Artists sing social anthems for United Nations anniversary

Skip Marley

NASHVILLE — For Grammy-winning international star Angelique Kidjo, her artistry and her activism inform each other because music has the power to connect beyond skin colour, language or countries.

“Music has that absolutely powerful side to it that sometimes when I finish a concert, I’m like, ’Why can’t we just live like this?’” said the singer-songwriter from the West African country of Benin.

That sentiment is something that Skip Marley, a third-generation musician and grandson of reggae icon Bob Marley, has grown up knowing as well.

“We’re talking to the people, so it’s all colours, all religions,” said Marley. “Music is music. That’s the beauty of it. It cuts through all of those barriers or borders.”

Angelique Kidjo

These musicians are part of an online fundraising concert on Dec. 1 called Peace Through Music: A Global Event For Social Justice, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

The Facebook Live event will also feature performances by Annie Lennox, Becky G, Brandi Carlile and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Carlos Santana, Gary Clark Jr., Mavis Staples, Ringo Starr, Run The Jewels, Sheila E, Yo-Yo Ma and more. The event will raise money for the Playing for Change Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund, Sankofa, Silkroad and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.

Kidjo, who is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and education for young women in Africa through her Batonga Foundation. Kidjo has travelled the world to encourage young people to be leaders in their own communities because she says that is the leverage needed to address systematic issues of poverty and climate change.

“We’ve created a world with billions of people suffering and a minority of people are living on top of them. And if we want to live in a world of peace, we have to take care of Mother Nature and at the same time take care to get people out of poverty,” said Kidjo, from her home in Paris.

For the online concert, Kidjo teamed up remotely with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Peter Gabriel to sing Gabriel’s anti-apartheid anthem “Biko,” about a South African activist who was killed in detention in the 1970s. Kidjo said the song’s message directly connected to this year’s Black Lives Matter protests over police killings of Black men and women.

“Racism is so linked to capitalism and we have failed to address that issue for so many, many, many years and centuries, I think from slavery all the way to today, that it becomes a cancer that is eating our societies,” said Kidjo.

“Get Up, Stand Up,” a simple message that has become part of Bob Marley’s legacy to the world, was the obvious song choice for his grandson to sing for this online concert.

“Wherever there is a fight, wherever there is oppression, wherever there is wrongdoing, there will always be that anthem,” said Marley, who performed with song with his mother Cedella Marley.

It’s a spiritual experience to sing his grandfather’s songs, Marley said.

“Those are the songs I first hear and the songs I first sing,” said Marley. “So when I’m singing it, I’m feeling my grandfather.”