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11 Performers Who Have Accepted Money to Play Concerts for Dictators, Thugs and Despots

Well known artists can make a lot of money for private concerts, and apparently, not everyone who has a ton of money is a good person.

1.  The Manic Street Preachers performed in Havana, Cuba. Guest of honour Fidel Castro, who has been condemned by many for human rights abuses, reportedly chatted with the band before the show.

2.  Mariah Carey received $1 million in exchange for singing four songs at a party for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi after New Year’s Day 2009. She said in a statement: “I was naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for. I feel horrible and embarrassed to have participated in this mess.” In 2013, the elusive chanteuse came under fire for accepting “dictator cash” to perform at a benefit for the Angolan Red Cross.

3-4. Muammar’s son tassim Gaddafi paid to have 50 Cent serenade him at a festival in Venice in 2005, and the following year, Lionel Ritchie sang for Col. Muammar at a concert marking the 20th anniversary of the U.S. air raids on the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

5. In 2010, it came out that human rights activist Sting performed at a secret concert in Uzbekistan for the daughter and heir of brutal dictator Islam Karimov. It was reported that the man once called Der Shtingle was paid as much as £2million to sing for Gulnara Karimova, who herself has been villified for using forced child labour and has been accused of being involved in siphoning off money from the country’s natural resource sales into family coffers. Karimov came to power in 1989, locked up thousands of people who dared question his rule, had his troops open fire on protesters, and has even been accused of boiling alive his political opponents.

Sting told The Guardian, “I am well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that. I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular.”

6-7-8. Both Nelly Furtado and Beyoncé donated the money they made from performing for Gaddafi to charity. Nelly had performed at a private party in 2007, and Beyonce had performed at Gaddafi’s New Year’s bash in St. Barts in 2009 (the year after Mariah did) along with Usher.

9. July 2013 saw A human rights group accused Jennifer Lopez of receiving more than $10 million for “serenading crooks and dictators” from Russia and a number of former Soviet republics. The accusations included Lopez receiving $1.4 million for performing at a birthday party in Moscow of allegedly corrupt Russian businessman Telman Ismailov, being paid $1 million by Uzbek industrialist Azam Aslamov for performing at his son’s wedding, and traveling to Russia to sing “Happy Birthday” to Alexander Yolkin, a Russian bureaucrat accused of corruption. That last gig was canceled as Yolkin got arrested the day before. Human Rights Foundation president Thor Halvorssen said in a statement that “J.Lo has repeatedly mingled with and entertained some of the world’s worst thugs and their cronies. The ‘Jenny-from-the-block-who-doesn’t-Google’ clarification may be credible in one instance, but it beggars belief in light of a pattern of repeated behavior.”

10. Also in 2013, Kanye West performed at a wedding party for Aisultan Nazarbayev, the grandson of Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been accused of human rights abuses.

11. This year (2015), John Legend agreed to perform at a state-backed event in Bahrain, a decision he came under fire for because the regime has been accused of widespread human rights abuses. Here’s the statement Legend released in response to the criticism: “Some have recently suggested that, due to documented human rights abuses by the government of Bahrain, I should cancel my upcoming concert there. After consulting with human rights experts, I decided to keep my commitment to perform for the people of Bahrain, many of whom I am proud to call my fans, during their annual festival.
I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about human rights, civil rights and other issues of justice, both in the United States and abroad. The solution to every human rights concern is not always to boycott. Most of the time I will choose to engage with the people of the country rather than ignore or abandon my commitments to perform for them.

“Often the best way to drive progress is to show up and participate in the conversation. As we move this work forward, I hope to meet the many people who are peacefully struggling for freedom, justice and accountability, regardless of what country they live in, and tell them directly that I stand with them. Part of my mission in life is to spread love and joy to people all over the world. I intend to do just that in Bahrain, regardless of my disagreements with some of their governments’ policies and actions.”

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