Artists to carry AIDS campaign to Africa

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Jan. 17, 2002 at 7:33 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Artists Against AIDS Worldwide, the organization that recently produced an all-star remake of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" to promote the campaign against AIDS in Africa, is planning another all-star event -- a Good Friday concert in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Leigh Blake, executive director of the artists' group, told UPI the artists will board a plane -- which she called "Flight for Life" -- for the trip to Africa. Blake said she expects several of those who took part in the "What's Going On" project to be involved.

The record featured leading pop artists such as Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Destiny's Child, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, Eve, Nelly Furtado, Ja Rule, Wyclef Jean, Alicia Keys, Aaron Lewis of Staind, Jennifer Lopez, Nelly, 'N Sync, P. Diddy, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani and Michael Stipe. The record won an award for best collaboration at the recent VH1 Awards.

Blake -- a former journalist, film and music producer -- has made AIDS awareness her main focus, and recently began to develop an AIDS clinic in Kenya. She and Bono established the artists' group last year to provide "a creative outlet" for musical artists to work against AIDS.

Top-selling pop artists involved in the project "have become working class heroes" with "an enormous voice" that has become a powerful tool for increasing public awareness of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, exemplified by an incident at the Billboard Awards in December, Blake said.

"We were shocked when Nelly did his rap (about AIDS) and everyone in the audience sang it," she said. "It's a pretty intense rap. When we saw all these fans of Nelly and 'N Sync singing it, that was very important."

Young artists she has dealt with -- Keys, Nelly, Aguilera and Spears in particular -- were "so intelligent and so conscious and were so completely devoted" to the fight against AIDS, Blake said.

"In many ways they were more conscious and more devoted than some of the other artists that should know better that I've been working with in past years," she said. "They want to do everything they can for Africa especially."

Blake expects the involvement of younger artists will be instrumental in spreading the word to younger music consumers.

"It's very important to politicize the younger generation," she said, "because they're going to grow up with this nightmare."

Some, "but not many," of the artists involved in the project are even setting aside part of their stage shows to talk about AIDS.

"We've asked most of them if we can go and table at their event," she said. "We'll have a table where people can find information, sign on, send letters, see how it affects them, the world and mobilize them."

Not all of the artists who took part in the "What's Going On" project followed through with further involvement in the campaign.

"You weed out the ones that are really dedicated to the issue and you find out the ones who aren't so," said Blake. "That's certainly happened here."

Instead of complaining about artists who have faded away, Blake sang the praises of artists commited to the cause. Gwen Stefani and No Doubt recently called and said they would give 20 percent of the royalties of a song that's on a new album, for example. Other artists have made similar gestures, she said.

Some 6,000 people die of AIDS and 11,000 people are infected with AIDS each day in Africa, the group says.

The group also urges the United States and other industrialized nations to cancel the debts of poor countries, contending that poor countries spend more repaying debts than they do on healthcare. Bono, in particular, has been a leading campaigner for debt cancellation.

Blake said her organization plans to send a delegation to Canada this year to carry its message to world leaders when they gather for an economic summit. The Good Friday concert is being produced by Play-Tone, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman's production company, and plans call for filming the event. The group's partners in the "What's Going On" project were the Global AIDS Alliance, which leads advocacy campaigns in the USA, the Hope for African Children Initiative and the Africa Alive! YouthAIDS Initiative.

"We're just moving to be involved in as many pop culture events as we can to get this message out," she said.

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