The Magazine's review of weblogs
By Alan Connor
The Live 8 concerts unleashed a wave of comment among political bloggers, but many music sites stayed silent.
Picking over the remnants of the concert
It started two decades ago, with a hastily-made pun on the sticking plaster Band Aid. Live Aid spun on that, and led to Live 8, no longer campaigning for aid, but for pressure on the G8 leaders.
Likewise, the clumsy lyrics of Do They Know It's Christmas?, written in a taxi, which still raise hackles in Africa were nowhere to be seen this weekend. But the changed message didn't always make it successfully to the African blogosphere.
Martin Kimani writes on African Bullets & Honey:
"Geldof and company will lay claim to the very last thing so many Africans own: our problems. And it will be terrible and evil beyond imagining for owning your problem is at the heart of what it is to be human. It is when we wrestle and suffer and triumph over our problems that we are most human, but this alas is not to be if the soul stealers on show succeed."
An optimistic take would be that the Live 8 concerts were intended to jump-start a conversation about poverty: one with greater scope than ever before. And that's something the globally vast blogosphere is more than capable of holding.
The world has changed since Band Aid, which seemed an uncontroversial solution at the time. To paraphrase the blog of economics analyst David Smith, the poor are still with us - but the conversation is more sophisticated.
And the biggest topic is trade. In the British blogosphere, blogs as diverse as Lenin's Tomb and Samizdata have plenty to say. Lenin's Tomb focusses on the role played by a corporate world, and highlights the fact that many of the Make Poverty History wristbands "are being made in Chinese sweatshops".
Slave market: It's the West that owes us, says one blogger
The free marketers at Samizdata, meanwhile, were pleased to see Dido announcing the man she called "the African Ambassador For Music", Youssou N'Dour:
"He came on stage to say: 'The debt cancellation is OK. The aid is OK. But, please, open your markets.'
There will be an awful lot of well-intentioned nonsense given unquestioning, reverential coverage today, with ignorance and platitudes dressed up as profundity. Maybe, however, for perhaps the first time at an event of this type and on this scale, a kernel of truth will wriggle its way onto TV."
And as you'd expect, the Afro-blogs are more interested in international finance than in Sir Elton's choice of tracks. At Jewels In The Jungle, we're reminded that the debt relief discussed at the Millennium Development Goals conferences has not come to pass. And The Thinker's Room has some characteristic peppy invective.
Finding himself an unlikely bedfellow of Michael Howard, blogger M. lambasts Tony Blair's "displays of constellations of 76 assorted incisors, canines, molars, premolars and post molars"; the comments section also has a stark message for him:
"There is NO DEBT. Again, THERE IS NO DEBT. Africa owes the West NOTHING. NOTHING. On the balance owed to us, however (does anyone have a calculator handy?), we have a good five hundred years or resource and personnel theft, deliberate underdevelopment and interference in our politics (Lumumba anyone?), continuing depredations and destruction (Shell in Nigeria, anyone?), and theft theft theft. Look, if somebody mugs you, takes your wallet and your car, are you really going to be grateful because they gave you a bus fare home?"
And in a stark example of how the blogosphere can make voices louder, Black Looks posts a poem by Sena Anyomedie, a nine-year-old from Accra:
"G8 Leaders know nothing about Life
They live in a bubble created by their wealth
Come to Africa and learn of life to struggle
before the sun is up
To feel like life is not worth living
Poverty is the basis of the African struggle
When poverty is gone, Africa will become what it should be
The world's greatest continent."
In this context, it's easy to see how minds boggle at the idea that a celebration of rock music can affect African lives. As Imnakoya at Grandiose Parlor put it last week, "Will this entertainment package really bring peace to the multitude of displaced and war-wary Africans?".
However, in a later post entitled Making Sense Out Of Live8, Imnakoya reflects on the debate that the concert provoked and adds:
"Many Africans are not in unison on this matter either- critisicm abound over the Blogoshere among African bloggers, and this is fine. However, Live8 will generate a more positive impact if we, Africans, focus on the positive energy generated by the concert."
This tone, one of sceptical approval, is the abiding impression left by western blogs.
The concerts didn't ignite the music blogs as they might have. Most music bloggers write out of passion without having to worry about pleasing a large mainstream audience, meaning they don't tend to be Coldplay or Dido fans.
It was a pity, then, to see no coverage from venerable blogazine Popjustice, especially after an earlier, convincing skwering of the exclusion of pop acts, pointing out that boy band McFly have campaigned for Make Poverty History and visited Uganda, which most of the "serious" rock acts have not. (The band eventually played at Live 8 in Tokyo.)
Anti-poverty work overlooked - McFlyplaying Live 8 Tokyo
And so apart from dedicated sites, it was the presentation that prompted reactions: the BBC's own coverage came in for a lot of scrutiny, as did Bill Gates's impromptu appearance, the actual technical business of watching the gigs digitally, and of course, the constant swearing from the London acts.
Lest this give the impression that western blogs talked about the gigs while Afro-blogs covered economics, we should mention Ethioblogger's post about the "cruel and capricious decision" not to include the Spice Girls, and The Swift Report's satirical 50 Cent Leaves Live 8 Over Trade Policy Dispute.
And perhaps this was the point: it wasn't supposed to just be about the music. At NY London Paris Munich, Mark Sinker gets as close as anyone to making sense of the concerts' aims, writing that "unless someone crashed the Official Political Stage, hard, blunt questions would never be asked", arguing that "we are 'electing' pop stars to be our counter-representatives against the system".
Will it work? Returning to the optimistic take, the online debate is undoubtedly well underway, with Technorati (which tracks millions of blogs) approaching 12,000 blog posts on Live 8 alone. Looking at the content, we wouldn't be anywhere near that figure if the political wheels were grinding at their usual pace.
And in a comment replying to The Thinker's Room post quoted above, blogger Kenyan Pundit is one of those remaining hopeful:
"All its misdirection etc. aside, at the very least, Live 8 has produced some of the most cogent discussion on Africa that I've ever seen and has demonstrated the power of technology to connect the dots and bring a wide range of voices to the table."
The debate goes on.
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