As Peter Gabriel relates in his liner notes for the Live 8 at Eden: Africa Calling DVD, when he telephoned Bob Geldof about adding a truly African element to the event, Geldof openly worried that “any unfamiliar names, whether they came from Africa, London, or Tasmania might well lose viewers.” Not really an open-armed welcome. But Gabriel, along with Eden Project founder Tim Smit and WOMAD Artistic Director Thomas Brooman, persevered and ultimately put together the most African of shows in just three weeks. Held at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, on July 2, 2005, three groups worked to put the show together almost entirely independent of the actual Live 8 organization: Eden Project, WOMAD, and Real World, and the result is an almost exclusively African musical line-up.
Hosted by Gabriel and Johnny Kalsi, the concert spans two discs of engaging African music. Performances are split between a main stage and a side stage located inside the Biome. The first artist to entrance is Mariza, a Mozambique born and Lisbon raised singer who works in fado, traditional Portuguese urban folk music. She delivers “Barco Negro” while cutting a striking image on the main stage in short bleached hair and a long formal black dress. The star of the first disc, though, is Youssou N’Dour. Possibly the most recognizable artist in world music, Senegalese N’Dour has been around for decades and attached himself to various consciousness raising organizations, such as Amnesty International. Pulling a Phil Collins the day of the concert, N’Dour managed to play three Live 8 venues: Hyde Park, Cornwall, and Paris. Backed here by the African group Le Super Etoile, N’Dour delivers three outstanding songs: “Set”, “7 Seconds”, and “Birima”. Of the three, the superstar performance is “7 Seconds”. A song penned and originally performed with Neneh Cherry in 1996, N’Dour is joined here by UK’s Dido, the only non-African performer besides Gabriel. Dido and N’Dour deliver a moving version of the duet they had also performed hours earlier at Hyde Park.
While disc one does a good job framing the show, disc two contains the most stand-out moments. Cameroon’s Coco M’Bassi, who made her name as a backup singer in Paris, opens the second disc’s performances accompanied by her husband on guitar for a moving version of “Na Menguele”. Among the show-stealers on this disc is Angélique Kidjo. Gabriel introduces the artist and UNICEF ambassador as a “fireball” who “eats men for dinner,” appropriate when you see her take the stage. She delivers honest comments about the state of Africa, and honors Gabriel’s decades-long work as a proponent of the Continent. All this is just lead-in, however, to a powerful version of Kidjo’s signature song, “Afirika”, with Gabriel and the crowd helping out in the blessing refrain, and “Tombo”.
The second disc closes with two powerful African hip-hop stars: Sudanese rap star Emmanuel Jal, and Senegalese hip-hop group Daara J. The former child soldier and current spokesman for the campaign to stop the use of child soldiers, Jal delivers a tribal, melodic version “Aiwa” that energizes the Cornwall crowd as he struts and prowls back and forth across the stage in his fatigues. The headlining Daara J trio brings the entire show to a satisfying close with their original “Exodus”, the crowd pumping “Mic Check”, and then inviting all the artists back on stage for the show closing “Sunu Mission”, followed by fireworks and the African Anthem.
The documentary doesn’t gloss over the controversy and tension that existed between the Live 8 show at Hyde Park and this show at Cornwall. The 28-minute film gives background on how the show came together, Angelina Jolie’s involvement, and Smit and Eden Project’s further work with Green Futures, which helps train Africans in horticultural skills. The most amazing story here is how an aide worker smuggled Jal into Kenya and helped him get an education, and how that experience informs his gospel rap style.
The number of individuals and organizations that made both the concert and the DVD possible is remarkable, and among them is volunteer director Hamish Hamilton, who recorded and produced a near-perfect visual document of the day. Flawlessly presented in anamorphic widescreen, the colors jump off the screen, and the DTS 5.1 surround is room-filling. The red-headed step-child of the Live 8 shows, Live 8 at Eden: Africa Calling shows a vibrant, artistic people, ultimately putting a face on the continent Western celebrities and musicians have tried to aid for the past 20 years. While the music may not be instantly recognizable, the polyrhythmic tones are universal enough to draw the listener in and keep them engaged, and maybe heighten awareness along the way.