In one corner of the recording studio, Bono talked with rapper Ja Rule and Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child, report Mark Memmott and Dan MacMedan of USA TODAY.
In one corner of the recording studio, Irish rocker Bono quietly talked with rapper Ja Rule and Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child. Standing at the control board, producer Jermaine Dupri, known for his collaborations with Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, listened as Wyclef Jean worked out a guitar solo. Sitting on a chair to one side, Nona Gaye watched as a young generation of pop stars -- drawn in large part by Bono's passion and by the organizational efforts of longtime British activist Leigh Blake, who conceived the idea just four weeks ago -- came together to record a new version of What's Going On, her father Marvin's classic protest song.
That was the unusual scene Wednesday afternoon at Battery Studios in lower Manhattan. In an effort that recalls the mid-'80s rock all-star recordings of We Are the World and Do They Know It's Christmas?, some of today's top rock, pop and rap artists are spending the better part of three days here putting together what they hope will be a recording that raises awareness about the AIDS epidemic in Africa and several other connected issues.
They say their goal is not so much to raise money by selling copies of the single, which will be released Dec. 1 in a bid for holiday sales. Rather, they want to remind Americans that AIDS is still a crushing problem -- especially in Africa, where it's estimated the disease will kill 3 million people next year. And they want to push their call for a series of steps they believe will help Africa's poorest nations tackle the AIDS epidemic, including the wiping away of those nations' Cold War-era debts owed to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Western governments.
"We want to take this issue to the everyday American. To the shopping malls. To the high school kids," Bono said in an interview Wednesday during a break in the recording sessions. And, the U2 frontman adds, by calling on some of today's younger, most popular stars to take part, organizers also hope they make the point that it's not just the same "right-on group of fellas you'd normally expect" who are getting behind the movements known as Artists Against AIDS Worldwide and the Global Aids Alliance.
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