HOPE RISING! BENEFIT CONCERT FOR THE STEPHEN LEWIS FOUNDATION at Roy Thomson Hall, Wednesday, November 7. Rating: NNNNN
You'd never know Annie Lennox couldn't even speak yesterday afternoon before her appearance at the Hope Rising benefit for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. She had been nursing a killer cold so bad she couldn't attend the press round table.
But when she took the stage for the annual funder for the organization fighting AIDS in Africa she was gobsmackingly good, her voice soaring on songs both new and old, her vocals and accompanying piano filling the hall. Lyrics like "No more I love yous/ Language is leaving me," take on a whole new meaning in an anti-AIDS context.
Charismatic d'bi young kicked off the show alongside African women (from girls to grandmothers), performing spoken word and instrumentals celebrating the grassroots work in Africa that the Foundation supports.
Like Lennox, Canadian star Sarah McLachlan, with her trademark - and unconscious - left leg kick on not-so secret display under the piano, was also in complete control during a near perfect set. She included In The Arms Of The Angel, another tune that has a special resonance in the context of AIDS.
As usual, Angelique Kidjo wasn't about to settle for a solo set. She had a full band and back-up singers with her as she engaged the audience - at one point dancing among the seats - to keep the energy up. She is a force of nature.
Given the knockout performances, you might assume a speech about AIDS in Africa would be something of a buzz-kill. But when Stephen Lewis, one of the world's most gifted orators, stepped up to the mic, the audience sat spellbound.
Self-effacing and crediting everyone but himself with the success of the foundation, he talked about the ways women with AIDS have been almost entirely ignored and emphasized the foundation's commitment to grassroots projects in Africa. He even found a way, in the face of the crisis, to stay optimistic. Actor and activist Thandi Newton got it right when, while introducing Lewis, she referred to him as the man who never pauses.
When all the performers closed the concert with a collective version of Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves, the sold out crowd was delirious.
There was inspiration everywhere.