Roosevelt and the Rainforests
1997 saw the release of a special charity album, compiled by Mrs Sting – Trudie Styler. The cause it benefitted was the ‘Rainforest Foundation‘ – an organisation established in 1989 which supported indigenous peoples and traditional populations in the rainforest and their efforts to protect their rights and environment. After an initial period of five years campaigning for this cause the campaigners decided to re-assess the goals of the organisation and focussed on stopping the destruction of the rainforests worldwide.
The Foundation launched a series of live annual concerts to benefit the cause and highlight it’s aims. In April 1996, internationally acclaimed pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque performed at the seventh annual concert (those names should ring bells as they are the pianist friends of Madonna who perform ‘Rhapsody In Blue‘ in 2005’s ‘I’m Going To Tell You A Secret‘).
Katia and Marielle Labeque, Madonna and Sting
Following discussions with the Labeques about what else could be done to bring the cause to the public’s attention, Trudie and husband Sting set about compiling a compilation album featuring songs connected in some way to their cause or in the spirit of the cause. The resulting album was released in the USA in 1997 as ‘Carnival!’.
Calling on their mutual friend Madonna to contribute, the organisers hoped to secure a track from her repertoire to add to the songlist. Madonna chose ‘Freedom‘ – a previously unheard composition dating back three years to the ‘Bedtime Stories‘ album sessions which she had written and produced with Dallas Austin for the project.
Students of literature will recognise the core phrase used repeated in the chorus ‘Freedom, brotherhood, justice…’ as being central themes in the George Orwell classic novel ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’. The lyrics of ‘Freedom’ certainly support the notion that Madonna drew inspiration from Orwell’s novel – FREEDOM IS SLAVERY – being one of the three Party slogans and Big Brother being the all-seeing, all controlling eye.
However, the actual phrase ‘Freedom, brotherhood and justice‘ comes directly from American President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1941 Thanksgiving Proclomation – widely held to be his finest. His proclomation concluded:
“Let us ask the Divine Blessing on our decision and determination to protect our way of life against the forces of evil and slavery which seek in these days to encompass us.
On the day appointed for this purpose, let us reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God and, in giving thanks, let us pray for a speedy end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time.”
It would appear Madonna drew inspiration from this and considering the entire point of the Rainforest Foundation is to stop the forces of industry and international politics destroying the natural rainforest, the similarities must have seemed surprisingly apt. Sadly, the song is generally regarded amongst her fans, as one of Madonna’s all time worst, with clunky, amateur sounding production and quite a dull repetitive melody which quickly bores and doesn’t exactly convince. A shame really as despite her good intentions at being involved, and with knowledge that in reality most copies will have been sold on the back of her name, such a worthy cause deserved far, far better.