Beyonce and world leaders rally to end poverty

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai speaks at the fourth annual Global Citizen Festival in Central Park Manhattan on Sept 26, 2015 in New York.
Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai speaks at the fourth annual Global Citizen Festival in Central Park Manhattan on Sept 26, 2015 in New York. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK, (AFP) - Some of the biggest names in music and politics from Beyonce to European prime ministers rallied Saturday in a concert aimed at mobilising action to eradicate extreme poverty. Before thousands of people in New York's Central Park and a far greater audience on television, the Global Citizen Festival sought to use entertainment to broaden support for new United Nations development goals.

Beyonce, playing just her second concert this year, was the top attraction for many fans who obtained tickets not by paying but by committing to activism ranging from writing letters to volunteering. Other performers included rock veterans Pearl Jam and Coldplay, fresh English pop sensation Ed Sheeran, socially conscious rapper Common and - in an effort to raise the profile of the festival in India - leading Bollywood singer Sunidhi Chauhan.

Beyonce closed an energetic set by welcoming to the stage a surprise guest she hugged warmly - Michelle Obama. The US first lady encouraged the audience to use social media to campaign on behalf of the estimated 62 million girls worldwide who are not in school. "They deserve the same chances to get an education as my daughters and your daughters and all of our children," she said. "And make no mistake about it - giving them that chance is at the core of our work to end global poverty."

The prime ministers of Luxembourg, Malta, Norway and Sweden came to the festival to offer support, with US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron appearing by video. Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, one of the world's top donors, said that the festival should serve as a catalyst for a "massive increase in educational funding."

Like many festivals, the concert thrived on musical surprises. Pearl Jam brought back to stage Beyonce for Bob Marley's inspirational Redemption Song, which segued to a video of late anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela urging a fight against poverty. Beyonce put on a crowd-rousing show of dance pop with an emphasis on her feminist themes but performed an unlikely acoustic duet with Sheeran of Drunk in Love, which she usually sings with husband Jay Z. Pop starlet Ariana Grande joined Coldplay, while Common's hard-charging hip-hop set merged into Every Breath You Take as a bearded Sting suddenly appeared.

Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio urged the world also to reach a deal on climate change, warning that rising temperatures and disasters risked making poverty all the more daunting. "Right now, Europe is paralysed trying to absorb the influx of millions of Syrian refugees," the Titanic star said. "But more than one billion people, most of them in Asia, currently live in low-lying coastal regions. What will happen when they become sea-level refugees?"