G8 Information Centre
Summits | Meetings | Publications | Research | Search | Home

2005 Gleneagles Summit Analytical Studies

Official Documents

Will the Impact of Live 8 Last?

Mary Gazze
G8 Research Group
July 7, 2005

"Sing for Africa!" cried Raine Maida of the group Our Lady Peace on July 2nd as the audience sang along during the Canadian installment of the Live 8 series of concerts held in Barrie, Ontario, about 2 hours north of Toronto. Live 8 was a series of concerts held in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Philadelphia, Tokyo and Moscow — one in every G8 country — as an attempt to raise the public's awareness of the poverty afflicting Africa and pressure the G8 leaders into making the issue a priority at Gleneagles. Additional concerts were held in Johannesburg, to ensure representation of the African continent, in Cornwall, England, featuring African musicians.

An estimated 3 billion people watched the concerts, which were broadcast live on national television networks as well as through streaming video on AOL's website. The concerts caused a media frenzy around the world due to high-profile names such as actor Brad Pitt and U2's singer, Bono, who were behind the campaign entitled "Make Poverty History."

The concert included a musical lineup of a lifetime with performances from many well-known Canadian and international acts, including superstars Neil Young, Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Gordon Lightfoot, Simple Plan, Jet and Barenaked Ladies. Concerts worldwide included artists such as Paul McCartney, Madonna and Elton John. Sure, the Barrie concert was entertaining and will be remembered for many years as an excellent show — but the message was not forgotten. Perhaps the Barenaked Ladies' Ed Robertson put it best: "It's not about the music, it's about the message; but the music was pretty freaking good too, wasn't it?"

As the bands played into the night, each artist urged viewers at home to log on to Live 8's official website at <www.live8live.com> and sign a petition to be presented to G8 leaders. The petition asked the G8 leaders to double foreign aid, cancel all debts and change trade laws to allow impoverished countries to flourish. Viewers took notice. In the morning, signatures seemed relatively scarce in proportion as only 200,000 had been collected. By 7 pm, to the cheers of 35,000 spectators in Barrie, it was announced that 26 million people had signed.

The day included many emotional moments. In a satellite message from Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela attempted to sway G8 leaders by stating: "History and the generations to come will judge our leaders by the decisions they make in the coming weeks. I say to all those leaders, do not look the other way. Do not hesitate." Other inspiring moments included a message the Barenaked Ladies will send to children in Tanzania. The group led the crowd in assuring the children that Canada cared. "Hi kids, we love you, we're trying," the audience chanted in unison. Watching the spectators unite in song was stirring as the crowd joined in cheering and waving their hands to the lyrics "we are all innocent" from an Our Lady Peace hit. One of the most powerful episodes of the day came through a live feed from Philadelphia, where actor Will Smith led viewers worldwide in a series of finger snaps heard 'round the world. For weeks leading up to the concerts, the group behind the Make Poverty History campaign ran television advertisements portraying celebrities snapping their fingers, with each snap signifying one death of a child due to extreme poverty — whether from hunger, AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. In following with the advertisements, Smith led viewers and concertgoers in snapping their fingers every three seconds, displaying the frequency of deaths from poverty-related causes in a dramatic way.

Tickets to the concerts were distributed free of charge in hopes of raising awareness of the level of suffering in Africa, rather than money. Large banners enveloping the stage said "we don't want your money, we want your voice." Organizers were optimistic that they would increase the public's understanding right from the beginning, as ticket hopefuls were required to answer a question about what the G8 leaders can do to "make poverty history" in order to receive a pair.

Concert organizers were criticized for the musical lineup, which was expected to attract an audience of 50-something fans, leading to fears that the message of the day would hold precious little appeal for the younger generation. Surprisingly, the number of teens and 20-somethings vastly outnumbered the boomers, and for many people the day was about the cause, not just the music. Despite claims from the media that the youthful audience would forget about the significance of the event, the young fans were well informed about the intensity of Africa's problems as well as the power the G8 member states have in changing those problems. Nicole Brocklebank, 18, was one such fan. She says she came to the concert for the cause. "We need to get the word out that poverty needs to stop," she said. She was disappointed that tickets were distributed free: "If they'd charge five bucks, even a little bit, they could get people who are coming for the cause, not just the concert."

Another teen, Steve Gill, stated that the concert helped people to see that "there's so much we take for granted. You don't often think about people who starving and dying everyday." He promptly explained the trade-dumping practices that affect Africa, adding "poor farmers can't sell their crops, and can't buy medicines they need." The majority of volunteers were young people such as Leah Guastavino, a volunteer with Oxfam. She volunteered because her friend told her she could "influence the future and change poverty." She thinks that because the concert was free, the people in attendance were more likely to embrace the cause. "Since people didn't pay, they are more willing to listen to the message," she said. Nongovernmental organizations didn't have to work hard to find fans willing to sign petitions. "We've gotten over 300 signatures in the last hour!" she exclaimed.

