Geldof in Africa

Read by: Bob Geldof
BBC Audio
RRP: 25.00
ISBN 1 846 07185 2
Available 05 June 2006

Bob Geldof first visited Africa in 1984. The following year, Live Aid inspired a generation to raise millions for the starving in Africa. Over 20 years on, passion undiminished, Geldof returns to what he calls the "Luminous Continent". This is his personal diary, read in his own words. Unflinchingly honest, provocative, informative, poignant and funny, Geldof in Africa paints a unique picture of this stunningly beautiful land...

Geldof in Africa sees Bob Geldof offering a surprising honest account of his time in Africa. Starting with his first glimpses of naked African women, in school text books, to the completion of the Commission for Africa project and the second Live Aid concert on 02 July 2005, this collection represents one man's experiences stripped bare.

I have to admit to being a little apprehensive about reviewing this collection. I didn't see the TV series and the thought of Geldof droning on and on over eight CDs was really not that appealing to me. And, to be honest, as I started listening to the first CD all of my fears were realised. Geldof's voice is a cure for insomniacs. But, as the stories unfolded, I realised that I had badly misjudged the man - and I hang my head in shame. He is brutally honest in his retelling of stories. He admits to not wanting to eat the food that some of the people he met offered him - even though they were offering him food that would have lasted them longer if they'd shared it amongst themselves. Or, there's the tale where he moans about his awful hotel room - blatantly aware that there are millions in Africa that would think his surroundings were like a palace in comparison to how they lived.

Geldof doesn't patronise the listener. He speaks how he finds. Can you honestly say that if you were in his shoes that you would have reacted differently? It takes a certain type of celebrity to admit, without looking like a git, that he was bored of watching tribal dances and what passed for the local entertainment. He also talks about being out of place in Africa. He admits to dressing stupidly because he would have looked more ridiculous if he had attempted to fit in by wearing what the locals did. He states that he really did want to get to know them, but he obviously couldn't merge in with them as he stuck out like a sore thumb.

The collection starts as Geldof arrives in Africa and explains why he is there. Then he goes back to his childhood and the little black baby box (charity box) which was his first real contact with Africa. Is it possible that Geldof's teenage sexual fantasies, thanks to National Geographic, were responsible for his first real interest in Africa? That his work to help the starving millions was born out of his original desire to go there and see the beautiful naked women he'd seen in various educational magazines? Again, this honest revelation is impressive.

Sex and drugs and rock and roll seem to be far back in Geldof's past as he tells us about the drug that seems so prevalent in Africa. Methcathinone (or CAT as it is more commonly known) is a derivative of a naturally occurring stimulant drug, cathinone, which is found in the khat plant. It acts on the body much like methamphetamine. It is a stimulant and in Africa users get their fix by chewing the leaves of the khat plant to produce stimulant effects. And, as bad for you as it is, Geldof reveals that it's not illegal in the UK and that shipments are regularly flown into the UK for families of African origin.

There are priceless stories, like his meeting with Yasser Arafat who spent ages trying to convince Geldof that his (Arafat's) hat was shaped like Palestine. And then there is the fact that everywhere he went everyone knew about British football. In fact it was quite worrying to learn that the three most recognisable foreign imports to Africa that are known wherever you go are the BBC World Service, Coca Cola and David Beckham - and not necessarily in that order. Beckham is probably the most well known icon in Africa. They all know about football and even when Geldof tries to flummox the locals by telling them he is from Ireland, they proudly mention an Irish football player.

Other highlights include Geldof (not known for his smart appearance) describing a militia guard as scruffy; His story about a leader who had to race in to battle in a wheelbarrow because he had no legs; His attempt to cross a border that didn't even look like a border; Villagers singing "Bob Geldof" and learning that Geldof means something very different in their language - Gel=Camel Dof=looter. "Welcome Bob Geldof camel looter"; And a look at how their medical knowledge is much greater than you'd think - he tells the story of a doctor who scooped up a girls brain whose head had been caved in in a car accident. Incidentally the girl was recovering at the time Geldof heard this story.

Then we go back to the origins of man in Africa and Geldof takes us through the slave trade and all manner of other twisted things man has done to his fellow man. We examine how American wealth was born on the back of African slave labour, child witches and the armies that forced children to kill each other. And that today 70% of African intellectuals live outside of Africa.

An interesting insight into one man's experiences in one of the most beautiful continent on the planet, and a quick history lesson into the bargain. Well worth getting hold of a copy.

Nick Smithson

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