Music has the power to make you feel, think, and come together with other people. But, what if it had the power to make you give?
Music and charity work is an inspiring combination. Between spewing heavy lyrics or strumming sweet melodies about important world issues, it can teach people to make a difference. Many Canadian musicians have caught on to to this phenomenon and have decided to make stirring changes in the world rather than keeping fortune and fame for themselves.
Two such artists are singer Nelly Furtado and Billy Talent drummer Aaron Solowoniuk. I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion called Musicians & Charity: Finding a Way to Give Back through the three-day music summit at Canadian Music Week. Free the Children founder, Craig Kielburger and President for Artists for Peace and Justice Canada, Natasha Koifman, joined Furtado and Solowoniuk to talk about the causes closest to their hearts.
Nelly Furtado has been a long-time artist in Canada, but was very down to earth in person, smiling and laughing comfortably while she discussed the importance of charity work in her music. “There are so many great charities, as an artist you ask yourself what is this amounting to? Above all, it is your intention that matters,” she said. “What makes you feel angry? What gives you that fire in your belly? If you can’t align your career and success with something bigger than that, it is really unfulfilling.” Furtado’s success with her charity work reflects the global reach that musicians can have in leading people to donate and make a difference in the world.
Furtado recently received the 2016 Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award for her work with Free the Children. Furtado traveled to Kenya with the charity in 2011 to build a school. Her last album, The Spirit Indestructible also raised money to open an all-girls school in Oleleshwa, Kenya.
Furtado explained that you don’t need to have a lot of money to make a difference through music either, just passion. Local charity events are always in need of entertainment and it is a good way to practice your skills as a budding artist. There is also an opportunity to dedicate funds from a song or album to a cause. For example, Canadian musician Anjulie is a friend of Furtado’s and recently released the song, “Dragonflies”. The funds from the song will go to support the Canadian Women Foundation’s Campaign against Violence.
Solowoniuk, who is the long-time drummer of Billy Talent, is also a strong supporter of merging charity and the music industry. The drummer was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1998 when he was in his late 20’s. Solowoniuk is a soft-spoken man dressed in casual clothes, but sincere when he talks about his disease.
In 2006 he founded F.U.M.S, a charity dedicated to help youth with MS go to university. On behalf of Solowoniuk, Billy Talent puts on an annual concert on boxing day to help the organization. “As a young adult, it was hard to go through a change in my life dealing with a disease that doesn’t have a cure, I just thought I’m going to put on a punk rock show,” he said. “People grabbed onto that when they found out I wanted to donate money and start these youth programs. We started a camp for kids with MS too. It has grown into something beautiful. When you believe in it, it will go so much further.”
Free the Children is arguably one of the most successful charities in Canada and Kielburger, who was only 12 years old when he founded the charity, is constantly thinking of innovative ways to help different causes worldwide. WE Day is one of the ways that Free the Children is helping kids take part in making a difference in the world in a fun way.
The annual event is hosted in 14 stadiums in North America and a variety of famous musicians and celebrities perform. The kids attend for free when they commit to work for a charitable cause through their school. Last year, in Toronto, WE Day was held at the Molson Amphitheatre and featured performers like Hozier, Carly Ray Jepson, Demi Lavato, Magic Johnson.
Music is no doubt a powerful tool. Musicians have large social media followings and are able to influence people around the world to help make a difference. They also have the financial backing to make a credible difference and can use songs or albums to disseminate integral messages about global issues.
What fascinates me is why musicians with so much power and money have a desire to participate in charity work. Furtado spoke of the lack of ultimate fulfillment that results from fame. When you reach your pinnacle of success, if you don’t do anything with that power and resources, it can be unsatisfactory. Instead, charity work is humbling and artists a way to share their success and achieve true greatness through their work. If every musician thought this way, imagine the changes that could be achieved in the world. Furtado, and other musicians who do charity work as well, are truly incredible.
All of the inspiring panelists emphasized the importance of helping a cause you believe in. If you find something that impassions you to make a difference it won’t feel like a sacrifice, but instead a worthy project to take part in. Seeing famous musicians passionately support further impacts other people’s faith in supporting charity work and makes you realize that everyone is capable of making a difference. We all have an obligation to help people and the planet even in a small way.
How would you change the world? Once you find out, the rest will fall into place and you can make a much-needed difference.