An older fan who withheld his last name, Dennis, 52, arrived at the concert venue at 4 am. Although he looked forward to seeing Bryan Adams and Great Big Sea, it was poverty eradication that was at the forefront of his mind. He signed the online petition because, as he explained, "poverty and AIDS are pretty gruesome, and 48% of AIDS victims are in Africa."

The Barrie event was peaceful, and fire and police personnel reported that they had no problems. By the late afternoon, ambulance personnel had dealt with no serious illnesses. Perhaps the only setback of the day was during Celine Dion's satellite broadcast from Las Vegas. Dion appeared to be performing at her own previously scheduled concert but was booed by the Barrie spectators. Some fans believed that since Bryan Adams and the Barenaked Ladies had made the effort to fly in especially for Live 8 while on tour in other cities, Dion should have followed suit. These concert goers seemed to forgive several other Canadian superstars such as Shania Twain, Warchild spokesperson Avril Lavigne and Oxfam spokesperson Alanis Morissette for not attending the Barrie show.

There has been much skepticism as to whether the concert series would indeed help Africa in the long run and whether people would become better informed about the level of poverty afflicting the continent. Shaun Kanungo, a fan from Toronto, learned from attending the concert. "The G8 countries still had not forgiven much debt," he said. "I thought they would have done so long ago." Live 8's official website claimed that "this is without doubt a moment in history where ordinary people can grasp the chance to achieve something truly monumental and demand from the 8 world leaders at G8 an end to poverty." There is no doubt that interest in the G8 was heightened this year, and that ordinary people did indeed note the situation. The recent media attention paid to the G8 caused the official Gleneagles website to be inundated with hits, so many that the page would not load.

Concert goers in Barrie were a sharp contrast from the general public during last year's G8 summit at Sea Island. Whereas last year, many Canadians were unaware of what the G8 does, concert goers this year knew exactly how powerful the G8 as a group can be. Before the recent media focus on the G8, some people had no idea what the group was about. "I learned about it in the news," Guastavino explained. "It's a bunch of leaders from the richest countries. They have the chance to increase foreign aid." Media coverage during last year's summit was nowhere near as extensive as this year, as leader addresses last year were often interrupted to show clips of the late Ronald Reagan's hearse. The G8 leaders discussed Africa last year as well, but the pressure recently placed by the celebrities on the G8 leaders have opened the eyes of the world to what the G8 does. Live 8 pushed the Gleneagles Summit into the forefront, where the world was now watching.

Primary organizer Sir Bob Geldof summed up Live 8's goal in one sentence: "It's now about changing the politics which keep Africa in poverty." Live 8 appears to have succeeded in raising awareness about the political-economic issues that affect Africa. Twenty-six million signatures are an indication of that. Protestors appear to be listening to the pleas by Live 8 organizers and are moving for political change. Demonstrators this year are much more active in relation to last year at the Sea Island Summit, where police outnumbered protestors 66:1. In Scotland, an estimated 200,000 protestors set out for Gleneagles, greatly surpassing the 50,000 that Live 8 organizers had originally hoped for. Moreover, Live 8 has received the high-profile support of Pope Benedict, who only one day after the concerts appealed to the G8 leaders to make an end to poverty a priority.

Mixing a fun event with a cause just may be the best way to convey a message. With a series of concerts of such magnitude, people are bound to take notice of the message. Three billion viewers did. Kanungo stressed that when you have some of the biggest acts in music for each country going out and telling you the importance of helping, it really has a heightened effect."

Will the G8 hear the cry of the Live 8 organizers and the petitioners? Days before the concert, Canadian prime minister Paul Martin already stated that his government does not have sufficient funds to meet the goal of 0.7% of GDP paid to foreign aid. Live 8 was a noble effort. Barrie's seemingly rushed concert, organized in less than three weeks, was of world-class quality and appeared successful, but can concerts convince the G8 member states to increase foreign aid? It's possible. Can concerts convince the G8 to change the very trade structure that made them the eight richest countries in the world? It is unlikely. Did the concerts' message fall upon the deaf ears of G8 leaders? We'll soon see. At most, these concerts can raise awareness, and get people to call their member of Parliament to say that foreign aid, fair trade and debt cancellation are top priorities. The 26 million signatures on the petition are an indication of the public's resolve. However, it appears that the July 7th terrorist attacks on the London transport system already overshadow the focus on African poverty that the Live 8 concerts had hoped for and may instead divert public attention to security issues. It is therefore unclear how long the public will remain interested in Africa's plight — and whether it will continue to press G8 governments into action.

[back to top]

G8 Centre
Top
This Information System is provided by the University of Toronto Library and the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
Please send comments to: g8@utoronto.ca
This page was last updated February 09, 2007.

All contents copyright © 2004. University of Toronto unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.