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Finn meets Peter Gabriel
Musician + Humanitarian

Finn meets Peter Gabriel | Kidspiration

When Peter Gabriel was young, his mother taught him how to play the piano. By fourteen, he had his first musical gig, and was on the way to making “noises for a living,” he says. “On a good day, people pay me!”

In 1967, he and several of his schoolmates founded the rock band Genesis. Mr. Gabriel sang lead vocals and played the flute, often wearing costumes on stage. Then in 1975, he surprised everyone by leaving Genesis to start a very successful solo music career.

His interest in all kinds of music would lead him to singers, songwriters, and musicians far from the United Kingdom. So he and his friends decided to start a music festival featuring musicians from everywhere. Their first WOMAD Festival — World of Music, Arts and Dance — was held in 1982. Today, WOMAD festivals have been held in over thirty countries.

Mr. Gabriel’s interest in world cultures and communities didn’t stop with a music and arts festival. He was talking one day with Richard Branson about how the oldest members of a community are often the ones who guide the group and help resolve disputes. This led to a question. Could the wise older members of our “global village” work with conflicts and major problems?

They took their idea to several of those world leaders, including Nelson Mandela. Mr. Mandela brought together other leaders. In 2007, The Elders was born. Today the ten-member group includes honorary Elders Bishop Desmond Tutu and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Musicians often make online videos and use technology to promote their work. Mr. Gabriel started WITNESS, an organization that trains human rights activists how to use video and other internet technology to expose human rights abuses. In 2006, he was given the Man of Peace award by the Nobel Peace Laureates for this, and his other human rights, work.

But Mr. Gabriel’s humanitarian interests don’t stop with his fellow human beings. During a visit to the Language Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, he was accompanied musically by Kanzi, a bonobo, at his own keyboard. Kanzi, and his sister Panbanisha, learned to communicate in English, using symbols on a language keyboard. Kanzi now lives the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary.

What was it like to work with a great ape on keyboards? It was “almost like meeting your ancestors and playing music with them!”

Finn interviews Peter Gabriel, musician and humanitarian, at Bush Studios, London.



Finn:
Hey, I’m Finn. Today we meet Sir Peter Gabriel. He’s a musician who’s made music all over the world for over 40 years. I’m meeting Peter in a music studio in London. I’m gonna find out more about his music and what he cares about. Let’s go and meet him.

—-

Finn:
Hello, Peter.

Peter:
Hi, Finn.

Finn:
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Peter:
I make noises for a living. And, on a good day, people pay me to do that. But I do other things, too, ’cause I’m interested in lots of stuff.

Finn:
And what other things do you do?

Peter:
I would say it’s between music and then technology. My dad was an inventor, so I’ve always grown up fascinated by new things that can change people’s lives. And then, benefit projects of one sort or another to try and help things along.

Finn:
When did you decide you wanted to be a musician?

Peter:
14 years old I played my first gig. I really wanted to write songs. I love music. And I was in quite a strict school. So, for me, music was a release. We could go down to the basement, turn up the records as loud as we could, and dance around like crazy people.

Finn:
I like the drums, too.

Peter:
You do? Are you a drummer?

Finn:
Yeah. I want to learn the drums.

Peter:
Drums is the way to start music. To me, rhythm’s right at the center of music. And if you start with drums and get that right, then all the other stuff that requires brain and hard work has a place to go, and it all fits much better.

Finn:
How long did it take you to make the Sledgehammer music video?

Peter:
That video was a fantastic video for me to work on, ’cause we had extraordinary people working with us. So it was the director, Stephen R. Johnson. And I brought in these Aardman Animations, who make Wallace and Gromit. And then these guys all threw in their own ideas. And it was painfully slow, ’cause most stuff now is done in the computer. But this was all done by hand. And, for instance, when you had clouds moving across my face, each frame was painted. So, my skin got very sore by the end of the day. And then we had fruit going around my head and covering it up…

Finn:
It’s one of my favourite bits.

Peter:
Is it? Good. And then there’s fish, too. Now, we got a lot of the first shots done on the first day. But the second day they wanted to … what they call pick up shots, for things they didn’t think worked well on the first day. But we were still using the same fish, which, having spent a day in the hot lights stank. It was horribly smelly.

Finn:
I’ve heard you are a co-founder of the Festival WOMAD. Can you tell us a bit about what WOMAD is?

Peter:
I was sitting on a train one day, and I was thinking that this music that we were getting interested in, which was coming in from all over the world, ’cause there were fantastic voices … couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, but I could feel what they were feeling in the music. It was very hard to find this music, so I got a group of friends who were interested in stuff they weren’t hearing on the radio. And we decided to put a festival on, and invite a lot of musicians from around the world to come and play. So it was like a rock festival. And we had a few rock bands, too, at the time. And we mixed them with groups from Africa, India, Pakistan. It was financial disaster, but a brilliant event.

Finn:
Have you ever played a didgeridoo?

Peter:
I have played a didgeridoo. It sounds a bit like a big fart when I play it. So it’s not the most beautiful thing to listen to.

Finn:
What’s the hardest part of being a musician and making music?

Peter:
Like almost anything you do in life, there’s a lot of really hard work. But to get good at anything, you just gotta put in hour after hour. But if it’s something you love to do, then it’s not so hard. And I think the other part, as you get older and travel a lot is, you want to be home more. ‘Cause often people who are home a lot of their life want to go out and travel more. People who travel for a living want to be home more.

Finn:
Is it true that you once recorded a song with apes?

Peter:
Apes. Yeah. I’d read these stories about apes learning to communicate with humans. And I’d also read about these apes called bonobo apes, which are the closest ones to humans. And they were at that time in Atlanta. So I went to Atlanta and it just blew me away because … particularly this one bonobo who’s sadly died, now, called Panbanisha. She did it beautifully. And she made choices about which note she was going to play.

Finn:
Is there a song that somebody else made but you would like to make?

Peter:
Oh, that I wish I’d written?

Finn:
Yeah.

Peter:
Oh, there’s lots, I think. Great stuff. Otis Redding in the old days. I like Radiohead, they’re a band I like a lot now.

Finn:
Yeah, I know them.

Peter:
Jimi Hendrix was someone, Purple Haze, I think that was another one of those landmark tracks for me.

Finn:
What advice would you give to kids?

Peter:
Never underestimate yourself. Actually, although some people are more talented than others, perseverance, hard work, determination, counts more than talent. If you’re brave enough, and you’ve got the courage to do maybe some little crazy things, you can make your dream come true.

Finn:
So thank you for coming, Peter. It was really nice meeting you.

Peter:
Very nice meeting you, Finn. And I think you’re a great interviewer. Well done.

Finn:
Thank you. Bye.

Peter:
Take care.

Finn:
Wow. It was awesome meeting Peter Gabriel and seeing how he made his music. What a legend. Well, that’s all the time we’ve got for today. So see you later.