News Stories, 13 December 2004
LONDON, Dec 13 (UNHCR) – It's amazing what one can accomplish "with a little help from my friends". Sung by 14 international artists, this Beatles song marked the grand finale to a UNHCR-organised concert that has so far raised more than $350,000 in support of the victims of the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.
"Refugee Voices: A Concert for Darfur" was held in London's Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday, December 8. It featured a diverse mix of artists including Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, soprano and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks, Simply Red front man Mick Hucknall, Greek opera star Mario Frangoulis, bass-baritone Sir Willard White, the Brand New Heavies, singers Alison Moyet, Andrew Coleman, Robbie Craig, disco-diva Jocelyn Brown, Antony Costa from Blue, Roisin Murphy from Moloko, musical stage actress Ruthie Henshall and pop star Daniel Pearce.
Responding to the ongoing emergency in Darfur that has forced an estimated 1.8 million people from their homes, the artists, who performed for free, launched into their own emergency mode, interrupting touring and recording schedules to support the charity concert that was organised in less than a month.
"We're giving up our evening and opening our cheque books. The artists you're seeing tonight are interrupting their touring commitments, wrecking their recording schedules and performing for nothing," said the concert's host, JAZZFM DJ Kevin Greening. "We're all dancing to the tune of the normally powerless, voiceless people of Darfur. Those refugees are in charge tonight. We're working for them. We are their voice."
Most of the artists performed the music of Cole Porter in their own style, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. Those who could not make it showed their support in other ways. One of Britain's biggest bands, Franz Ferdinand, sent a video message while on tour in Mexico City and contributed their Mercury Music Prize money to the event. Coldplay, who couldn't perform on the night, also donated a substantial sum of money to the cause.
"The situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate. This is a man-made disaster," said Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR's longest-serving Goodwill Ambassador, in an impassioned speech."
Roused by the onstage emotions, singer Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) emerged from his seat in the audience and sang a moving impromptu song, one of his very rare public performances since the late 1970s.
Other members of the audience, who packed the 5,000-capacity hall, cheered and applauded throughout the concert, many describing the night as "magical". They also donated money to volunteers holding buckets during the intervals.
Volunteer Alex Mula recalled how everyone thanked him as they made their contribution at the door. "For me, these words made what had already been a fantastic night volunteering all the more special. I realised how much ordinary people cared about the suffering that is occurring around the world."
At the end of the night, the artists gathered on stage for one last time to give an outstanding rendition of "With a little help from my friends", supported by the London Community Gospel Choir.
More than $350,000 has so far been raised in ticket sales and concert donations. The event will be broadcast on TV and released on DVD.