Do music festivals still have the power to raise global awareness? Bono ‘evangelically’ introduced Stevie Wonder last night (September 28) at the Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park. Stevie Wonder’s trenchantly mesmerizing performance proved — once again — that unlike some of his other contemporaries (see: Elton John), his proficiency has reached a level that dwarfed almost all the other performers of the night; who were themselves among the fine examples of contemporary music like Alicia Keys. (Wonder sustained a strong high-Bb at the end of “I Just Called To Say I Love You”, not an easy feat for a 63-years-old, nor a young apprentice for that matter.)
The significance of Stevie Wonder is immense, given the fact that he is a tireless leader when it comes to raising awareness as a globally recognized citizen. The festival organizers (Global Poverty Project) have outlined 10 ways to tackle one of the most crucial aspects of a time-bomb issue: Extreme poverty. Bono and Wonder became the voice of the silent — and the silenced — billions who currently live in unacceptable conditions.
The lack of effective international publicity toward this cause is alarming; considering the fact that many globally recognized musicians and public figures are constantly bringing up the toll of extreme poverty across the board. There is no way that, in one form or another, it’s not affecting us directly. Even after the fervent attempt to end hunger in Africa with the successful Live Aid concerts in 1985, the elephant is still in the room.
Many critics have jadedly dismissed these efforts over the years, stating that the ‘overkill’ of benefit concerts are no longer as effective as they once were. However, the fact remains that poverty levels across the globe have only increased and last night’s monumental event proved, once again, that even amid a struggling local economy (especially for musicians), music still proves to be the best glue to bring people together in addressing global poverty; or any cause for that matter. (See Stevie Wonder’s version of ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon — a brief, but all the more appropriate, diversion of focus last night which aimed at the impotent gun control laws.)
Although a lot of attention has been given to the drug overdose headlines and the tragic fatalities in recent music festivals, these gatherings appear to be the most effective way to entertain the masses, while raising awareness about many imminent topics. The festivals are at the cusp of exceeding public demand and there is certainly no shortage of festivals galore; especially across the main cities in the U.S. and beyond. What remains to be seen is how these events will continue to succeed as a platform to send public awareness messages — while being a critical showcase opportunity for musicians — when the music industry itself is ailing. Last night’s musical guests aside, most musicians are still struggling in an industry that boasted a global 30+ billion USD monetary worth until 2000, only to shrink to a 15+ billion USD industry worldwide.