Press Conference on 2009 United Nations Day Concert

23 October 2009

Press Conference on 2009 United Nations Day Concert

23 October 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on 2009 United Nations Day Concert


For the first time since its inception, the United Nations Day Concert would have a theme -- “A Tribute to Peacekeeping” -- announced Eric Falt Director of the Outreach Division in the Department of Public Information at a press conference today at Headquarters.  Honouring the world body’s peacekeeping operations, the concert would be, in his words, “a long overdue tribute on the occasion of the most symbolic day in the United Nations calendar”. 

The concert was organized by the Department of Public Information and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in partnership with The Culture Project, a New York-based non-profit organization founded by Allan Buchman, which was dedicated to artistic work focused on social justice and civic engagement. 

The concert would be held in the General Assembly Hall this evening from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., with the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly in attendance.  The roster of performers included John McLaughlin ( United Kingdom) with the band Remember, Shakti ( India), Emmanual Jal ( Sudan), Sister Fa ( Senegal), Salman Ahmad ( Pakistan), Harry Belafonte ( United States), and Angélique Kidjo ( Benin).

Joining Mr. Falt at the press conference were Lang Lang (China) and Andrea Echeverri with the band Aterciopelados (Columbia), also on the roster to perform, along with filmmaker Fisher Stevens whose documentary about peacekeepers, The War Against War, would be screened at the concert as well.

After welcoming the five winners of the “Citizen Ambassadors” Competition, Mr. Falt introduced Assistant Secretary-General Tony Banbury, who spoke of how fitting it was that peacekeeping had been chosen as the first theme for the United Nations Concert.  In his own experience working in five peacekeeping missions, he knew how hard the military and civilian peacekeepers worked. 

The 115,000 military, police and civilian peacekeepers, far from family, friends and home, served in some of the remote, difficult and hostile places in the world, and were assigned with “almost impossible mandates by the Security Council”, he said

Just back from Afghanistan and the United Nations Mission there (UNAMA), Mr. Banbury recalled a young Japanese civilian peacekeeper’s concerns about the four months their post would be practically inaccessible because of heavy snows.  In his travels to Africa, he had met with a Uruguayan navy captain who had been away from his family for over a year but was in charge of a unit that had helped bring security to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s restive eastern region.

“Those are just two stories.  There are many, many more like that, indeed 115,000 like that and it’s wonderful that today on UN Day this concert is paying tribute to the work and sacrifices of UN peacekeepers,” Mr. Banbury said.  More importantly, he noted and paid tribute to the 2,635 peacekeepers that had lost their lives on peacekeeping missions.  He also thanked the artists for giving of their time and talent to honour all peacekeepers in tonight’s concert.

Allan Buchman, Founder of The Cultural Project, applauded the “extraordinary artistic contributions that great artists make, [shining a] spotlight to the world stage of humanity”.  Learning about the peacekeeping activities and missions and educating the participating artists had been a great privilege for him.  “We’re honoured to be here and share the stage with these extraordinary artists who have volunteered their time.”

Mr. Falt then introduced Fisher Stevens producer of the documentary The War Against War, which explored the challenges peacekeepers face on the ground.  Mr. Fisher said that when he had been approached by Mr. Buchman to make a documentary on peacekeepers, his initial answer was, “NO!”  But Mr. Buchman insisted that Mr. Fisher meet a peacekeeper.  “We had dinner and at the end, I wanted to become a peacekeeper,” Mr. Fisher said. 

Mr. Fisher and his crew went to Haiti, stayed with several peacekeeping units in their army barracks, and accompanied them on missions.  “I was blown away.  Completely moved," he said, adding that he was determined to make sure his film explained what peacekeepers did and faced every day.  A unit of peacekeepers that they filmed on a mission had been killed the next day in a helicopter crash and that was one of the things that made the theme of the concert even more poignant.  “Their lives are on the line all the time in what they do.”

Andrea Echeverri, of the band Aterciopelados, said her participation in the event was significant.  “I am a mother, which I think is important.  We are from Columbia.  That makes us a very live part of peacekeeping issues because in my country, there are horrible things happening.”  She cherished her experiences performing with socially conscious artists who wanted to change the world through music.  She hoped that tonight’s concert would express that.  “Here we are. Nervous, but very happy,” she said.

Lang Lang, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador, whom The New York Times called the hottest artist on the classical-music planet, said that as a musician, “I wouldn’t say we are peacekeepers.  But we admire peacekeepers.  We are trying to do a few things on our instruments, [with] our voices, to communicate and to bring music to a different level, which is understanding,” he continued, expressing the hope that music’s power could cross the barriers of misunderstandings from different corners of the world. 

Being a UNICEF Ambassador, he added, was one of the best experiences of his life, because he had seen first hand how music touched children in difficult circumstances and brought joy into their experience.

Responding to a question about the funding of the concert, Mr. Falt ensured correspondents that in no way were any inappropriate or irregular accommodations made for any of the sponsors of the event.  Further, the sole partner with the United Nations was The Culture Project, a non-governmental organization that was audited regularly.  Mr. Buchman added that The Culture Project exercised a sense of respect for the tenets of the United Nations and was accountable for their various sponsors.

The artists were asked if the current times made it uniquely challenging to convey messages of peace, and if it was harder now to communicate peace through art.  Mr. Lang responded that it was always challenging, but that music was one of the easiest ways to promote peace.  He hoped that it would be less of a challenge ten years from now.  Ms. Echeverri also said that music was the perfect vehicle, but not so many people were using it to send harmonic messages.

Mr. Buchman noted that musicians were often at the centre of great moments in history, recalling that Pablo Casals played at the first United Nations concert, the cellist Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich played on the top of the Berlin Wall as it came down, and Isaac Stern was one of the first musicians, after President Nixon’s visit, to go to China.  “[Musicians] really are ambassadors that reach across cultural difference and the humanity becomes the voice of their understanding.  I don’t know if [there is] a bad time to use music for peace.”

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.