(RED) and the Red Hot Organization are teaming up for the first time on (RED) Hot + Fela, a tribute compilation to Fela Kuti tentatively due this fall, a follow-up to 2002's Red Hot + Riot. The first single, a cover of Kuti's "Lady," features Angelique Kidjo, tUnE-yArDs, Akua Naru and Ahmir Questlove Thompson and is out Friday.
The (RED)/Red Hot team-up is a logical one, and not just because the non-profits share a key word. Not only do both organizations raise money for AIDS-related causes -- (RED) partners and events support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, while Red Hot donates the proceeds of its albums to a variety of AIDS-related organizations and pro-social groups -- but they share a few artistic synergies. (RED) co-founder Bono, for example, was one of the artists featured on the very first Red Hot compilation, Red Hot + Blue, via U2's cover of Cole Porter's "Night and Day." And (RED)'s current CEO Deborah Dugan was an executive vice president at EMI/Capitol Records when the first volumes of the Red Hot compilations were released. Even (RED) marketing partner Converse helped bring things full circle by playing host to the recording sessions for "Lady" via its Rubber Tracks studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
(RED) CEO Deborah Dugan.
Paul Heck, a longtime producer for Red Hot, called the (RED) collaboration a "no-brainer" and an ideal opportunity to revisit the cultural legacy of Fela Kuti. "If you had told me [in 2002] that there would be a Broadway show about his life I would have laughed because it seemed so improbable. But time moves on, things change and amazing things sometimes happen. I was interested in revisiting the Fela catalog to address this new moment in time, with some amazing new artists making amazing music in totally new ways," he says. '"Lady' was an important song to make the connection between the goals we're reaching in terms of stopping mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015."
Merrill Garbus, a.k.a. tUnE-yArDs, tells Billboard in a statement, "I wanted to reclaim 'Lady' for women in the world today, particularly African women, who will have an important role in ending the AIDS epidemic there. I was so happy to have the powerful Angelique Kidjo pour her soul into it, and then rapper Akua Naru wrote a raw, intense verse that perfectly extended and completed our version of the song."
Heck could not yet confirm any additional artists for Red Hot + Fela, which may not even see release until 2013 "for factors that have nothing to do with the single," he says.
Also beginning Friday, (RED) is introducing its first (RED) Music program, part of its (RED) Rush to Zero campaign from June 1 to 10, which is raising funds and awareness towards the goal of an AIDS Free Generation by 2015, or the virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. In addition to (RED) Hot + Fela, there's (RED) Rows, a partnership with CrowdSurge where artists can donate exclusive seats and packages for an online charity auction. Participating artists include Bryan Adams, The Black Keys, Leonard Cohen, Coldplay, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Death Cab for Cutie, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Killers, K'naan, Diana Krall, Maxwell, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Tim McGraw, Metric, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Phish, Pink Martini, Punch Brothers, The Tragically Hip, Rufus Wainwright and The xx. There's also (RED) Venues, in which Austin's Stubbs, Chicago's Metro, New York's Brooklyn Bowl and Seattle's Neptune and Moore Theaters fly (RED) flags outside their venue to drive funds and awareness for the 2015 goal.
(RED) CEO Dugan says the new initiatives are part of the organization's efforts to make it easier to go (RED) than ever before, with the help of marketing partners like Apple, Beats by Dre, Belvedere, Bugaboo, Claro, The Coca-Cola Company, Converse, Nike, Penfolds, SAP, Starbucks, Telcel and, in the UK, American Express. "I wanted us to move slightly away from the limitations of 'you have to buy this to be (RED),'" she tells Billboard. "We're letting artists turn their music (RED). You could share a song and that could trigger a corporation to be (RED). You could be on a dancefloor with (RED) Converse or (RED) Beats by Dre headphones, and if somebody says, 'Oh you care about AIDS' and you have a good conversation about it, that's being (RED), too."
Since debuting in 2006, (RED) and its partners have raised over $190 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. A heavily scrutinized launch campaign in 2006, featuring an estimated marketing outlay of $100 million from partners like Gap, American Express and Motorola, yielded just $18 million in money raised, according to a March 2007 report from Advertising Age. The marketing dollars were compiled from funds that needed to be spent by participating partners, and (RED) has since switched business models and leadership, with Dugan joining in July 2011 after tenures at Disney Publishing and consulting with Robert Deniro's Tribeca Enterprises.
In recent months, (RED) has turned to partnerships with similar organizations like Bono's One Campaign to generate further buzz and awareness in social media and less reliance on retail. "Asking people to go find some (RED) thing that there's not that many of in Asia and other parts in the world, I thought, 'I'm never gonna let that happen again,'" Dugan says. "Let's build a community instead."