Ain’t gonna play Sun City

Yes, there was a time at which artists displayed integrity. Steven Van Zandt, AKA Little Steven, AKA Silvio Dante, left Bruce Springsteen and the E street band in 1985, at the height of Bruce’s popularity, to work on solo projects. It didn’t exactly work out that way, his first project being Artists against Apartheid.

Steven was interested in the similarities between apartheid and the relocation of Native Americans to “reservations”. There was a United Nations “Cultural Ban” on South Africa, however many artists ignored the ban for the substantial pay  from Sun City gigs. Reliable data is about as easy to obtain as service records of NAZI soldiers, but Queen played Sun City, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, Laura Branigan, Rod Stewart, Julio Iglesias, Cliff Richards can’t seem to remember, and, ironically, black singers such as Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick and Boney M. played there.

Steven had originally thought of naming the artists who played Sun City in the song, but instead asked them to participate in the project. Some fifty four artists were involved, including Miles Davis, Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run–D.M.C., Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Clarence Clemons, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, Jackson Browne, Daryl Hannah, Peter Wolf, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Stiv Bators, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil-Scott Heron, Nona Hendryx, Lotti Golden, Lakshminarayana Shankar and Joey Ramone.

Unlike “We are the World“, Steven was looking to raise awareness and enforce the ban rather than raise money. It worked, slowly. Turning a country upside down takes a while, South Africa is still deciding when to stop spinning.

The issue of “Cultural Bans” continues. The obvious issue of not catering to those that have made their wealth by the suffering of others has been obfuscated by such artists as Sting, who played for Uzbekistan’s president’s daughter. Sting claims he thought the concert was organized by UNICEF, although he would be the only one thinking such. He was paid two million pounds (a little over three million dollars), and hasn’t reported donating any of it to his allegedly favorite charity, Amnesty International.

Most artists, when “outed”, donate their fees either in whole or part to a charity. A  more meaningful gesture would be to donate double their fee, as some show of remorse.

Van Halen had a clause in their contract requiring a bowl of M&M’s backstage, with absolutely no brown M&M’s in the bowl. The purpose was to make sure the contract was actually read, not some distaste for brown food coloring. I can understand the difficulty in knowing the source of your paycheck when you’re traveling to a country renown for its human rights record, particularly when you’re a human rights “activist”. There you are, singing “Happy Birthday” to a brutal dictator and his family, without any knowledge of who they are. Maybe a clause in your contract, requiring a full briefing on who is paying you three million dollars would clear up any misunderstanding.

Or maybe you could have the common sense to “Google” your patron, as you would before hiring a roadie.

3 comments on “Ain’t gonna play Sun City

  1. This is one of my favorite all time posts! I always appreciate it when a level-headed and informed person (like yourself) presents the ‘facts’ about the hypocrisy of celebrity. And I always wondered about that M&M clause. I’m going out to dinner on this one.
    ps: I think you left out Maria Carey.


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