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Do They Know It's Christmas Yet?: They took a trip back to 1984 and broke it.

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A motley crew of the most popular UK performers in the world gathered, including Phil Collins, who arrived with his entire drum set, as well as Sting, George Michael, and others. A 45-year-old farmer named Ibrahim who Gill spoke to decades after the famine recalled being pressed into service digging graves as a young man because there were not enough workers. Mengistu’s plan might have been effective as a military strategy, but it ravaged the Ethiopian economy. Among the many problems it produced was that it created a surplus of labor in some places and a dearth in others.

Gill said perhaps the most obvious consequence of the Band Aid campaign was that Ethiopia became a sort of caricature of poverty and starvation in the minds of westerners.The song’s cultural impact—both good and bad—is also hard to overstate, though many smile at the line “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” What few realize is that the famine was not an accident. Though drought played a role, many have overlooked that the Ethiopian government's military policies were the primary catalyst.

The songwriters decided to divvy up the work. Ure would write the music for the song, while Geldof would polish the lyrics and work the phones to drum up performers. Many westerners are oblivious to the causes that underpinned Ethiopia’s famine, but Ethiopians are not, and they appear to have learned an important lesson.

Aid is just a stopgap,” Bono pointed out not long after Gill’s book was published. “Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid. We need Africa to become an economic powerhouse.” The assembled cast of performers had 24 hours to record in the studio, which was made available to them freely by producer Trevor Horn. (Horn had initially been asked to produce the song, but told Geldof it would take him six weeks, which would make a December release impossible; so the task fell to Ure.) Do They Know It’s Christmas” was released on December 3. It opened with Paul Young on vocals, followed by Boy George, George Michael, Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran, Sting, and Bono. Numerous other artists also participated in the project.

Such perceptions should not exactly surprise us. Ethiopia’s famine claimed as many as a million lives, according to official estimates (the actual total is likely closer to 400,000); so it’s not unusual that many would associate the land with starvation. Fifteen thousand children here now. Suffering. Confused. Lost,” Buerk says, as the camera pans to emaciated bodies of starving Ethiopians. “Death is all around. A child or an adult dies every twenty minutes.” I was a little kid when the song came out, and as a child I wasn’t much of a fan. I didn’t really know what the song was about, but I vaguely remember thinking it had something to do with AIDS, which was new and very scary. I was more partial to Burl Ives singing “Holly Jolly Christmas” or the Peanuts characters belting out “ Hark the Angels.”World poverty is a burden to be shared, but there is another principle now widely recognized,” Gill writes. “Poor countries will emerge from poverty only when they take full charge of their own destiny.”

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