July 2, 2005

Live 8 opens to rock world into helping the poor

By David Dolan

TOKYO (Reuters) - What has been billed as the greatestmusic show ever kicked off in Tokyo on Saturday, as the firstin a galaxy of rock stars took to the stage in a global eventaimed at pushing world leaders to do more to help the poor.

Live 8, an expanded version of the Live Aid sensation 20years ago, will take in 10 cities and four continents, startingin Tokyo in the east and ending in North America in the west.

"We're here today to make poverty history," singer TomFletcher of British boy band McFly told the audience as hestepped on to the stage in a conference center outside ofTokyo.

"This is the most important show that we'll ever play andthis is the most important show that you'll ever see."

Many in the crowd of several thousand said they were thereonly to see the headline act, Icelandic pop singer Bjork, whowill give her first live performance in two years later in theday.

In London, boasting arguably the strongest line-up of the10 concerts planned, Paul McCartney and U2 frontman Bono aredue to open proceedings before more than 200,000 fans with arendition of "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Unlike 1985, when an estimated 1.5 billion televisionviewers tuned in to watch Live Aid and donated over $100million for Ethiopia's famine victims, organizers have theInternet and mobile phones to help them reach an even biggeraudience.

Organizer Bob Geldof wants the event to be about peoplepower, not money. His aim is to force leaders of the Group ofEight major industrialized nations meeting in Scotland nextweek to do more to alleviate poverty, particularly in Africa.

"Ten concerts, 100 artists, a million spectators, twobillion viewers, and one message ... to get those eight men, inthat one room, to stop 30,000 children dying every single dayof extreme poverty," the Live 8 Web site said.

In a letter to the leaders published on Saturday, the Live8 organizers said: "Just as people demanded an end to slavery,demanded women's suffrage, demanded the end of apartheid -- wenow call for an end to the unjust absurdity of extremepoverty."

Specifically Geldof wants a doubling of aid to poorcountries, cancellation of debt to nations struggling to makeends meet and fairer international trade rules.


Geldof has faced criticism in the build-up to Live 8,particularly for his handling of African artists who werelargely excluded from the main concert line-ups.

Musician Peter Gabriel stepped in with a separate, smallergig for African performers, and Johannesburg has been added tothe list of venues, but that has not been enough to preventGeldof's detractors from accusing him of "cultural apartheid."

In South Africa the success of the gig is uncertain, withpromoters apparently doing little to publicize the event.

And those who plan to attend a concert featuring mostlylocal acts and few big names are skeptical about whether itwill change anything.

"I've got hope the concert tomorrow will bring nice thingsto Africa but they keep promising things and they don'thappen," said Bafana Konyama, who sells fake designer trainersfrom his street stall in the center of Johannesburg.

There are also question marks over how smoothly Live 8 willrun. Organizers say they have had eight weeks to plan a show ona par with the Olympic Games in terms of the complexity of thetechnology and size of the potential audience.

Though a lack of publicity in Japan, the world'ssecond-largest aid donor, may have restricted the size of theaudience, fans at the Tokyo concert said they sympathized withits aims.

"I've heard about how hard life is in Africa," said27-year-old Tsunenori Sakai. "If Japan doesn't help Africa withits debt, really try and help the African people and dosomething about AIDS...I don't think Africa can really moveahead," he said.

The initiative, costing around 25 million pounds ($45million) to stage, has been widely praised by aid groups, andGeldof can point to a recent $40 billion debt forgiveness dealand U.S. pledges to double aid to Africa as signs of progress.

"We're on the way," he said. "It's incredible to thinkafter 20 years we're almost there."

London, at least, looks set to be a sell-out.

More than 200,000 people are expected in Hyde Park to heara cast including Elton John, Madonna and Pink Floyd.(Additional reporting by Mike Collet-White and Andrew Gray inLondon, Jeremy Lovell in Edinburgh, Rebecca Harrison inJohannesburg and Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo)