Tibetan Freedom Concert

By Matthew George | 1999-07-01 12:00:00

So you want to be a rock star? You want to rock and roll all night long and party every day? You think being a rock star is all fun and games? It's about thousands of fans screaming your name? It's about making money and about booze and drugs? It's about not caring about political and societal problems in the world?

If that's what you think, then your band was not one of over 40 bands that performed at the Tibetan Freedom Concerts (TFC) on June 13.

Every year since 1996 a huge concert festival, like Woodstock, has taken place in the United States. But while Woodstock expressed individuals' peace, love, and freedom in the face of their own government, the TFC tries to bring about these things for the people of Tibet. Those who attend these concerts see great live acts and learn the importance of each individual's effort is in the Tibetan struggle for freedom. At the end many people leave the concert feeling they have been a part of something important and knowing that they have brought hope to Tibet.


In 1994 Adam Yaunch, one of the three members of the rap group the Beastie Boys, co-founded the Milarepa Fund. The Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of universal compassion and nonviolence. It endorses active resistance to violence on every level, and funds projects that find creative ways to promote compassion and nonviolence. Since 1994 its members have been organizing demonstrations, pressuring governments for social change, launching boycotts, introducing shareholder resolutions, pushing for corporate codes of conduct, coordinating letter-writing campaigns, seeking dialogue with corporations that knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate human rights abuses worldwide, and educating people about the current system of global economics. Their philanthropy reflects the belief that youth are one of the most powerful agents of change.


Peaceful, Buddhist Tibet was invaded by China in 1950. Since then over 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed, 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed, and thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's political and spiritual leader, fled in 1959 to India, where he lives now with the rest of the Tibetan government in exile and over 100,000 Tibetan refugees. The Tibetans continue to resist Chinese rule nonviolently.

In Tibet today there is no freedom of speech, religion, or press; and arbitrary arrests continue. There are currently over 700 political prisoners in Tibet. One out of ten Tibetans has been held in prison or forced labor camp for 10 to 20 years.

Despite all this, the world community has done little to pressure China to improve its human rights record. Major corporations around the world continue to do business with China. Last year the United States renewed China's Most Favored Nation trading status. China represents such a potentially huge market in Canada and elsewhere that politicians are reluctant to impose trade sanctions. The U.S. government asserts that the presence of U.S. business in China will improve conditions there, but it has only worsened. A 1995 State Department study showed that cases of human rights abuses were growing in China and Tibet.

Regardless of all the human rights abuses they confront, the people of Tibet continue to live peacefully. Because of this fact, the Milarepa Fund actively supports the nonviolent social change of the Tibetan struggle, on the principle that nonviolence is more than a philosophy, it's an active way of life. The Tibet Freedom Concerts were started in order to raise awareness about the people ofTibet.


Every year since 1996 a different city in the United States has hosted the two-day TFC. Because of its growing popularity, this year the concert took place for one day, simultaneously, in four cities around the world: Amsterdam, Chicago, Sydney, and Tokyo. While the TFC does attract many young concert goers mainly there to see their favorite band, they leave the event with a new awareness of the Tibetan struggle for freedom.

Between various performers' sets, many speakers take the stage to talk about what is happening in Tibet and why it is important that we do something about it. Information booths line the entrances with handouts, petitions to be signed, and other bits of information about Tibet. The atmosphere is different from other concert festivals that take place during the summer months, many of which are run by corporations and are marked by the sale of t-shirts, temporary tattoos, hemp related products, and other assorted junk. This is not the case at the TFC, though.

Performances in previous years included the Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, A Tribe Called Quest, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth, Beck, Bjork, The Fugees, U2, R.E.M, Pulp, and Yoko Ono.

This year, because four concerts took place at once, many bands came that have never played the TFC before, as well as some old favorites. Highlights included The Cult, Live, Rage Against The Machine, The Roots, Run DMC, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Blur, Garbage, Alanis Morissette, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Neil Finn, and, of course, the Beastie Boys.

The highlight came from Sydney, Australia, where in a surprise performance, INXS took the stage for a three-song set, with Terence Trent D'arby singing. Since the death of INXS's lead singer Michael Hutchence's last year, many were unsure whether INXS would continue as a band at all, but because of this surprise performance, it is rumored that Mr. Darby may continue as the lead vocalist.


So what type of rock star would you like to be? Is it about looking out for number one, or is it about using the status that you have in youth culture to advocate serious societal and political solutions? It's your decision. The Beastie Boys, along with over 100 bands that have played with them over the past four years; the Milarepa Fund; and the people of Tibet hope that your band decides to join with them in helping Tibet, and other peoples of the world gain their freedom by nonviolent means.

Matthew George is the managing editor of Peace Magazine.

Peace Magazine Summer 1999

Peace Magazine Summer 1999, page 25. Some rights reserved.

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