BY LILY MOAYERI
The cliché of the starving artist has a romantic, creative bent to it, where an individual chooses the integrity of their art over “selling out” for consistent sustenance. For many, however, hunger is not a choice, but an unavoidable fact of life. This month, Hunger Relief International is launching its Beat Hunger campaign benefiting Haitian children and their families who are living in extreme poverty, and they’ve enlisted a cadre of the world’s top drummers to bring awareness to the cause.
Sheila E., Stephen Perkins, Kristen Gleeson-Prata, and Kenny Aronoff are among the drummers who made their way to Complex Studios in Los Angeles this summer to record a public service announcement for Beat Hunger, including a short drum performance.
“Nobody should be starving,” Aronoff tells Drum. “We’ve got a hunger problem, which is ridiculous, because we have the resources.”
Hunger Relief International founder Rachel Zelon is a longtime humanitarian with over 30 years of NGO service to her credit. Established in 2009, HRI’s focus is the alleviation of the impact of hunger on the lives of malnourished children. “The drummers’ participation comes from the heart,” says Zelon. “They understand children in need. They understand poverty. They understand hunger. Especially when it comes to children, we all want to pull together to given them an opportunity to do things the right way.”
According to the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, with roughly 60 percent of the country’s population of 10.4 million living below the national poverty line of $2.41 per day. More than 2.5 million live below the national extreme poverty line of $1.23 per day.
It was Perkins who recorded the demos that were sent to the artists ahead of their sessions. One features the tribal, Afro-Cuban style inspired by Fela Kuti. The other is more straightforward with touches of Led Zeppelin and hip-hop. “We make noise and people listen,” says Perkins. “A drummer can bring awareness with rhythm. Rhythm lives in the present. It is alive.”
The Beat Hunger campaign was created and produced by Matt Williams of Addition Media. “I was 13 when ‘We Are The World’ was released,” he says. “The greatest artists on earth coming together to help those in desperate need? I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It stayed with me. That’s where the idea of bringing drummers together to ‘beat hunger’ came from.”
He explains that for this project the artists each created an original work, recorded on their own touring drum kit. “Each artist is being encouraged to perform in their own unique voice,” Williams says. “But we thought it would be helpful to the artists and productive for the sessions to establish a starting point but with a lot of space for artists to work, and for us to edit. We are thrilled these percussionists are willing to work with us.”
Beat Hunger also includes efforts from drummers Stewart Copeland, Dame Evelyn Glennie, and Rico Nichols, as well as the Beastie Boys’ Mixmaster Mike.
“I feel humbled, honored, and so excited to be working with so many amazing people,” says BØRNS drummer Gleeson-Prata. “It’s an absolute dream come true working with the other drummers, but also working with a great campaign and a great organization.”
Veteran audio engineer Gerhard Joost captured the performances in-studio. “The concept was to get a raw, live sound, like it’s happening right in front of you with as many direct mikes as possible,” he says. “The room mike is where we can really start expanding the sound and change the impression of the intensity so it’s like cannons going off in the room. No two drummers had the same kits.”
The finished products have a seamless coherence to them. The black and white videos show grab viewers’ attention with minimal messaging and maximum performance. Unlike past campaigns utilizing famous musicians like D.A.R.E. or Rock The Vote, Beat Hunger keeps it simple, clean, and artistic for an effective, focused message: We can beat hunger.
“The artists are thrilled,” says Williams. “With their support, this campaign can bring awareness to hunger in Haiti and support to HRI, which is dedicated to doing something about it.”
Beat Hunger launched this month on broadcast television, radio, print, and digital media. For more information or to donate, visit www.hungerreliefinternational.org.
Check out these individual 30-second TV promos below.