It’s been almost 35 years since Bob Geldof and Midge Ure floated the idea of a global music-based event, Live Aid, to raise awareness and support against what BBC News called “the closest thing to hell on Earth.” The world’s attention was drawn to the 1985 crisis in Ethiopia — a famine so dire that it was referred to as “biblical” in scope and responsible for the deaths of millions.
We were one back then, seduced by a greater moral imperative, evangelized through Marshall amps and the voices of dozens of rock and pop stars. We never thought that we would be so splintered, so torn between two ideologies that it would take a pandemic to bring us together, albeit temporarily, over an Academy Award-nominated song written by a celebrated song writer.
In the place of Geldof and Ure are composer-arranger Sharon Farber and director Gev Miron, two Israeli-American artists who teamed with Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren to create what many thought impossible: a global project that unified over 170 musicians, singers, performance and digital artists who for a few minutes united our splintered selves against an enemy that knows no political affiliation.
“I’m Standing With You — A Musical Collaboration in Support of COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund” supports the beleaguered United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organization, global groups whose work is being threatened and called into question in the midst of this pandemic. Instead of defunding, “I’m Standing With You” fuels the work that these organizations do. The artists who joined in allegiance with WHO did it not from the stage at Wembley or Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium. They did it from their own homes and studios, stitched together and sync’d into a tightly compelling video, singing in unison a song that speaks of empathy and faith.
There is no more appropriate song to bring people together than Warren’s “I’m Standing With You” – even if our stance is now socially distanced. Farber and Miron closed that gap so that we now stand shoulder to shoulder, unified against a common enemy. “As a composer in the digital age, I’m used to collaborating digitally,” Farber explained. “Although I miss the human connection, I believe we touched on what humanity is all about, through the universal power of music via the advantages that technology allows, to convey that we are all one.”
Miron, who directed the project, was philosophical. “The good thing was that people could instantly connect from all around the world without the need for them to be at the event,” he said. “This was an incredibly complex production not just because we had to do everything remotely, but also because the amount of footage that needed to be collected, synced and edited was enormous.”
Originally written for the 2019 movie “Breakthrough,” Warren’s Oscar-nominated song sounded a rallying cry that “would go beyond the movie,” Warren said. “We need to stand with our fellow humans, stand with our animal friends. Choose kindness over cruelty,” she said. “I never dreamed almost 200 singers from every continent on the planet would be singing and playing it together from their homes and it would have this kind of impact.”
Farber assembled a diverse orchestra composed mainly of medical workers. “When we started the project, it was meant to be much smaller, but I contacted conductor Libi Lebel, who brought in the Texas Medical Center Orchestra, and all of a sudden I had 73 musicians who all wanted to participate,” she said. “I expanded the arrangement to include a full orchestra and added the voices of Patrick Bolton’s Spirit of David Choir, who I’ve worked with before, as well as 60 Los Angeles-based singers and instrumentalists. I sent all the material out and then the videos started pouring in and it was massive! While I worked on the mix with mixing engineer Michael Stern, Gev took all of this content and created an amazingly beautiful video.”
“We could have very easily done a Zoom music video,” Miron explained, “and it’s been done many times. I wanted to connect to people on a different level, to show them that we are all ‘standing together,’ and for me that meant showing people the world, their cities, the places they call home, the way they are right now.”
Live Aid was a logistical nightmare that cost over $20 million to produce and was seen by an audience of 89,484 live concert-viewers crammed into two venues, in England and Philadelphia. Live Aid, like its predecessor, the Concert for Bangladesh, articulated the power of art as salvation, and served as a template for similar events in a pre-COVID world.
The new template for global aid is as much about technology as talent, where programmers and percussionists co-exist for the salvation of mankind. Although it may pale in comparison with the Ethiopian catastrophe, the potential flies in the face of repeated early assurances that the virus was “nothing to fear.” With over 100,000 deaths recorded in the U.S. so far, the pandemic has commanded our attention — and once again, artistry trumps politics when it comes to raising our awareness and galvanizing our concern.
Warren might have summed up the feeling of community and solidarity best: “It really proved the old saying to be forever true: Music is and will always be the universal language.”
Watch the full video above.