Politics Cloud Focus of Live 8 Concerts

Millions are expected to attend Saturday's Live 8 concerts in support of relieving poverty in Africa. But Joel Rose of NPR station WHYY notes that critics have raised questions about the concerts' ability to promote social justice.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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Millions of people will attend today's Live 8 concerts around the world. Some of the biggest acts in pop music are playing free concerts in 10 cities, including Madonna and Paul McCartney in London, Bjork in Tokyo, and Neil Young outside Toronto. Organizers hope the concerts will pressure the leaders of the world's richest nations to help relieve poverty in Africa, but it's as yet unclear what the artists will be allowed to say. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE reporting:

It's been 20 years since the Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia that raised millions of dollars for African famine relief.

(Soundbite of performance of "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll")

Mr. MICK JAGGER and Ms. TINA TURNER: (Singing) ...but I like it. It's only rock 'n' roll, but I like it, like it, yes I do. Uh-huh, I like it.

ROSE: A ticket to see Mick Jagger and Tina Turner at the 1985 show in Philadelphia would have cost you 35 bucks. This year's Live 8 concert is free, and city officials are expecting a million people to show up. Executive producer Tim Sexton says Live 8's goal is to send a message to President George W. Bush and other world leaders before the Group of 8 meeting next week in Scotland.

Mr. TIM SEXTON (Executive Producer, Philadelphia Live 8 Concert): The mission here is to raise awareness--we want your voice; we don't want your money--so that we can send the president of our great country on his way to the G8 Summit with a wave of support from Americans that say,`We believe like you, President Bush, that we have to save Africa.'

ROSE: Some say it's a mistake for organizer Bob Geldof and fellow rocker-turned-organizer Bono to align themselves too closely with Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been the most vocal member of the G8 in calling for African debt relief. Human rights activist George Monbiot teaches at Oxford and writes a weekly column for the Guardian of London.

Mr. GEORGE MONBIOT (Human Rights Activist): They have made the campaign so fuzzy that anyone can sign up to it, even the people who we're meant to be campaigning against.

ROSE: Monbiot says there is much to criticize in US and British policy toward Africa, including support for free trade rules that hurt the continent's poorest nations. But Bob Geldof has reportedly asked artists to avoid excessive criticism of President Bush at today's concerts. For their part, the producers of the Philadelphia show deny that artists are being censored. Promoter Larry Magid says Live 8 is intended to send a positive message.

Mr. LARRY MAGID (Producer, Philadelphia Live 8 Concert): We're not telling anybody what to say. Everybody that's come aboard has bought into this thing.

ROSE: In Philadelphia, the performers include Kanye West, the Dave Matthews Band, Sarah McLachlan and Stevie Wonder. All of the artists agreed to play for free, but they will say we'll find out soon enough.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

(Soundbite of rap)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I know I have to move, but are we going to the middle? I got gangsta move, I hope...

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) I'll do my best for you. I'll give love. Let's stop...

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I believe that we could change ourselves. The past can be undone.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) ...help the black man if he struggles one more day. Heaven help the black man if he turns that way. Heaven help...

SIMON: And it's 22 minutes before the hour.

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