43 years ago today, the famous Concert for Bangladesh was staged in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. It was actually two concerts, organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar (working with UNICEF) to raise relief funds for the refugees of Bangladesh, victims of the 1971 war between East and West Pakistan. The first benefit concert of its kind, it paved the way for the large benefit concerts of the 80s, Live Aid and Farm Aid. In addition to Harrison and Shankar, the shows featured Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and in only his second concert performance in five years, Bob Dylan.
In 1971 Bangladesh was a new country, forged out of The Bangladesh Liberation War. East Pakistan, as the country had previously been called, battled West Pakistan in a conflict that lasted nine months. It was one of the bloodiest chapters in human history, in which between two and four hundred thousand Bangladeshi women were assaulted in a campaign of genocidal rape conducted by the Pakistani military and Bengali militias, and nearly 30 million people were displaced, including 10 million refugees the majority of whom were Hindu.
Bangladesh today is one of the world’s most densely populated areas with about 150 million people. 90% are Muslim. It remains a place of unrest. Recent election days have been extremely violent. According United Nations reports, women are still oppressed and children abused, and poverty and hunger is so extreme that about half of the children in Bangladesh are underweight and malnourished.
The benefit continues, The Concert for Bangladesh is still a live event. The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF, a collaboration between the Harrison family and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF continues to support UNICEF programs in Bangladesh “while expanding its influence to include other countries where children are in need.” Sales of the live album and DVD release of the film continue to benefit the fund.
The money we raised was secondary. The main thing was, we spread the word and helped get the war ended … What we did show was that musicians and people are more humane than politicians.
George Harrison, 1992
I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps
I don’t know why nobody told you
How to unfold your love . . .