| Spectators at the concert in Berlin. (Reuters) Christ Martin of Coldplay performs at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London. (Reuters)
London, July 2 (Reuters): A galaxy of rock stars staged the world’s biggest live concert today to pressure rich nations into doing more for the poor.
People power rose up across four continents as Irish rocker Bob Geldof urged music fans at Live 8 gigs around the globe to cry: “No more excuses” to the G8 leaders of the world’s leading industrialised nations.
“Mahatma Gandhi freed a continent, Martin Luther King freed a people, Nelson Mandela freed a country. It does work. They will listen,” Geldof said.
Geldof, mastermind behind the 1985 Live Aid concert that raised $100 million for the starving in Ethiopia, was trying to feed the world back then.
This time he wants to change it by political pressure alone, including a hoped for 2 billion people tuning in to watch the concerts.
U2 frontman Bono, another key celebrity campaigner, summed up their message: “We’re not asking you to put your hand in your pockets but we are asking people to put their fist in the air.”
He told G8 leaders: “This is your moment. Make history by making poverty history.”
Bono fired up 200,000 fans in London’s Hyde Park by joining Paul McCartney to launch the show with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The Beatles classic offered an echo of Live Aid with its first line: “It was 20 years ago today”. Hollywood star Brad Pitt told the crowd: “Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold.”
Leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations meet near Edinburgh on July 6-8, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair has Africa and poverty high on the agenda.
Tokyo kicked off Live 8 with Icelandic star Bjork headlining at a 10,000-capacity venue. The diminutive star expressed the sense of helplessness she felt in the face of Africa’s extreme poverty.
“I look at the news, I see people starving, I am crying. I’m a total mess,” she said.
Live 8 was also staged in the Circus Maximus in Rome and before a crowd of 150,000 in Berlin where most Germans felt it was a good idea even if they had doubts about its impact.
Stonemason Bernd Oppermann said: “I think every little thing helps to raise awareness about poverty no matter how small, and hey, this is the greatest rock concert in the world.”
In Philadelphia, actor Will Smith told a crowd estimated at about 1 million people: “This is the biggest ... event that has ever taken place on this planet.” And in Barrie, near Toronto, 35,000 people turned out for the musical feast.
Geldof has been criticised for largely excluding African artists. Musician Peter Gabriel stepped in with a separate, smaller gig for African performers, and Johannesburg was added to the list of venues, but that has not been enough to prevent Geldof’s detractors from accusing him of “cultural apartheid”.
Some aid workers and Africans also worry that the Live 8 initiatives will only serve to bolster corrupt regimes while scepticism persists that rock stars can change anything.
“I don’t believe it will do any good,” said 18-year-old Nir Livneh in the London crowd. “It won’t stop poverty in Africa.”
In Johannesburg, most of those interviewed among the crowd of 10,000 had never even heard of Geldof, but Edward Romoki, yelling over a booming hip-hop act, said: “Maybe a concert like this can put Africa in the news and change things.”
At France’s concert which boasted the Chateau de Versailles as its elegant backdrop, 16-year-old Hugo Viollier sat on the grass drinking beer with friends.
“I came because it’s free and not very far from where I live. I didn’t even know it had anything to do with Africa until you told me but that’s a good thing.”