There is no denying that both Band Aid and Do They Know It’s Christmas? are household names. But now the charity project, led by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, has been reformed as Band Aid 30. A new song has been released, with updated lyrics that focus on combating the Ebola virus in West Africa. Despite reservations toward the integrity of the project, it has soared to the top of the charts and become the UK’s fastest selling single of 2014.
Every artist brought his or her own unique vocal style into the mix – ranging from Sam Smith’s soulful baritone, to Guy Garvey’s inspiring voice. In suit of the original 1984 version, the song begins with soft tones that gradually pick up to a congregated chant towards the end. Hearing the artists harmonize and belt the famous lines “Heal the world/Feed the world” send an optimistic shiver down your spine that, for a moment, makes you want to drop everything and devote your life to charity work.
The accompanying music video was debuted during an episode of The X Factor – a controversial decision given the entertaining nature of the show. The first shot in the video was harrowing: a thin, depleted and dying woman with Ebola being carried out of her squalid home. It is then an awkward transition to numerous shots of the singers recording the song in a comfortable, cushy studio.
Despite the commendable technical side of the project, it has drawn in a lot of criticism for its message. Many people have viewed it as pretentious; almost a celebration of the artists involved rather than a direct attempt to be charitable.
Fuse ODG and Lily Allen are the most recent celebrities to hit out at this “arrogant attitude.” The general sentiment is that the lyrics are condescending and have tarred African countries with a negative brush.
After listening to the track and watching the music video, it is hard not to agree with the critics. There is a breath of British superiority ringing throughout the track. Ellie Goulding’s line: “A song of hope when there’s no hope tonight” implies that West Africa, as a whole, is totally void of peace and positivity. In the video, she delivers it in a gleeful manner; pleased that she managed to reach her high note. This exemplifies what is wrong with the project – it seems more important for the song to be good than it is for it to do good. It is as if, just by singing well, these rich and famous celebrities can tackle the Ebola virus.
It does all beg the question: why should it matter? All of the money raised from the single is going to help victims of Ebola, so why is there so much criticism? The answer may lie in the lasting effects the song may have.
Western images of Africa are too often based in ignorance, seeing it as a hopeless continent with very little resource and in dire need of help. Band Aid 30 only propagates this view by using generalized statements in the lyrics. Simply looking at the title of the song Do they know It’s Christmas? can say more than enough about the angle Geldof and Ure chose to take. It is patronizing; reducing those in West Africa to nothing more than captives of Ebola, totally unable to process anything else going on around them. It bands Africa together; disseminating the all too common mistake that Africa is one country, rather than many countries with many different problems.
This ‘helpless’ stereotype is dangerous. We end up dismissing the economic potential Africa has because we assume everywhere is ‘riddled with poverty.’ Blindly throwing money at the continent may be beneficial in the short term, but what happens when summer arrives and we forget about Band Aid?
There is little doubt over the altruistic intentions of Band Aid 30. It just so happens that the good intent of Geldof and Ure is overshadowed, and partly ruined, by the unnecessarily patronizing lyrics. Charity singles as a means to raise money and awareness are noble ideas. Unfortunately, in the case of Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the harm it does to the world’s image of Africa inhibits this nobility.
Production-wise, the song is very well put together, and it will undoubtedly remain popular throughout the festive period. However, just because a song sounds good does not mean it should automatically get a free pass in spite of it being inherently problematic.