Today marks the launch of Songs for Tibet, a new compilation album from some heavy-duty superstars, including Alanis Morisette, Dave Matthews and Sting. Following its global release on iTunes — just three days before the August 8 Olympic opening ceremony — the album will be made available through other retail channels.
A project of the Art of Peace Foundation in Washington DC, Songs for Tibet also features touchy-feely artists John Mayer, Vanessa Carlton, and Damien Rice, among others.
The Art of Peace Foundation is one of many groups who see the Olympics as a flashpoint to rally support for a cause and push the Chinese government on sensitive issues. The AFP reports:
“This album will focus people’s attention on the importance of Tibet, the gifts of its culture, and the crisis the Tibetan people are facing today,” said one of the album’s organisers, Michael Wohl….Wohl, from the Art of Peace Foundation, said the timing of the release was deliberate.
“We wanted to express our support for the Tibetan people and their message of peace through music, a fundamental means of expression, at a time when the eyes of the world are on China,” he said.
On an abstract level, it’s encouraging to see people banding together on an important issue rather than simply adopting a policy of appeasement toward a nation with growing economic and military might. On a practical level, however, we wonder whether the Songs for Tibet artists are following in the footsteps of Bjork, who stirred the pot when it was convenient for her, then promptly fled the country and didn’t have to deal with any of the repercussions.
Brian Hardgroove, the bassist for Public Enemy (who played the Beijing Pop Festival last year along with Nine Inch Nails at The New York Dolls) gave his take on the Bjork kerfuffle to PASTE magazine:
Bjork made a big mistake….The fact that a politically outspoken band like Public Enemy could even make the trip is a testament to the sea change already at hand in the country. [But] what Bjork did was damaging. She offended the very people that would fight possible to change what’s going on in Tibet, [people who] are even open enough to go see an artist from the West. They might even be open enough to look at their government’s control over that region as not necessarily the best thing to do. Tibet didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not going to change over night.
Apply these ideas to Songs For Tibet, and it seems the project may be an instance of preaching to the choir (as most of its listeners will be members of the international community who already support Tibetan independence), or that it will fall on deaf ears by espousing a message that many in China are simply not ready to hear. The message may seem especially sanctimonious or accusatory coming from a group of foreigners, many of whom have never been to China or Tibet, and may not know much about the political situation. The powers that be in Beijing have not released a statement about the album, but it’s safe to assume they’re not thrilled about it.
Of course, incurring government ire is a small price to pay to make an impactful statement. The question is whether the positive impact will justify the anger. Or, when the world’s eyes turn away from China following the Olympics, will the country’s population be left with more restrictions, less access to foreign creative influences, and a more heavily-controlled media?