DJ Bobo sinks teeth into new hunger envoy role

DJ Bobo, a household name in Switzerland, has sold around 13 million records Keystone

One month after his shock elimination from the Eurovision Song Contest, Switzerland's DJ Bobo tells swissinfo why it's now all water under the bridge.

This content was published on June 9, 2007 - 10:11

The Swiss pop singer, who has sold more than 13 million records, became last year a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Ambassador against Hunger and recently travelled to Ethiopia to highlight food shortages in the north of the country.

The 39-year-old, who is a household name in Switzerland and has fans across Europe, had a worldwide smash hit with "Chihuahua" in 2003.

After riding to his country's Eurovision rescue at the end of last year, Bobo failed to qualify for the final, despite being one of the favourites.

swissinfo: Your elimination from the Eurovision Song contest was a surprise to many observers. How do you feel one month later?

DJ Bobo: I'm ok (laughing). We were really shocked at the time. But it's a TV show – nothing more and nothing less - involving lots of emotions from people from your own country. We tried our best and that's it.

It was a very nice experience even if we were eliminated. We were in Helsinki for ten days and for nine of those we were the favourites – together with Sweden. In the end both countries came last. But [those] nine days were gorgeous.

swissinfo: Your song, "Vampires Are Alive", currently 17th in the Swiss Top 20, has attracted a fair deal of controversy, with Christian groups claiming it is satanic and calling for it to be banned. What was your reaction to this?

D.B.: It was a bigger shock than the Eurovision. When we prepare a tour or show we always have a theme. Two years ago it was pirates and for 2008 it's vampires.

When we were in Ethiopia a guy from Spiegel magazine told us that people were trying to stop our song. If you are in Africa and you see people dying and then someone talks about a line of your song that some people are arguing about, it feels so weird as it's got nothing to do with the real world. We're entertainers – nothing more and nothing less; it's show business.

It was hard for me to understand and it surprised me that Switzerland has extreme people like that.

swissinfo: What made you decide to become an ambassador for the World Food Programme?

D.B.: For years, we had been looking for a long-term project that we could support. The WFP [school feeding] programme was exactly the right thing as I have two kids.

One of its biggest programmes is called "Food for education". With only €30 (SFr49) a year you can send a child to school in Ethiopia, for example, and feed the child at school, which is the key to its success.

Parents in Africa generally don't want to send their kids to school, as the kids have to work at home and help put food on the table. But by providing them with food at school the parents send their kids as they don't have to feed them. It's a very simple decision.

The programme started in 1994 and its success is amazing.

swissinfo: In March your first trip as a UN ambassador took you to northern Ethiopia where there were serious food shortages. What impression did your visit leave on you?

D.B.: I was very impressed by the [Ethiopian] people who try to get everything from their land. I was so impressed that people seemed really happy and were really looking forward to the future, especially in the four or five schools I visited in Mekele close to the Eritrean border.

It was very interesting to see that people are very happy with what they have. They don't have electricity, or much of anything, but with UN help they really have a life.

swissinfo: How do you see your future as ambassador?

D.B.: I would love to visit more countries. Also, giving money to Africa is a bit out of fashion at the moment and I need to tell people at home that Africa still needs our support. It's not strong enough to stand on its own two feet. That's my job and what I want to do in the future.

I talked to Bob Geldof (anti-poverty campaigner) about three months ago and he said something very special to me: "If we don't take care of Africa, 20 years from now millions of Africans will be all over Europe and Europe will be very poor as we won't be able to handle them all. We have to go to Africa and help them live their own lives. Don't give money – give know-how or try to bring your firms to Africa."

swissinfo-interview: Simon Bradley

In brief

DJ Bobo was born René Baumann in Kölliken in northern Switzerland on January 5, 1968. He began spinning records in 1985 and a year later was runner-up in the Swiss DJ Championships.

His breakthrough came with the smash hit "Somebody Dance With Me", which became number one in the Swiss single charts in March 1993. It was also a top-ten hit around the world.

He has released around 30 singles and 15 albums in a career dating back almost 20 years.

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