NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct. 8, 2007— -- Forget the bling, the cars and the girls normally seen in music videos. R&B singer John Legend is shooting the video for his next single, "Show Me," in Zanzibar, Tanzania, a remote island in East Africa.
But he didn't travel all the way from New York for just a video shoot. The trip is actually for Legend's Show Me Campaign, an organization aimed at eradicating extreme poverty in villages across Africa.
The Grammy winner was moved to action after reading "The End of Poverty" by economist Jeffrey Sachs. He says the book's focus on how Africa needs infrastructure and not just aid made sense to him.
"It seemed like such a practical and smart approach to adjusting extreme poverty," said Legend.
Now he has teamed up with Sachs' poverty-fighting organization, Millennium Promise, to work in some of the most destitute African villages. The Show Me Campaign is based on Millennium Promise's philosophy — integrating development programs that address problems ranging from proper hygiene, to education, to farming techniques, to clean drinking water. They're problems that, when compounded, lead to what Legend calls "a poverty trap."
"The idea is to not just address one problem, but to be more comprehensive and address all the issues that make [a village] stagnant," said Legend.
Millennium Promise already has pilot programs in villages in Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, where Legend visited last year. On this trip he is visiting villages in Tanzania for the Show Me Campaign, which is still in its infant stages.
"Our specific goal is to fund the village in Tanzania and others that we're visiting," he said, "and the program is a five-year program to raise $1.5 million to fund it, and we've already raised a few hundred thousand dollars."
The project has been funded with income from charity events and online donations from fans.
Legend says the money will flow to the right resources.
"It doesn't give cash," he said. "It does things like buy fertilizer, or set up Internet connections or buy malaria bed nets or have scientists come in and help them clean their drinking water and make sure it's healthy."
He says giving services rather than cash leaves less room for corruption. "It's very traceable and the results have been very good," said Legend.
But he also acknowledges the skepticism that can surround celebrity involvement in social issues. Legend says he doesn't expect everyone to care what he thinks.
"They can just say, 'he's some singer who doesn't know what he's talking about,'" he says. "But I think if you don't believe me, if you don't agree with me, that's fine. But for those that want to listen, I'm just gonna say it, and your audience will find it if they want to hear it."
Part of getting that message out was shooting the "Show Me" video in Africa. The video will play on American music channels like BET, MTV and VH1, introducing his campaign and Tanzania to a whole new audience.
"I want to create an environment where young people and people who vote across the spectrum make it a point to hold our leaders accountable for following up on their promises to increase development around the world," said Legend, who is also planning a college speaking tour with Sachs this fall.
In a country of plenty and waste, Legend hopes his fans will become aware of the dire situation beyond the borders of the United States.
"Some people will say with some justification that we have a lot of problems here at home that we still need to solve," said Legend. "But I don't believe you have to choose between Americans and Africans or between Americans and folks in Afghanistan or Cambodia and Laos. I think we're all human beings, and every life is valuable, and poverty anywhere is something we should address."