Behind the Beastie: Remembering Adam Yauch’s Humanitarian Contributions

Much has been made this afternoon about the passing of Adam “MCA” Yauch. To be sure, his work with the Beastie Boys pervaded hip-hop and popular culture. With Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Mike “Mike D” Diamond, Yauch formed one of the most influential hip-hop groups of the 80s and 90s. Their upbeat, lyrical rap served as an influence to artists the world over and culminated in a 2012 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Less well-known is Yauch’s humanitarian work, particularly for Tibet. Yauch, a practicing Buddhist, was a strong supporter of the free Tibet movement, working to set up a series of popular concerts in the late ‘90s. These Tibetan Freedom Concerts were organized by Yauch and the Milarepa Fund, an organization Yauch helped to create. The shows feature some of the biggest artists of the day (Beasties included) and focused on awareness—a stark contrast to earlier charity concerts whose main focus was fundraising. See below for and interview and performance taken from the 1999 Tibetan freedom Concert.

When interviewed by PBS Frontline about the concerts, Yauch emphasized that bringing Tibet to the front of American minds was his main goal:

What we’re really trying to do is create more of a forum for the Tibetans themselves to be able to speak, I know that like if I turn on the TV and I just see some movie star or rock star talking about some cause a lot of times I get really turned off to it so I guess the idea is — creating some kind of forum where the — the Tibetans themselves can speak and Tibetan culture can be there itself.

Yauch’s desire to help the Tibetan people was fueled by his quest to understand happiness:

I was traveling in the Himalayas and I met some Tibetan people and then I began to really learn about a lot of much deeper ideas about mind and what actually brings a person happiness and the patterns of thinking the traps that we get ourselves into through our different lines of thinking. And so what I hope is that somebody might come to one of these concerts and run across some of that same information that I did– that benefited me. And that they would also gain something from that.

Adam Yauch, musician, director, and humanitarian passed away on the morning of May 4th, 2012. He was 47 years old.


PBS Frontline: Dreams of Tibet

Rocking for Tibetan Freedom

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