Healing the world through music

TTG Asia’s very own Feizal Samath, a veteran concert organiser, discovers that it’s possible to combine charity shows with tourism

American musician Bob Livingston (left) and World Bank’s country director of Central Europe and the Baltic Countries, Peter Harrold (right), have performed at previous Country Roads concerts 

If Paul McCartney, Jennifer Lopez or the Eagles are performing in Singapore, Thailand or Malaysia, you can be sure that wealthy Sri Lankans will jump on the first flight out to rock the night away.

Post-war Sri Lanka is starving for good entertainment because top celebrities are often too costly for local organisers to hire for a single show. So far, only musicians from a bygone era – think Lobo, Cliff Richard, Engelbert Humperdinck and Olivia Newton-John – have performed on Sri Lanka’s shores as their fees are friendlier to local budgets.

Sri Lanka-based travel experts have since tapped this demand by actively promoting overseas music packages, which include a business-class air ticket, hotel accommodation, concert tickets and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet the idols.

Musical concerts are a great way to promote the country. In a small way, I have also contributed to the craze for international acts by staging my own charity concert, Country Roads, in Sri Lanka for the past 24 years. Organised by Country Music Foundation (CMF), a non-profit organisation that I founded in 1988, CMF aims to raise money for needy children, particularly those affected by war.

The organisation has come a long way over the years to raise about eight million Sri Lankan rupees (US$60,000). While this might seem like small change in the world of big-ticket events, this drop-in-an-ocean kind of fundraising has helped to improve the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged children across the country by working with international agencies like UNICEF, Save the Children UK and local community groups.

CMF has brought in musicians from Germany, Italy, the Maldives, the US, the UK and Canada to perform at Country Roads concerts, promoting country and folk music the likes of John Denver, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and Johnny Cash, among others. All artistes have donated their services in return for complimentary tickets, accommodation and a chance to visit Sri Lanka and help the children of this country. My own band also plays at these concerts.

In 2013, Country Roads will be going to the Maldives, marking our inaugural effort at staging a concert to raise funds for Maldivian children.

The Maldives, with its over 100 exotic resorts, will be a perfect stage for exclusive concerts. It has already attracted a jet-set crowd and celebrities such as Richard Branson and Ronaldo, who are assured absolute privacy whenever they visit.

Now visualise Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas or the Rolling Stones singing around a campfire on one of these secluded islands. Can you imagine how much one would pay for this kind of up-close encounter with a celebrity in an intimate setting? Thousands, I would guess!

This article was first published in TTG Asia, August 10, 2012, on page 13. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.

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