Tracy Chapman - guitar, vocals; Branford Marsalis - saxophone
Singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman released her debut album in April of 1988, a mere six months prior to this now legendary concert. "Fast Car," the album's first single, gained immediate attention and garnered strong sales. Fans of that first album will be delighted with this performance, which, with one exception, focuses on its material, stripped down to the essence of just Chapman's acoustic guitar and soulful voice. It is hard to believe that these songs were the work of such a young artist, not to mention from a debut album. Chapman's strong convictions, which are relayed in the lyrics to every song in this set, paint a vivid picture of the struggles that young people, particularly those of color, were experiencing in the late 1980s. Her message resonated so strongly that the album would soon go multi-platinum and garner no less than four Grammy Awards.
That same year (1988) would also mark the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In an effort to raise world consciousness about human rights and of the plight of political prisoners worldwide, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Youssou N'Dour, along with Tracy Chapman, embarked on the Concerts for Human Rights Foundation World Tour. The tour was an ambitious undertaking that criss-crossed the globe during September and October of 1988, where these artists performed before monumental crowds in Europe, Asia, Africa, as well as North and South America. Recorded on the final night of the tour in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this Tracy Chapman set proves just how powerfully her songs resonated as she delivers one of the most touching performances of this legendary concert.
From the opening number about hope for racial equality, "Across the Lines," to the closing anthem against poverty and unemployment, "Talkin' Bout a Revolution," Chapman's songs vividly communicate deep feelings in a manner that belied her young age. Her ability to explore important social and political issues without becoming preachy made her stand out immediately. This unique ability was no doubt largely responsible for the likes of Springsteen and Gabriel becoming so enamored of Chapman and inviting her to co-headline this high-profile tour so early in her career.
In between the above-mentioned songs, Chapman performs a wealth of additional first album material. This remarkable set also features the tender and sentimental "Baby Can I Hold You" (where Branford Marsalis accompanies her on sax), the powerful "Why," inspiring all listeners to question themselves, and her devastatingly powerful observation on domestic abuse, "Behind the Wall," performed a cappella. The undeniably penetrating "Fast Car," a song about social class and poverty entrapment is also performed, as is her vivid portrayal about the obsession with material belongings, "Mountains O' Things." The audience is also given a preview of things to come, with "Freedom Now," a song dedicated to Nelson Mandela that would later become the centerpiece of her second album.
Throughout this set, Chapman's stunningly captivating voice is front and center. Whether her lyrics are hopeful or chilling (often both within a single song), this material has a depth and substance well beyond her years. Chapman's socially conscious songwriting would have a significant impact on countless songwriters in the forthcoming decade, including Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole and Jewel. Of this tour, Chapman is quoted as saying, "It was the chance of a lifetime to have performed in the places we performed in, and, on top of that, to have it all mean something too." This determination to shine a light on important issues would continue to fuel Chapman's work to the present day and justify her as one of the most resonating songwriters of her generation.