When doing some of the last bits of research for my Sting book – I have been pondering on why he received so much criticism off the press for his stance on human rights protest. Before I get around to Sting – here is a comment directed at Peter Gabriel after he had just completed the ‘Conspiracy of Hope Tour’ – with Sting, in 1986.
To suggest that anyone is here to further their own careers would be the worst form of cynicism. But by the time this tour is over, Gabriel should be a major star – these performances will expose him to the masses he has yet failed to reach, and his musical loquaciousness and fiery performance will gain him scores of new fans. While many people will leave these shows with the urge to send $25 to Amnesty, suspicions are that far more will first choose to spend their money on Gabriel’s phenomenal new album
In 1993, another article in the UK national press, reflected on how the national press had slated Sting over the years up to that point.
Sting’s announcement that he was setting up a foundation to raise public awareness of the devastation of Brazil’s rain forests, in particular the Xingu Park, an area of native land the size of Switzerland, gave them [the press] the impetus to wound. He was a do-gooder, a dilettante; worst of all, a bore… “What a career move,” cynics hissed, as he introduced heads of state and chat-show hosts to Chief Raoni, leader of the Kayapo tribe, whom they would remember more for the plate that distended his bottom lip than for the dignity of his pleas for the protection of his people and their environment (The Times, 1993)
This narrative was continued seven years later in the Sunday Times
The trouble is, though, since Sting decided to promote his new CD by sewing it into the bottom lip of an Amazonian tribesman, singing about trees has been seen as a bit uncool (Sunday Times, 2000)
What is interesting, is that this criticism can be seen to cross over to the music itself – not only fund raising concerts and charitable organisations. It is well documented that Sting’s close friend Paul Simon received criticism when he released Graceland in 1986.The Album’s sophisticated musicianship, post-modern combination of styles, use of jazz musicians, and inter-cultural cooperation introduced many listeners to the sounds of South Africa for the first time, with Simon even including “revenues from the album’s promotional tour to support charitable projects in Africa and in African-American communities. Despite these honourable intensions, Simon, and by default the album received criticism for complying with hegemonic western power relations. Concisely speaking, Simon and his representatives were deemed still to have the controlling power in terms of who had access to factors such as marketing, finance, technology and intellectual property.
This begs the question, do Sting’s songs such as ‘They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo)’ and ‘Desert Rose’ de contextualise the music and traditions of oppressed countries, or do they do as Sting intended – raise awareness of oppressed people and the case of ‘Desert Rose’ – music that has limited commercial outlet to be given a global presence? Protest song in both live and recorded format can also be considered a symbolic act of solidarity with the countries or localities represented, which in the case of Sting, is usually backed up with fund raising initiatives and personal appearances – making his protest gesture not just theoretical, but practical.
I am interested in any thoughts anyone has about this – why do artists such as Sting receive criticism from the press for fund raising and engaging in protest?