A Concert for Bangladesh: Re-released

Before there was Live Aid or Live 8, there was the original, the Godfather of all arena-rock fundraising concerts: 1971′s a Concert for Bangladesh:

The Concert for Bangladesh was the first benefit concert of its kind in that it brought together an extraordinary assemblage of major artists. The two shows, a Grammy award-winning triple album boxset, and the feature film, generated millions of dollars for a charitable cause and as importantly raised global awareness of a hitherto unpublicized humanitarian disaster. It is therefore acknowledged as the inspiration and forerunner of the major global fundraising events of recent years. To quote the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan “George and his friends were pioneers”. [Link]

And from Wikipedia:

The Concert For Bangladesh was the event title for two concerts held on the afternoon and evening of August 1, 1971, playing to a total of 40,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York.

As East Pakistan struggled to become the separate state of Bangladesh, tremendous political and military turmoil led to a massive refugee problem. This problem was compounded by torrential rains causing devastating floods and threatening a humanitarian disaster.

Bengali musician Ravi Shankar consulted his friend George Harrison regarding a means of providing help to the situation. Harrison recorded the single “Bangladesh” to help raise awareness and pushed Apple Records to release Shankar’s single “Joi Bangla” in a dual-pronged effort to raise funds.

Shankar also asked Harrison’s advice regarding a small fund-raising concert in the United States. Instead, Harrison took over and persuaded his friends to join him at a large concert at Madison Square Garden. The event was organised within five weeks.

A well-reviewed re-release of the concert on CD and DVD drops in record stores Monday.

Ravi Shankar describes the personal importance he places on this concert:

Again and again I am asked which concerts stand out in my memory, and it is very difficult to remember all the prominent ones as my career spans over seventy-five years of performances; but the Concert for Bangladesh was very significant to me as the conception of the idea came from me and the people needing aid were very close to my heart; some of them, of course, being distantly related to me. Ali Akbar Khan and Alla Rakha joined me on stage for the first half and George Harrison played the second half, joined by other eminent musicians including Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. George closed the concert with “Bangla Desh,” the special song he wrote for the occasion.

In addition to featuring an amazing array of talent, by most accounts some of the best performances in the careers of the artists involved were witnessed during the concert.  Here are three video clips:

“George Harrison – Wah Wah”

“Joe Bataan – That’s the Way God Planned It”

“Bob Dylan – Just Like a Woman”

23 thoughts on “A Concert for Bangladesh: Re-released

  1. I think I know what you mean Kush. George Harrison sounds like an unassuming rock-star, not too screwed up by the fame and power. Also this being the original big charity rock show makes the story special.

    P.S.: The wikipedia link needs to be fixed — it points to the concert-for-b’desh site.

  2. Thanks for this Abhi, I now recall having heard about it before – I think when watching John Pilger’s return to Bangladesh 30 years on from his amazing coverage as a young man.

    There is an alarming – and I don’t use that word lightly – ALARMING lack of knowledge about how Bnagladesh won its independence from Pakistan. I advise everyone to read about it!

    Kush my Mum is of the generation that the Beatles changed and George was always her favourite. She also felt very sad the day he died and has subsequently told me she wants to leave this mortal coil the same way he did – a cardboard-coffin-cremation.

  3. Abhi: I was the “Lucky” guy to attend “WOODSTOCK”, in summer of 1969. Gosh, I am getting old, still young at heart !! These were the days when the “FAB FOUR” fell in love with music of Ravishanker. Your Mom and I saw Ravishanker “Live” in Shubert Theater in Chicago back in mid seventies….Dad

  4. I salute George Harrison and Ravi Shankar from the bottom of my heart and by any means they remain my favorite musicians for many reasons.

    The irony is that the US government was against the Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971. They were allies of Pakistan and even sent the 7th fleet to intimidate India for not interfering with the events.

    But on the concert day, 1st of August 1971 in Madison Square Garden, New York, some 40,000 freedom loving Americans attended and $243,418.50 was collected from the event.

    There was a forum called “Americans for Bangladesh” which arranged a poetry recital program on 20th November 1971 in Saint George Church, New York. Among the poets who performed were Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovski, Ed Sanders etc. Ginsberg’s ‘September on Jessore Road‘ is a masterpiece and is very popular among the Bengalis (Sp. the Moushumi Bhowmic’s song).

