the lyrics there are also a plethora of other questions that need answering such as why Band Aid still has such little input – both musically and logistically – from people from the countries that the song aims to be helping?
Still, to every cloud there is a silver lining. At least they don’t still have have Bono singing that line which is maybe the most insidious in pop history:
“Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”
Donate to the MSF response to the Ebola crisis here.