Monday, November 19, 2007

The Hope Business

The Hope Business means people who make it their business to spread hope.

Cynicism is the weapon of the weak, someone said, and happily, since we last met. I have been exposed to heavy doses of hope. "I prophesy that before too long, HIV will be RIP!" Bono flamboyantly announced onstage at the AIDS charity Keep A Child Alive's star-studded Black Ball in NY's Hammerstein Ballroom. The Irish shaman was being honored alongside  Dr. Pasquine Ogunsanya of Uganda's Alive Medical Services, and Nick Reding, a British actor who moved to Kenya and founded SAFE (Sponsored Arts for Education.)


Bono at the Black Ball
The incomparable and tireless Bono

The Black Ball is known for red-hot music -- and that night was blazing, right from the first foot stomps of a South African dance troupe, Juxtapower, and the intense harmony of South Africa's Agape Choir of AIDS orphans.

Justapower Video
Juxtapower - Got Zulu?

The charity's co-founder and global spokesperson is the ludicrously talented Alicia Keys. Unlike many charity-hopping celebs, Keys' is hands-on at KCA's twelve clinics and orphan care sites in seven countries in Africa and India, experiences that have clearly transformed her. No wonder she has a great crew of musical girlfriends, who showed up in force that night -- Sheryl Crow and Gwen Stefani, all in top form.

Alicia Keys
Image courtesy of Keep A Child Alive

Sheryl Crow and Alicia Keys Video
Alicia always hits the right note
Sheryl Crow and Bono and Gwen Stefani
from l to r: Sheryl Crow, Bono and Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani at the Blackball

Gwen Stefani lost in the song

The music was outstanding. An easy joy flashed between them as they relished jiving and jamming with sisters of equally formidable powers. They tore up tunes like Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues", Sheryl's "Winding Road", U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday,"  Gwen's "Watcha Waiting For" and Alicia was tender in her delivery of "Like You'll never See Me Again" and Bob Marley's "Turn The Lights Down Low." Keys said, "You don't know what this voice does to me," as she introduced opera singer Kathleen Battle and together they tore up U2's "Miss Sarajevo".


KCA need all the help they can get, and find innovative ways to bring it on, from their original Dollar A Day program to their new Good Cents Initiative.


Nelson Mandela and Bono both big-upped my old friend and hero, Nick Reding, who switched from acting (though you can see him in "Blood Diamond"!) to found SAFE. Perhaps only Nick could have made it happen -- three traveling theatre troupes on the Coast, in Nairobi slums and the wild Masai highlands, performing original plays that make the audience laugh till their hardness to AIDS sufferers crumbles. You may have seen their audacious street theatre in "The Constant Gardener." Truly, Nick's work lives up to SAFE's motto - Compassion, Solidarity and Hope.


Top music at a KCA event is no surprise, as spunky, punky founder Leigh Blake, was a CBGB's regular and Talking Heads cohort in the first punk days. Serious artists gravitate to her work because plebs or celebs, Leigh infects everyone with the feeling they can -- and will - make a difference.

Bono and Padma Lakshmi and Alicia Keys
From l to r: Padma Lakshmi, Leigh Blake, Ali Hewson, Bono and Alicia Keys

Hope is the mission of my mate Mariane Pearl, too. She recently had the (slightly surreal) experience of being played by Angelina Jolie in the film version of her book, "A Mighty Heart", which chronicles  her search for her missing husband Wall Street journalist, Danny Pearl, and dealing with the grim discovery of his video execution by Al Qaeda. She was just in New York to promote her new book,  "In Search of Hope", and to receive Glamour's Woman of the Year award alongside luminaries including Toni Morrison. It gathers her articles Glamour published over  an extraordinary year spent chronicling little-known local heroines on the front lines of Global Warming, the child sex slave trade, and many other flashpoints. Mariane's series received an overwhelming response from American women, whose urge to understand and act on life's inequities has been seriously underestimated. The grandes dames of Mariane's vivid reportage grab their grim fate and shake it till it recedes and is replaced by a positive future.

What's always attracted me to punk is its inclusionary, activist sense of community, and I agree with Leigh and Nick, who both said that when you have service in your life, things get better, and Mariane's positivity proves it.


In signing off, here's a summons from Bono -- "Love thy neighbor is not advice -- it's a command." How punk is that!