Congo Benefit Concert Tonight

Concert may connect Boise to global crisis


Woodstock didn't end the Vietnam War. The Concert for Bangladesh didn't curb the turmoil of East Pakistan refugees. Farm Aid didn't prevent family farmers from losing their land. But when music is attuned to social conscience, bridges can be built toward tolerance, peace and sometimes social change.

Countless musical acts are vying for our attention and money this summer. Concerts in clubs, gardens and amphitheaters, have filled the midsummer air. But on Thursday, Aug. 19, Boise's Egyptian Theatre will host what could easily become the most diverse, engaging and socially aware musical event of the season.

The Congo Benefit Concert is not simply a touring road-show. Its roots go back to December 2009, when the community of Bend, Ore., witnessed what was billed as a one-time-only event.

"When we saw it, we knew we just had to try to recreate the concert for Boise," said Lindsay Kevan, with the Treasure Valley World Relief office.

World Relief is a religious organization that works with churches to help new refugees with everything from obtaining car insurance to enrolling their children in school to finding health care and employment.

Kevan spends her days as a vocational training specialist, working with refugees from every corner of the globe. But after seeing the Congo Benefit Concert in Bend, she was compelled to add concert promoter to her resume.

And it's a pretty impressive debut. The concert will include performances from American musicians Elliot, Grace Laxson, PawnShop Kings and Annie Bethancourt, who will be joined by a local Congolese Choir. That is worth repeating: A local Congolese choir from the New Heart Christian Ministries of Boise will perform.

The New Heart Christian Ministries church--where "services are uniquely held in English with translation in Swahili"--is only 5 years old but 200 strong. Parishioners include refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia. The refugees didn't bring much with them to their new communities, but they brought their voices. And during the concert, they will use those voices to sing of life and loss and hope in order to help those still struggling back home.

In order to make this concert as beneficial as possible, each of the American artists was asked to contribute to a special CD, The Congo Benefit Project. More importantly, the musicians and singers all donated the rights and proceeds of their music to World Relief.

"I feel my song was my way of responding to my own unawareness of what's been going on in the Congo," said Laxson. "I just feel that for a long time, I've been living in a bit of a bubble."

Most would probably agree with her. Consider this: The current conflict in the DRC is the worst documented crisis since World War II. More than 5.4 million people have died in the last 10 years due to war related causes in the DRC. That is equivalent to the entire population of Colorado.

Living in that bubble may mean not being aware of the atrocities being committed in the DRC. For example, rape is being used as a weapon of war. Soldiers rape girls as young as 3 and women as old as 75. In some IDP camps (Internally Displaced People are those who have been forced from their homes but, unlike refugees, have been unable to leave their country) it is estimated that more than 70 percent of the women have been raped.

Something else to help drive the conflict home: Even cell phones play a role in the continued conflict in the Congo.

Children and widows are used as slaves to work in rebel-controlled mines in DRC. The slaves dig for what are known as the three T's: tungsten, tantalum and tin, which are used in most of the world's cell phones. Congolese rebel groups earn more than $100 million per year from trade in the three T's.

Ann Mara is a WRF team member in Bend. When she talks of her first-hand experience in the DRC, she speaks with clarity and determination, but her thick Irish accent also has a touch of the poet.

"The pages that hold the story of humanity have been torn and tattered by the winds of injustice," said Mara. "We are here to help write the resolve of that story."

Ticket sales from Thursday's concert will assist the Boise World Relief office. All of the proceeds from CD and DVD sales at the event will go directly to on-the-ground relief work in the DRC. That includes education to orphans and food, seed and planting tools to widows.

The conflict in the DRC reminds us that our history is rife with injustice: Holocaust, the Crusades, slavery, genocide, persecution, hunger. In 2010, war, rape and starvation are wiping out a nation. The crisis in the DRC may be the greatest cause of our time, and it will soon be in the history books. Those books will also document how we chose to respond to that need. This concert is one small way that we can help.