“Could you answer all the questions of the world with just one word?”
—“Elias” by Dispatch
“Welcome to the original first night of Dispatch: Zimbabwe!” shouted guitarist Chad Stokes Urmston. The thousands gathered in Madison Square Garden screamed and cheered, overwhelmed to be able to see Dispatch at their first set of shows in three years. “We hope you enjoy our music,” said drummer Brad Corrigan as silence fell over the crowd, “but there is also a message. We want you to leave with both.”
The message Corrigan is referring to is the plight faced by Zimbabwe, an African nation ravaged by famine, disease, inflation and government mishandling. Every half hour or so, short vignettes appeared on a giant screen, displaying images of the majestic Zimbabwean countryside against the suffering of its people and how to help. Elias, the man who taught and housed Chad Urmston during his first excursion to Zimbabwe, narrated these vignettes.
Dispatch blazed through classic material, trading instruments and lead vocal duties as they are known to do and even performed a short acoustic set atop the van they had once toured the country in as a fledgling band. For the love song “Flying Horses,” Dispatch invited a small, traditional African ensemble consisting of drums and what I believe was the
African version of a vibraphone. Fans danced and sang with the band, ignoring the seats that stood in their way. Energy levels rose and rose until one group of teenagers decided to do away with the pain in the ass seats and began parading through the aisles, high fiving and hugging audience members, while being joined by hundreds of others.
As it should, the night peaked with the encore, where Dispatch performed “Elias,” the song originally penned as a letter to the aforementioned when Urmston discovered Zimbabwe’s import/export laws would not allow the two to send letters. Alongside a choir of children from Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe, the band led the audience in the Shona chant that preludes “Elias.” In the midst of an entire arena chanting a language many of them have never heard outside the song, screaming a message to a man who is little other than a name and face to the hordes of young Americans, the room was engulfed in pure magic.
In one of his short vignettes, Elias answered the question posed to Urmston in the song dedicated to the man who taught him so much. His answer: Love.
For more information on Zimbabwe and how you can help make a difference, visit eliasfund.org
Photo Credit: Pamela Littky