Artists call for support as UNHCR launches Darfur concert


25 November 2004

LONDON - The United Nations refugee agency has officially launched what promises to be an exceptional concert to raise funds for the 1.8 million people whose lives have been torn apart in the Darfur crisis.

At a press conference at Robin Millar's Whitfield Street Studios, UNHCR officials and artists who will perform on the night spoke of the desperate need to fill the Royal Albert Hall where the concert will take place on the 8th December 2004.

Newcomer Andrew Coleman gave an outstanding performance of a song he's written especially for the event - it was just a taster of what fans can expect on the night.

Jake Morland, a UNHCR field officer who has just returned from Sudan, said the situation is the worst he has ever seen. "In Darfur, there are 1.6 million displaced people, across the border in Chad there are another 200,000. The challenge for the UN refugee agency now is to provide protection. Protection meaning: making people feel safe in the camps where they are seeking refuge. Making people feel safe enough to return home one day. If we can do that very quickly we may prevent further displacement into Chad. If we are slow and if we don't get funds, and this is what the concert is for, we may see further human suffering, further human rights abuses and continued displacement of millions of people in Sudan."

Jocelyn Brown, who is performing on the night, spoke passionately about why she felt she had to take part. "What we're dealing with right now is the fact that some of these people in Sudan, children, might not be alive tomorrow. For me, as a mother, it's distressing to know that we have a world around us that doesn't pay attention to the fact that children are our future. It's so important that they have the ability to go to school, to be able to grow up, to touch, to see, to sing, to rejoice and pray. I am just so privileged and I hope and pray that because of this concert people will come and understand why we're doing this, what it means."

Robin Millar, the patron of the event, has been collaborating closely with the UNHCR and said the response from the music world has been overwhelming. "Franz Ferdinand, who cannot appear in person, said to me, 'we're going to be in Mexico City, we'll not only record something for you, we'll make sure MTV plays it to death. And by the way, you can have our Mercury Music prize money as well,' so that's the kind of response we're receiving."

It was also announced that well known Jazz FM radio presenter Kevin Greening will co-host the concert. He gave a stark warning that people should open their eyes to the crisis in Darfur. "I was delighted to be asked to take part, honoured indeed. Just one look at the cause for the concert was enough for me. One look at who was behind it was enough. One look at the line-up was enough to persuade me. The three together made it irresistible. But I would like to add that if we can't get these 5,000 tickets at the Royal Albert Hall sold, it will send the clearest message possible that there are two million people in central Africa that we simply don't care about and we can't let that happen."

Tickets are available from the Royal Albert Hall. UNHCR representative Larry Hollingworth said that the public now has an opportunity to really make a difference. "Many times you're asked to put your hand in your pocket, donate five pounds and you feel good for five minutes. But this event is different. You will spend the money, go to a wonderful concert, have a fantastic time knowing that you're helping people, and believe me it'll be worth it."

Among the international singers and musicians who are taking part in the 'Refugee Voices for Darfur' event are singer-songwriter David Gray, lead singer of the Pretenders Chrissie Hynde, Simply Red front man Mick Hucknall, soprano Barbara Hendricks, disco-diva Jocelyn Brown, Grammy Award nominee Alison Moyet, singers Andrew Coleman, Robbie Craig and Daniel Pearce. Greek opera star Mario Frangoulis, who sang at the opening of this year's Olympic Games in Athens, and the internationally renowned stage actress Ruthie Henshall are also taking part. Most of the artists will perform the music of Cole Porter in their own varied styles, and will be accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

It is hoped the concert will raise desperately needed funds to help the more than 1.8 million people affected by the continuing crisis in Darfur, Sudan. The situation in the strife-torn region remains extremely volatile. More than 200,000 Sudanese have fled to neighbouring Chad and close to a million and a half people, who have been displaced internally, are living in desperate conditions inside Darfur where there has been a complete breakdown in security. It has been described as the world's worst current humanitarian crisis. Proceeds from the event will be used to provide international protection and life-saving assistance.

Funds will be raised by ticket sales from the concert and online donations. The event will also be released on CD and DVD. The 'Refugee Voices for Darfur' concert is scheduled for 7:30pm on 8th December at London's Royal Albert Hall.