30 years ago we felt ashamed. They meant well, they got a lot of criticism and nothing really changed. 1984 a few of the most popular musicians (mostly from the US) got together to do good and ended up proving themselves ignorant. Back then they wanted to help the people in Ethiopia who were suffering from famine. “Do they know it´s Christmas” was a hit all over the world but it´s lyrics were embarrassing, for Ethiopia, for Africa and for the West. Instead of naming the problem, famine in Ethiopia, they made the whole continent sound helpless and poor.
They made a lot of money with lines like: „[…] it's a world of dread and fear. Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears […] And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time. The greatest gift they'll get this year is life. Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow. Do they know it's Christmas time at all?“. At the same time they caused a lot of damage. An image of a dry continent was shown, even though many parts of Africa have jungle, lakes and rivers and couldn`t be any more green. The continent has a variety of plants and animals you couldn´t find anywhere else in the world and yes, there is snow in Africa but mostly up in the mountains. The artists manage to make complete fools of themselves asking the question if they (in Ethiopia) know it´s Christmas. It seems as if the artists didn´t do their Christmas-research, at least not for Ethiopia. There you celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January.
30 years later the song gets re-recorded. New Problem, new lyrics, same ignorance. This time they try to raise donations for the fight against Ebola in West-Africa. They want to do good (apparently the UN itself asked Bob Geldorf for support). Africa (although this time there is at least a regional restriction to West-Africa) is again shown as hopeless. They need the West to help their poor and helpless people but again they work with wrong information. “There is death in every tear” is a statement that is simply not true and doesn´t help the mass panic created by the western media. Yes, Ebola is very contagious and according to the official numbers it already has killed more then 5200 people. But still this is less then 1% of the population of each affected country (washingtonpost).
Of course you have to exaggerate to get people´s attention and donations but at the same time you should respect the dignity of the people and the countries you are talking about.
Also here the musicians talk about Christmas: “No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa. The only hope they'll have is being alive. Where to comfort is to fear, where to touch is to be scared. How can they know it's Christmastime at all?“
46% of the population in Sierra Leone are Christian, in Liberia it´s even 87% (washingtonpost). Christmas is public holiday. Of course the people know it´s Christmas. But how exactly that should help in the fight against Ebola is ill-defined.
You will find a different approach in a clip done by some famous West-African musicians. They sing in French and several Indigenous languages. While the new Band-Aid Song doesn´t use the word Ebola once, here you hear it all the time. And instead of showing only pity the musicians give tips regarding health issues and how to behave if you get in contact with someone who is infected: