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File Under: Indie Rock for a Good Cause
rating: A
Free Tibet
by Catherine E. Galioto

I feared the video on the Tibetan Freedom Concert would focus exclusively on the long roster of performers. But thankfully the video showcased much of why the concert was staged in the first place: to help Tibet regain its freedom.

Most problematic though, is that the throngs of young people in the audience had little knowledge of Tibet and its concerns. To them, this was just a really cool concert on par with Lollapalooza, Warped, or Area: One.

In the video, Tibet was kept in mind. At the actual event, Tibet was forgotten, in lieu of a chance to see days' worth of the coolest performers.

As an extension, it was "cool" to appear concerned about the plight of the Tibetans. It made you seem less ignorant than the next person and more worldly, more socially conscientious (or conscious). By adopting these social concerns, fans have a way of emulating the rock stars crying for a free Tibet. Obviously, young adults taking a rock star pose, right down to a rock star's social concerns, is a means to "coolness."

However, while Adam Yauch (one third of the Beastie Boys) was a main organizer of the concert, Mike D (Yauch's bandmate) says in the video he "has no idea" about Tibet and that he's never been there. While Mike D is known for his purposefully ironic comments, he appears sincere. It is more clear that to him -- just as it is for most of the people there-- the concert is one big party.

It's imagery of one big party alongside brutal footage of Tibetan's torture at the hands of China that fills this video of the Tibetan Freedom Concert. The difference between the two is ample. On the flipside, the aggressive mosh pits of the concert mimic the chaotic violence in Tibet, in a way. This and other juxtapositions are very clear within the video.

Another example is in the music of such bands as the Fugees and Sonic Youth. Hearing Sonic Youth for the first time, a listener will hear discordant, guitar-driven art-noise and ask "what is it?" Similarly, concertgoers see a group of Tibetan monks and other elements of the culture and feel it is equally foreign, and maybe even other-worldly. The Fugees often rap about the plights of those in the inner cities or poverty-stricken Caribbean communities. Lyrics such as those almost seem funny when compared to how The Fugees, by the band's mere presence at the concert, are lumped as advocates of the plight of the Tibetans.

To continue, I expected such bands to edit their set lists to include uplifting songs about freedom and the triumph of the human spirit, or even songs somehow related to getting off our asses and making positive social change. Instead, the songs played at the Tibetan Freedom Concert where the latest hits of the "cool" bands of the day.

For Adam Yauch to say the concert showed the massive numbers of people who want to see a free Tibet is misleading. The concert was one big party, as is clearly shown in the video we watched in class. Awareness may have been brought to the cause by staging such a large event, but it's just peripheral. More people went home that day amazed at seeing a great show than did saddened at China's treatment of Tibet. The concert's legacy is summed up in the video well in that regard... …When an organizer gets a call from the press, she must explain it's not the Tahitian Freedom Concert, but the Tibetan Freedom Concert.

Catherine E. Galioto is Rockzone's Features Editor / Columnist. Contact her at ms.matilda@rockzone.com.

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