  5. i admired george harrison.. he was a man of character, and from what i’ve read about him.. a man with class.. he did embrace indian ideals and philosophies to heart…

  6. people generally look at me strangely when I say that George is my favorite Beatle … as if “Here Comes the Sun,” “My Sweet Lord” and “Something” aren’t as strong as anything in the McCartney/Lennon songbook.

    Did anyone catch the Tribute to George Harrison plays on PBS? Ravi Shankar and others play his songs with his son, who is so much the spitting image of him, it’s almost scary.

  7. well, he did get some justified sneers for “Taxman” … unless he wrote that ironically, in some way that I missed?

  8. Who cares? There will probably be a rerelease of the album in 2105 AD. Bangladesh will remain beggardesh.

  9. As a preteen in the early nineties, George was my favorite Beatle long before I ever knew of The Concert for Bangla Desh, which is pretty weird considering my parents were well aware of my Beatles obsession, and they are both from Bangladesh. I can only imagine and wonder what George himself might have said today upon the re-release of this fabulous event. Although I’ve read that due to some sort of red tape type issues, the funds took forever to get from Unicef to Bangladesh (something that always bothered George, so they say), this was a magnificent effort on George’s part. By the way, I am extremely jealous of the person whose dad attended Woodstock. Extremely. Jealous. :)

  10. cicatrix, george wrote sacrastialy. it was intended as a pun against the taxmen in UK because he was so very sick of he incredibly high taxes, and found no use for it. he did many tounge in hceek sarcastic songs to express his views towards the nast things going on around him. george was such an amazing man. he was really ahead of his time, and a rare person. really a mentor, and i had the horrid news to find out about his death on my birthday – being that cnn announced it november 30th. his former wife was instrumental in helping him from some of his most important views, and she was the one who got him to go to india. she stayed in his life until he died, and kept guiding him as a friend after their love life didn’t work out. i plan on buying this dvd set myself, and it’s a shame that the monies intended for the people of bangladesh didn’t go to them, thru no fault of george’s.

  11. people generally look at me strangely when I say that George is my favorite Beatle … as if “Here Comes the Sun,” “My Sweet Lord” and “Something” aren’t as strong as anything in the McCartney/Lennon songbook.

    Weird? Not a chance. I have a George Apple Corps Doll, so I have you beat!

    Here comes the sun… I think of that song every spring. Brilliant.

  12. here comes the sun is has got be the most brilliant english language song i know, simply for the sound and the lyrics.

    how on earth did you get your grubbies on a george apple corps. doll? lucky!

    george was a wonderful guy. we were able to meet him, and i’m just glad knowing people like this man existed, wish more could learn from his example!

  13. Weird? Not a chance. I have a George Apple Corps Doll, so I have you beat!

    Ang, I have a George yellow Submarine doll!!

    And (nerd alert!) I never took it out of the package either :)

    Are the apple corps dolls the squishy ones? Soo cute…wouldn’t mind one either.

    Patty, yes, I got the sarcasm. I was being sarcastic myself in asking whether he meant the sarcasm ironically, since it’s a bit much for a wealthy (liberal) rockstar to complain about taxes. One of George’s many quirks.

  14. cicatrix,

    oh ok! heheh, i think perhaps, it may have been harkening memories of his childhood when he wasn’t so well to do. and knowing the way george was, he could also be doing to say it as a voice for others who weren’t so well off. ;)

    ah, those darling yellow sub dolls. i have sevral of theose george ones, and one of my buddies has the george cartoon dolls, which i’m still trying to my grubbies on!

  15. i admired george harrison.. he was a man of character, and from what i’ve read about him.. a man with class.. he did embrace indian ideals and philosophies to heart…

    chick pea, you’re quite right. and these were things that george held true to all his life, even thru his imperfections. he was also a guy with class.

  16. Who cares? There will probably be a rerelease of the album in 2105 AD. Bangladesh will remain beggardesh.

    because it is our job as human beings to care for fellow human beings, without greed, no matter if they are beggars or what. maybe if we change our attitudes, and teach them they won’t be beggars. and for that matter, i care.

  17. Yea I heard on VH1′s Where are they Now George is saving kittens from trees in Heaven. There’s a shocking level of culminating concord that results in mediocrity of thought in the comments section.

    Taxman was not written ironically. A reading of ANY book on the group or solo members would clue you in to the tax “problems” of the FabFour. They never thought they were getting a fair share of the fruits of their labor. Keith Richards of the Stones even renounced his U.K. citizenship to keep more of his money. Cool Britanica INDEED! One set of standards for the commoners and another for the millionaire rockstars.

    And the best George Harrison track is Something.