It’s not a new thing for artists to get involved in community upliftment projects, in fact it’s almost become de rigueur for international artists to throw their weight behind some form of charity or the other. Africa especially has been a firm favourite among the tabloid-fronting crowd. Some artists, however, have a genuine empathy towards causes in the more underprivileged areas of the world, often being exposed to the plights of these communities through extensive touring or conversations with fellow artists.
It is one such conversation that led Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood to South Africa’s sunny shores, visiting various communities as the Global Ambassador for the Children’s Radio Foundation (CRF) – a UNICEF supported project which aims to empower children from poorer communities by teaching them the fundamentals of broadcasting.
Arguably one of the most revered bands of their generation, Radiohead is known for both their fearless pursuit in progressing their sound and their innovative approach to an ever-changing industry, embracing change while being honest about the positive impact the old music industry model had on helping them get to where they are today. They’re also one of the more elusive bands in today’s age of information overload, with lead singer Thom Yorke known for his oft-snarky attitude towards the media. Greenwood, on the other hand, is a soft-spoken, approachable character: a stereotypical nice guy without the rock star ego one so often finds among successful musicians.
Ending off his almost two week visit to South Africa with a talk at the Red Bull Studios in Cape Town on 29 January, the bassist spoke passionately about CRF and the initiative’s role in making a sustainable difference in the five developing countries where the programme is currently active. He also graciously answered questions from Radiohead fans who were almost foaming at the mouth just being in the mere presence of one of the founding members of their favourite band. He spoke about the similarities between the way the children who are part of the CRF project learn by trial-and-error and how this was how Radiohead initially found their feet as a band; how they figured things out as they went along, growing their sound and trying to stay true to themselves artistically. In the same vein, the township kids involved in the project are encouraged to contribute to their communities by staying true to the issues that affect them.
Greenwood also spoke with much reverence of the people he had met on his journey to Africa, praising the CRF facilitators’ tenacity and passion for their jobs of guiding the children in producing work that they and their communities can be proud of. He seemed genuinely impressed by South Africa’s local music talent, even interrupting his chat to play a couple of tracks that had caught his attention.
Many artists’ first visit to South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, usually involves a show and a holiday of some sort. Greenwood, however, decided to get his hands dirty on his first trip out and one senses his heartfelt passion for the CRF’s cause, that his trip was not some sort of publicity stunt and that Radiohead’s interests played second fiddle to him gaining an intimate understanding of the CRF’s functions.
It is the realisation that radio still plays an important part in lesser developed communities that makes the CRF’s projects so special, that in an age where everyone has a voice online, even children without access to such technology are taught that they too have a voice, that their opinions matter and that it is up to them to instigate the change needed within their communities and ultimately in the greater world around them.
Given this, whether Radiohead will eventually tour South Africa seems irrelevant, what is important is that a foundation such as the Children’s Radio Foundation has found in one of the band’s founding members a passionate and inspired ambassador. That is enough.
For more information about the Children’s Radio Foundation and Colin Greenwood’s involvement, you can visit http://crf.waste.uk.com/
Article originally appeared on the now defunct entertainmentafrica.com which was incorporated into iafrica.com
Photo credit: Red Bull Studios Cape Town