1. Fatoumata Diawara
Diawara is literally one of the only publicly heard voices Mali has left, for at the moment, the country is being held hostage from an invasion by Islamic militants. In a country where musicians have been living in exile and unable to perform as part of Mali’s special precious performing arts currency, Diawara is fortunately touring the states to give an extra-special voice to the oppression of women caught in the midst of the crisis.
2. David Byrne
A bastion of creativity, Byrne is also invested in supporting many causes, the most prominent of which is conservation through a curious vehicle – quite literally. Byrne is a major advocate of biking as a means of transforming major cities. He’s written an entire book about his revelations on two wheels, and also used his visual art chops to create and implant a series of specially themed bike racks stationed in strategic locations all over New York City.
3. Neil Young
For the last 27 years, Young has been an active supporter of The Bridge School in San Francisco. The groundbreaking educational institution was founded by his wife, Pegi, another parent, and a speech language pathologist to create a learning environment that was conducive to children with communicative disorders. Bridge School Benefit concerts have gone on every year since 1986, and the organization has since expanded to aid preschoolers, start a summer camp, and explore experimental learning technologies.
A refugee from Somalia, K’naan settled in Canada and launched a career in hip-hop as a platform to promote unity and peace; including direct partnership with Bill Clinton, whose policies directly affected his family while still in Africa. His advocacy work includes a 2011 tour generating awareness and support for droughts in East Africa, and additional outspoken support for a Canadian bill that would increase the country’s aid to Africa.
5. Arcade Fire
Female vocalist Régine Chassagne was born in Haiti, and fled to Canada in her childhood from under the controlling regime of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier in the ’60s. This nostalgia for her homeland spawned one of the band’s most memorable songs, as well as continued activism for the country, performing benefits and providing service in its ailing state following 2011’s earthquake.
6. John Legend
No stranger to advocating a variety of causes, Legend most prominently sang out in support of changing the American public school system. In the midst of recording the collaborative “Stand Up” record with The Roots, his song “Stand” became the anthem to the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” He currently sits on the board of Stand For Children, an organization that aims to fix education-based issues through local policy-producing chapters nationwide.
7. My Morning Jacket
Honoring their place as America’s forerunning wholehearted rock gods, and singing about issues including religious corruption and the media, the band has spent the last few tours including automatic donations to local organizations with every ticket sold. When they come through your town, they’re giving back to that very community. Past beneficiaries have varied from Mercy Home in Chicago – helping local children in need, to OPAL Environmental Justice – for preservation in Portland.
The afrobeat tradition – born under worldly musical influence and political strife in Nigeria by Fela Kuti – has found a hub today in Brooklyn thanks to Antibalas. The 11-piece orchestra has taken Fela’s formula and adapted it to include rythmically-inclined and lyrically poetic works related to today’s economic state and strife, like on their recent single “Dirty Money” which addresses big bank corruption. Bonus: band composers Stuart Bogie and Luke O’Malley also produced the original score for the critically acclaimed AIDS documentary “How To Survive A Plague.”
Morrissey has been flying a very bold flag for vegetarianism ever since The Smiths’ landmark record “Meat Is Murder” hit the market in the ’80s. His passion and advocacy for animal rights has sparked a series of high-profile conflicts portrayed in the media, including his most recent attempt to have 100% vegetarian food vending at a Los Angeles arena show earlier this year.
10. Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys has been standing up for AIDS victims in lesser known segments through various organizations. First, for American women through Greater Than Aids; and through her own foundation – Keep A Child Alive – benefitting AIDS-affected children abroad in Africa and India. Her work has raised money through musical collaborations with the likes of Bono, the equally passionate lead singer of U2.
The independent hip-hop sensation has truly been skyrocketing to notoriety this year, but the major catalyst came from the self-released video/single for the song “Same Love,” passionately advocating same sex marriage. The song’s stance was so specific that its lyrics were used as part of the official citations in the argument for marriage equality in the Supreme Court.
12. Stevie Wonder
America’s beacon of sunshine and soul might be the godfather of benefit music, as the force behind both “We Are The World” benefitting USA For Africa, and “That’s What Friends Are For” – the first single to benefit and generate AIDS awareness on a massive scale in the ’80s. He’s since started two major organizations, supporting blind youth through his We Are You Foundation; and started The Wonder Foundation with proceeds generated from recording a song to benefit Katrina rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. It’s been noted he supports up to 20 organizations on an annual basis.