We should have seen it coming. Thirty years on from Band Aid’s original version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Bob Geldof has once again made a few phone calls, tweaked a few lyrics and quickly assembled the fourth version of the song he penned with Ultravox’s Midge Ure so many years ago now.
Love it or loathe it, it constantly reappears, each time shedding a layer of skin to reveal a new music video that zig-zags the fine line between sincerity and self-parody.
“How can they know it’s Christmas time at all?” Bono asks while suppressing a David Brent-esque dance. “Tonight we’re reaching out and touching you,” he adds.
I’m sure Africa will be the judge of that, Bono. Only he could talk down to an entire continent quite so convincingly.
When it comes to fundraising Geldof is a genius. He knows the people of the UK are at their most charitable through the persuasion of celebrity and media- as long as there’s some form of crass entertainment in return, they’ll donate. For most of us Brits the word “charity” conjures up an image of James Corden in a leotard dancing to Chaka Khan in the name of fundraising, a studio audience clapping along gleefully.
Geldof knows the involvement of the UK’s youngest and trendiest (One Direction especially) means their vast fan base will download the song. And you could say that’s all that matters – whatever it takes to get people to take notice and make a contribution. Besides, it currently sits in the number one spot on the UK singles chart, having raised £1 million “within minutes” of becoming available.
But for some vocal opponents of the song this isn’t enough. London-based rapper of Ghanaian descent Fuse ODG was offered a part in the Band Aid 30 set up and pulled out once seeing the altered lyrics.
“For the past four years I have gone to Ghana at Christmas for the sole purpose of peace and joy. So for me to sing these lyrics would be a lie,” he said, adding, “I’m sick of the concept of Africa – it’s seen as diseased, infested and poverty-stricken. Band Aid’s shock-factor strategy they have used since the 1980s has sparked a whole wave of ‘good cause’ organisations that have been irresponsible with regard to the images shown to the rest of the world.”
Agreed, it’s these images that discourage the average westerner from ever wanting to visit or invest in Africa. But unfortunately they are the harrowing truth for parts of the continent.
Similarly Blur frontman Damon Albarn criticised Band Aid’s campaign methods:
“There are problems with our idea of charity, especially these things that suddenly balloon out of nothing and then create a media frenzy where some of that essential communication is lost and it starts to feel like it’s a process where if you give money you solve the problem, and really sometimes giving money creates another problem.”
He went on to suggest that the artists involved would benefit from taking time out of their schedules to visit Africa as it could change their attitudes.
Granted, the video of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is cringeworthy, the lyrics are bordering on offensive and Ellie Goulding can’t hold a tune. But if we can put this to the side of our minds and donate our hard-earned pennies we can make a difference to the victims of Ebola. That’s the simple fact. It’s an odd situation; by buying the song we are helping those in need but also entertaining the gross generalisation of the lyrics that, “There is no peace and joy this Christmas in west Africa”.
It’s a shame really. Hopefully another ten years until Band Aid 40 is enough time for Geldof and Ure to pen a brand new song with lyrics that don’t sound like a poem written by a 6-year-old schoolchild.
Whether or not the song is brilliant, let’s try not to slag off Geldof and Band Aid. I respect the man for his fundraising efforts first and musical credentials last. As long as the proceeds go towards a charitable cause I would quite happily download a ten minute audio track of Geldof shitting into a bucket.
Besides, in terms of lyrical quality what did we honestly expect from the man who wrote “I Don’t Like Mondays”?