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Recently I was flipping through my record collection and found I had copies of The Concert for Bangladesh as well as the less well-known Concerts for the People of Kampuchea. These records have several things in common: both concerts were organized by former members of the Beatles (George Harrison for Bangladesh and Paul McCartney for Kampuchea) to raise money for countries in Southeast Asia experiencing suffering after civil wars. Both feature all-star lineups of popular and revered musicians coming together for a good cause, donating their time to help those less fortunate. But while both are worthy efforts, there’s no denying that Harrison’s concert and album stand out as clearly superior. There’s a reason that The Concert for Bangladesh is remembered long after the events that it was organized to raise awareness of have long passed. All things must pass, but artistic achievement on this level will always be remembered. But why do The Concerts for the People of Kampuchea suffer so much in comparison? Here are five reasons:

1) No one knows where Kampuchea is… go ahead, find it on a map… you can’t, right? Unlike Bangladesh, Kampuchea no longer exists, since it reverted to its original name of Cambodia not many years after McCartney’s concerts were held. It was probably too politically correct to acquiesce to recognize a name change imposed by the very tyrant who slaughtered millions of his own people, and then name the charity effort and resulting album after that change. Would anyone today hold a concert for the country neighbouring Bangladesh with its own history of misery and use the name given it by its military dictators? Of course not. You most likely know it as Myanmar but it’ll always be Burma to me.

2) Bangladesh opens with a 16-minute raga by Ravi Shankar (and he even makes a joke after the audience applauds his tuning!). The closest Kampuchea comes to world music is the white-boy ska of The Specials.

3) Artist representation. There’s actually a pretty good lineup for Kampuchea, partly because the concerts were spread over four nights, rather than Bangladesh‘s single concert. But giving Queen an entire show and only putting one of their songs on the record is just criminal. Similarly, Elvis Costello is allowed only a single song, as is The Clash. I love The Pretenders, but why do they get three songs and The Clash only gets one? The concerts may have been amazing, but the document on record is sparse and frustrating.

4) George Harrison brings out his A-game, performing My Sweet Lord, Something, While My Guitar Gently Weeps (with Eric Clapton!), and Here Comes the Sun. McCartney gives us Got to Get You Into My Life and Let It Be, but in rather tepid versions. Don’t get me wrong–I’m a big fan of Paul McCartney (he’s my favourite Beatle) but in this instance he just doesn’t bring the goods, and George Harrison wipes the stage with him.

5) In a move that demonstrates extraordinary good will just months after The Beatles broke up, George adds Ringo Starr as the drummer for the concert, and even lets him sing It Don’t Come Easy… everyone loves Ringo!


"Can't keep a sistah down."

After spending fifteen of the last twenty-one years under house arrest, Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has a message for her beleaguered people, who have endured rule by a military junta that refused to accept her win in the last democratic elections in 1990: “I’m back, bitches!”

Eleven years ago, she faced a terrible choice: fly to her dying husband’s side in London, or remain in the country whose people’s rights she had spent decades defending.  She stayed in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and when asked about the decision she was forced to make between her husband and her country, the slight 65-year old woman would only cryptically say “Payback’s a motherfucker.”

Leaving the gates of the villa in which she’s been confined for so long, the activist was greeted by throngs of supporters who cheered her appearance.  “I’m very happy to see the people,” she said, barely audible over the chanting. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen you,” adding “God, I’m so horny.”

Despite her popularity, not everyone agrees with the choices she’s made.  Suu Kyi has earned criticism at home among some who are no fans of the regime but believe her desire to score political points by advocating international sanctions against the military government has taken a big toll on impoverished Burmese, a charge to which Suu Kyi replied, “Hate the game, not the player!”

Still, the mood was overwhelmingly one of elation.  “I’m so happy she’s free,” said a 24-year old student who identified himself as Bositt and wore a “We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi” T-shirt. “She’s our leader, our mother. I’ve been waiting since 9 a.m. for this, but it’s more than worth it.  I would totally hit that.”

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