Japan – how and why the music world is helping

While the terrifying events in Japan are still ongoing, everyone from Lady Gaga to Linkin Park, Mike Patton to Mountain Goats, has wasted no time in coming together to raise funds for those affected.

But is it a good idea to be giving money away like this? The New York Times doesn’t seem to think so. “Wealthy Japan is not impoverished Haiti”, a fact the country no doubt remembered when its government donated $200,000 in cash to the American Red Cross and $800,000 in relief supplies for Hurricane Katrina. Japanese firms with operations in the US donated $12 million in all, and the Japanese Red Cross donated $200,000 of its own funds to support its sister organisation, the American Red Cross.

On 15 March, the Japanese Red Cross Society determined that it was not seeking funding or other assistance from donors while it assessed the situation. This makes a lot of sense, to help plan a carefully-coordinated response to the situation. According to the JRCS, rescue/relief teams from the governments of New Zealand, USAID, Germany, the EU, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Mexico, Australia, China, UK, Turkey and France are already assisting in the affected areas. A total of 91 countries and regions have also offered assistance. While it has not requested external assistance so far, it is accepting cash contributions from Red Cross Red Crescent national societies upon request.

The NY Times confirmed that the Japanese Red Cross had expressed gratitude for the $10 million sent by the American Red Cross on Tuesday, and that “expressions of solidarity in the form of unearmarked financial contributions would be gratefully received.” The article went on to say that the American Red Cross retains 9% of any money it raises, which I thought showed great efficiency since most charities have administrative costs of around 15%.

Since aftershock warnings continued through to Wednesday this week, the death toll still unknown and continuing fears about its nuclear situation, it’s no surprise to learn that many of the groups raising money in Japan’s name are “still uncertain to whom or to where the money will go.”

The Kobe earthquake of 1995 measured 6.8 on the Richter scale and killed 6,434 people. It cost the Japanese government 100 billion dollars – not a trifling sum for even the third richest nation on Earth. This month’s earthquake measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and The Japanese National Police Agency has officially confirmed 6,911 deaths and 10,354 people missing. It’s thought to be the most powerful quake in Japan’s history and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900. It’s a horrific humanitarian disaster, but will inevitably be an expensive one, too.

In light of this, it does seem sensible to try to raise funds to help. I think many of us would agree that making regular, non-earmarked general donations to charities like the Red Cross is a pretty good idea, and many of us do this anyway. In situations of particular need, putting in a bit extra to help an individual disaster can make sure that funds are available the minute the affected area identifies a need.

One way some people are helping is to put on benefit gigs, a number of which are taking place in the coming days and weeks. John Zorn, for one, has set up a series of four concerts of which 100% of the money will go to the Japan Society’s Earthquake Relief Fund. He’s one of many people stepping forward to make sure funds are in place as and when they are needed – and if the target charities end up with a surplus, they’ll inevitably gift it back the next time we need a helping hand.


Thus far I’ve only heard about gigs in NYC, but those New Yorkers are in for a treat since those gigs are something you’d want to attend under any circumstances.

20 March

I’m not familiar with the lineup this weekend, but I-beam in Brooklyn is hosting an event on Sunday from 6pm featuring Sara Serpa and Andrew Matos, Yayoi Ikawa, House of Illusion, The Four Bugs and others. This blog has links if you’re curious.

27 March

I think this one’s sold out, but John Zorn’s first Japan benefit gig is at the Miller Theatre, Columbia University featuring Mike Patton, Sonic Youth, Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Cibo Matto with Mephista, Marc Ribot, Uri Caine & Zorn’s Aleph Trio. If tickets are still available, they’re $100 and $50 with a student rate of $25.

8 April

John Zorn’s second night at Abron’s Art Center features Norah Jones, Thurston Moore, Erik Friedlander, Sex Mob, JG Thirlwell’s Manorexia, Elysian Fields, Buke and Gass and many others.

9 April

John Zorn’s third night is at the Japan Society, featuring Philip Glass & Hal Willner, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson & John Zorn, Ryuichi Sakamoto solo and Bill Laswell with Gigi.

I’m sure more local events are being planned for the majority of us who don’t live in New York, and Spinner is keeping up to date with what’s going on in terms of fundraising efforts.


LADY GAGA has encouraged her Little Monsters (fans) to buy a special red and white bracelet and says that in the first 48 hours she’s raised $250,000.

MOUNTAIN GOATS are auctioning an early one-track demo on ebay.

LINKIN PARK have designed a new t-shirt for the Music for Relief charity, and Mike Shinoda plans a new fundraising instrumental.

JAMES TAYLOR is selling off an autographed guitar for Partners In Health via Charity Buzz.

BLACK REBEL MOTORCYLE CLUB are raising funds for the Red Cross through the sale of some vinyl releases and the auction of a cymbal from their Baby 81 world tour.

If none of that fits with your certainty that celebrities are all crass, self-serving idiots, your fears will be confirmed by the Guardian‘s Lost in Showbiz section. Really, 50 Cent? Really?

Update: If you’re still unsure of the Japanese Red Cross’s own reaction to donation offers, here is its page.

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