After Peter Gabriel and Sting had committed to the Amnesty International Human Rights Now tour in 1988, the next artist who volunteered was the Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, the featured artist this month on Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound.
“I was blown away by the music, the rhythms and one of the most extraordinary voices I’d ever heard, which I thought at the time was like liquid gold” said Gabriel of his first chance encounter with Youssou N’Dour in Paris in the early 1980s.
The two became friends and N’Dour along with his band Le Super Etoile de Dakar supported Gabriel throughout his globe-trotting tour for the album So – the performance you can download this month on Society of Sound. Nightly Peter would introduce his support act to the expectant audience; “In the ‘80s there were audiences who were not open to musicians who looked and sounded very foreign and different and an endorsement from the main act helped to break the ice. In the case of Youssou, the passion and power of his music would always win the crowd over.”
N’Dour had long been aware of Amnesty, but it was Gabriel’s dedication to the organization that caused N’Dour to get involved further. ‘When I got to know Peter, we talked a lot about human commitment; when you’re friends with someone, you have to talk about your personal feelings, your commitments. And Peter was very committed to Amnesty, so we spent a lot of time talking about it. And I decided that I, too, should be involved with Amnesty, and put as much time in as I could.’
With Sting, Gabriel and N’Dour, John Healey (Chairman of the Concerts for Human Rights Foundation and Exec Director of Amnesty International USA) felt he had the core of talent needed to carry out the tour. Meanwhile others offered their services: Robbie Robertson, Eric Clapton, George Michael, Suzanne Vega, Paul Simon, INXS and more.
The tour was officially announced with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour and Tracy Chapman all on the bill. The first show took place on 2 September 1988 at Wembley Stadium in London.
In the tour programme, Youssou gave an insight into his own motivations for joining the tour and the importance of music in delivering a political message:
“Because of Amnesty International, the world’s politicians have to be more careful. In it’s own way, Amnesty is more powerful than these politicians, and I think it is good to put the politicians – who, for me, are the real villains – in their place, to show them with music and musicians. In Africa, there are many problems; there are many problems in the Third World. And those problems are obvious. Everyone knows that, say, the president has 17 people in prison. In the developed countries, like America, politicians can hide the problems so that you can’t see them. But music is the one aspect of the culture that can really and truly pass the message on. The most popular songs in Africa are the ones with a message, and the message may be a little harsh but the people need that. They need to know the truth. They need to know the truth, because there’s not much truth going on around Africa. I think that this tour turned loose something that’s very pure, something that’s never happened before. I think that we’ll see that it really shook up the way people see things, and that its effect will last for a long time.”