Not since the war bond drives during the Second World War have so many musicians put aside their commercial rivalries and joined together for a common purpose. This time the war is against famine in Africa and the latest salvo will be heard across Canada on Sunday when more than 40 radio stations air Radio Northern Lights for Africa. Among the stations participating are Q-107 and CHML (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) and CKAR (6 p.m. to 9 p.m.).
The three-hour special is a Canadian version of the U.S.A. for Africa broadcast carried recently by more than 300 U.S. stations. Featuring cuts from the album U.S.A. for Africa - which includes the Canadian hit Tears Are Not Enough - the program contains exclusive interviews with Bryan Adams, Anne Murray and others who were not part of the U.S. program.
"I think it's a good example of how the two organizations are working well together," says Maureen Jack, executive-director of the Vancouver-based Northern Lights organization.
All funds raised in Canada will be channeled through Northern Lights.
Tears Are Not Enough, released on March 11, quickly became a chart-topper across Canada. Within a month it had been certified double platinum, meaning it sold more than 200,000 copies. The once-in-a-lifetime choir boasted a roster of more than 50 top Canadian performers, including Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Salome Bey, Corey Hart, Burton Cummings, Robert Charlebois and Oscar Peterson.
That double platinum sales figure translates into roughly $250,000 in famine relief, according to Jack. Royalties from the Northern Lights participation in the U.S.A. for Africa project will add to that figure, even more so now that Tears Are Not Enough has been scheduled as the second single to be released from the album. Northern Lights for Africa T-shirt sales are expected to contribute more than $70,000, private donations have already topped $10,000, and several provinces have announced recently that they will donate sums equal to the sales tax collected on record sales.
"We're also hoping that radio stations will donate part of the proceeds from their advertising sales in the show," says John Rourke of Creative Broadcast Programs, the syndicators of Radio Northern Lights for Africa. "We're encouraging it, but it's their decision."
Northern Lights has solicited separate corporate donations to cover administrative costs so that all the money raised from the public will go directly into famine relief. The bulk of the funds will be fed through the Red Cross, CARE and UNICEF, three organizations with reliable relief programs in operation. David Foster, the Grammy award-winning producer and co-writer of Tears Are Not Enough, will travel to Africa as chairman of the Northern Lights board to oversee the disbursement.
"We expect to have the money working in Africa by June," Jack says.
For everyone involved with the Northern Lights project, it's been a hectic scramble. "It's one thing to work hard when you're making a lot of money," Rourke says. "It's another thing when you're doing it just for cost."
For Northern Lights, it's a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that the people involved - musicians, producers, publicists, radio and television station executives, record company staff - all work in one of the most cynical businesses in the world.
It was show business, after all, that gave the world such expressions as "Never give a sucker an even break," and "There's one born every minute." They are also, however, the first people called upon to do benefit concerts, whether for a local hospital, war bonds or famine relief. And once again, they've come through.
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