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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 35 No 5. March 29, 1972

The Concert for Bangladesh — Apple

The Concert for Bangladesh


The Concert for Bangladesh

The Concert for Bangladesh

In March of 1969, General Yahya Khan assumed power in Pakistan with the professed aim of ending the dictatorship and introducing democracy. In the first free election ever held in the history of Pakistan, in December of 1970, the Awami (People's) League of Bangla Desh, behind its leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won an overwhelming victory. It emerged as the largest party in all of Pakistan, entitling it to form Pakistan's first democratic government.

Yahya Khan and the West Pakistani leadership, however, were unwilling to permit a power shift to the east, so they reacted by simply postponing the convention of the National Assembly indefinitely. Then, in March 1971, a deliberate reign of terror was unleashed on Bangla Desh to eliminate opposition to West Pakistan domination. An estimated one million East Bengalis were murdered and about ten million poured over the border into India to escape the horror of Yahya's soldiers.

Once in India the refugees faced starvation, lack of sanitation and housing, and cholera. Even less than basic care for them took roughly three million dollars a day from India's creaking economy. The suggestion that George Harrison do a benefit concert for these people came from an Indian whose father was born in East Pakistan — Ravi Shankar.

George agreed at once. That was six weeks before the concert, then George started things moving, gathering musicians, getting commitments and setting up the show. He had immediately called his manager, Alan Klein, who acted as producer, and got Madison Square Garden booked. And he called Bob Dylan who said he was interested.

Badfinger flew into New York from London on the Monday before the concert, followed by the horn players. Ringo arrived Thursday — he'd agreed to play immediately when George explained. Eric Clapton was sick and wasn't sure he could perform, but Jesse Davis (formerly of Taj Mahal and now on his own) joined up to make sure they'd have a second lead guitarist if Eric couldn't make it. Leon Russell arrived Friday night, having talked to Dylan without getting a definite answer. Finally, Dylan showed up at George's hotel room on Saturday, played a few things, and said he'd do it.

On the afternoon and evening of Sunday, August 1, there were two great concerts, each a sellout crowd of 20,000. Nearly $US250,000 was donated to the United Nations Children's Fund for Relief of Refugee Children of Bangla Desh. For the first time in its history, rock music was a political force.

Just released in New Zealand is the triple album produced, by Phil Spector and George Harrison from 16 track tapes made at the concert and rehearsals. All proceeds from the album are to go to Bangla Desh, as are those from George's single 'Bangla Desh' and the film that has been made of the concert.

The album is an extremely good record of what was simply one of the great rock concerts. George had insisted' that he wanted to do a solid, professional show rather than some kind of superjam. It worked. The audience responded with exceptional warmth and respect, listening intently and exploding with applause after the music.

"They were so happy, the joy of their being there was felt by each of us, " Ravi Shankar said. "This hasn't happened for so long now. Since Woodstock I have been to about five or six rock festivals and I have seen it go down gradually and I promised myself never again, because there is no more flower child and love, but only violence and drugs."

There were, as always, some bad things. George had phoned Paul McCartney and asked him to play, but Paul said no. John Lennon stopped in New York a couple of days before the concert but went home to indulge in more legal battles over the custody of Yoke's child. Worst of all, the mixing of the recordings had to be hurried so that the album could be released before the bootleggers ripped off too much.

So much, though, was good. At the end of the show when George and the band had finished 'Something', the applause went on for minutes and minutes after the stage was empty, but the band was called back on by the scream of 20,000 people. For his encore, George chose his new single 'Bangla Desh:'

My friend came to me with
sadness in his eyes
Told me that he wanted help
Before his country dies
Although I couldn't feel the pain
I knew I had to try
Now I'm helping all of you
To help us save some lives
Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh.