Live 8 draws hundreds of thousands in 10 cities

Concerts are intended to send a message to G-8

July 03, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - Hundreds of thousands of people gathered here and in nine other spots around the world yesterday for a series of free concerts meant to persuade world leaders to give more money to fight poverty in Africa.

The concerts, held in South Africa as well as in each of the eight countries whose leaders will gather at the Group of 8 summit meeting in Scotland starting Wednesday, were a triumph of logistical flexibility, extravagant idealism and strange juxtapositions.

In London, the preternaturally scruffy Bob Geldof, the former Boomtown Rat and the event's organizer, performed an old favorite, "I Don't Like Mondays," while the clean-cut billionaire Bill Gates told the cheering crowd that "some day in the future, all the people in the world will be able to lead a healthy life."

Conceived in May and organized in haste, with additions popping up at the last minute - concerts in Moscow and Japan were announced a few days ago - the Live 8 shows were intended to send a loud message to the leaders of the eight countries before their meeting.

In Philadelphia, the crowd heard rapper and actor Will Smith relay the sobering statistic that in Africa, one child dies every three seconds. Organizers and performers told the Associated Press that as many as 1 million fans were there, but that seemed overblown, with about 200,000 seeming more accurate.

In Johannesburg, South Africa, 40,000 people gathered to listen to the music and to denounce the selfishness of the world's richest countries.

"They owe us," said the South African pop star Zola, speaking of Europe. "They are the ones who brought slavery, killed our ancestors. If anybody must pay, they must pay us back so that we can have jobs and education."

Elsewhere, some of the stars seemed unsure of the statistics they were citing - in London, performers could not agree whether 50,000 or 20,000 Africans die of poverty every day - but the sentiment was there. "This is our moment; this is our time; this is our chance to stand up for what's right," Bono of U2 told the crowd in Hyde Park, saying 3,000 Africans die every day of bites from disease-carrying mosquitoes.

U2 led off the concert here, playing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" along with one of its composers, Paul McCartney. The familiar opening line - "It was 20 years ago today" - was an affectionate reference to Live Aid, the multi-act extravaganza staged in 1985, also by Geldof, to raise money directly for African famine relief.

Expectations for Live 8 were high, as was on-the-scene euphoria. Chris Martin, the charismatic frontman of Coldplay, which performed in London, called the concerts "the greatest thing that's ever been organized, probably, in the history of the world."

According to Geldof, who sweet-talked, strong-armed and shamed politicians and musicians into endorsing and taking part in the 10 concerts, the collective gatherings constituted "the largest mandate for action in history."

Among his "demands" were that the G-8 leaders increase aid to Africa by $25 billion, as well as send an additional $25 billion to impoverished non-African countries.

The concerts included more than 200 musical acts scheduled to play more than 69 hours of music. Organizers said 5.5 billion people would be able to watch or listen on the Internet and over 182 television stations and 2,000 radio networks and stations.

Enormous crowds turned out for the concerts in London and in Philadelphia, where a diverse and mellow crowd withstood 85-degree heat to listen to bands including Destiny's Child and the Black Eyed Peas. But some of the other concerts - held in Barrie, Canada; Berlin; Johannesburg; the Eden Project, an ecological theme park in Cornwall, England; Moscow; Versailles, France; Rome; and Chiba, Japan - proved not as well-attended as expected.

The concert in Japan drew 10,000 spectators in a stadium that holds twice that many. At the Circus Maximus in Rome, the crowd was estimated at about 200,000, and enthusiasm was high. "I wanted to raise their awareness about issues like canceling the debt," Isabella Dandina, 40, a stay-at-home mother, said of her three teenage children. She said she thought the initiative would jolt the G-8 leaders into action. The mood was festive at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, too. "I can feel a sense of community among all the people," said Peter Gabriel, 31, a computer engineer.

Many Africans were not aware that concerts were being held on their behalf. "I hope it's going to help us Africans," said Jane Waisaka, a hairdresser in Nairobi, Kenya, "but I really don't know how."

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