‘Lt Colonel Colin Mitchell became famous in the late 1960s as commanding officer of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders,’ explains Chris Moon, recalling his job interview with the colonel early in 1993, as he searched for the right assignment to follow his own service in the military. ‘He set up a mine clearance charity after visiting Afghanistan, where he saw farmers unable to work their land, refugees who couldn’t go home and a Red Cross hospital full of amputees.’
‘HALO stands for the Hazardous Area Life Support Organisation,’ Mitchell confirmed to his potential recruit. ‘It is totally operationally focused, and is all about getting mines out of the ground. I like to think of deminers as rather like the Knights Templar, keeping the roads open to Jerusalem so the pilgrims can pass safely.’
‘He shows me photographs of their current sites,’ Chris continues. ‘“This is a school we cleared. They found it was mined when three children were blown up. We train and employ demobilised soldiers. They work in metre wide lanes. The process involves feeling for trip wires, carefully cutting the vegetation, removing it, passing the metal detector over the ground and prodding and digging to investigate any metal read-outs. When mines are found they’re blown up in situ. As you can see it’s not a black art.”’
Chris Moon’s first assignment for HALO was in Cambodia where mines were laid indiscriminately during the civil war. An uneasy peace had been established through the Paris Peace Accord in 1991 and at the time Chris arrived it was estimated that 300 people a month were being injured through mine explosions, half of them fatally. During this posting he was kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge and, in what is universally considered an incredibly unlikely outcome, survived to tell the tale.
From Cambodia, Chris transferred to HALO operations in Mozambique. Just a few months after arriving, in March 1995, he suffers devastating injuries whilst undertaking mine-clearance duties, losing both an arm and a leg.
I met Chris Moon some years later. He was the speaker at a work meeting I attended. His story was one of incredible courage and determination, both in his personal recovery and his commitment to bringing practical help to those whose lives had been forever changed by the curse of land mines. Unbelievably, by this time he has run the London Marathon – just a year after suffering his injuries – and the Marathon des Sables, a 137 mile race across the Sahara. Chris’ personal example deeply moved everyone who heard him that night.
In March 2001 Ryuichi Sakamoto launched the Zero Landmine project. ‘It wasn’t so long ago that I became interested in the land mine issue,’ he wrote on his website. ‘I had known that Princess Diana, when she was alive, had travelled as far as Angola to appeal for the elimination of anti-personnel land mines. I also had known that an organization called ICBL [the International Campaign to Ban Landmines] had expanded its activities on the Internet, and that it had received a Nobel Peace Prize.
‘But what profoundly moved me on this land mine issue was a TV programme. On the programme, a white man who had lost a hand and a leg while removing a land mine was teaching the children at his old school about the land mine problem. During the programme, this man ran a full marathon with an artificial hand and an artificial leg. Watching this, I was in awe of the invincible spirit of this man. It was clear that the Christian spirit of welfare was supporting this man’s mental powers.
‘The man is a Scotsman called Chris Moon. I never dreamt that I would go with Chris to Mozambique, and to the very site where he lost his arm and leg. Through Chris I learned that the weapon of war known as the land mine is a thing that “does not know peace”, and how much its damage can plunge people’s lives to the very bottom. I have been lucky to have such a fabulous teacher. Encountering Chris, I was awestruck by this man’s spiritual and physical strength.’
Sakamoto resolved to use his own platform and skills to make a practical difference. The ’80s had seen a variety of star-studded charity singles created to raise cash for good causes, but it wasn’t a trend that had caught on in Japan. Ryuichi had plans for something slightly different.
‘How are the land mine issue and the music connected?’ Sakamoto asked himself. ‘First off, I looked at the maps of the countries where there is the most damage from land mines. The Korean Peninsula, Cambodia, Bosnia, Angola, Mozambique… I listened to CDs from those countries that I have at home. I searched on the Internet. I ordered books and read them. While inputting a lot of such things into my brain, I wondered just what sort of music would form the whole.
‘The music is varied. There are many cultures even within each one of the countries. There are many peoples and tribes and their languages and music differ. To say nothing of the fact that it is difficult to make the music of places that are geographically remote exist together as one. And it would not do to destroy the native characteristics of the cultures.’
The documentary The Making of Zero Landmine which accompanied the project runs close to two hours and shows Sakamoto recording local musicians at the HALO centre in Mozambique where Chris had unwittingly tripped one of the devices he was trying to demobilise for the protection of others. Angolan musician Waldemar Bastos lays down vocals in Lisbon, Portugal, his adopted home after fleeing the civil war in his African homeland. In Seoul, South Korea, Sakamoto captures performances from a drum ensemble led by Kim Duk-Soo, one of the leading exponents of Korean traditional performing art. An Indian session held in Mumbai captures traditional instruments including tabla and kanjira from Talvin Singh who had previously scattered Eastern influence on Sylvian’s Dead Bees on a Cake.
The completed eighteen-minute-plus version of the ‘Zero Landmine’ track is underpinned by the YMO-plus-one quartet of Yukihiro Takahashi and Steve Jansen on drums, Haroumi Hosono on bass and Sakamoto himself taking piano and keyboards. This core band plays for the whole duration and fully the first thirteen and a half minutes comprises music from the chosen geographic corridor, including samples from Sakamoto’s collection in addition to the live performances he travelled far and wide to collect.
‘The music begins with a simple folk song by an Inuit girl, and then becomes a “musical journey”,’ said Ryuichi. ‘As if tracing one half of the Mongoloid migration out of Africa in reverse, it passes through the Korean Peninsula, skips over Cambodia, India, and Tibet, skims past Europe at Bosnia, and then goes to Angola in Africa. It ends in Mozambique, at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley in East Africa, the birthplace of the human race. There are many other countries in the world besides these, of course, which are concerned with land mines, but these were chosen so that it would not end up as some sort of crude collage. At the end of the journey, the music ends with a chorus of many musicians.’
Sakamoto was aware that to create such a musical tapestry is to walk a fine line indeed. ‘You can’t be sure that it will be as successful as hoped for, even at this point in time, when the music has taken on a rough shape. However much “sincerity” we bring to our handling of native music, from the inside it will be heard as something that has been preserved as a specimen by “the outside”. Exploitation cannot be relieved by sincerity. Many of the participating musicians must have felt such discomfort as well. But I would like to think that they also shared the belief, stated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, that the elimination of land mines is one step toward total disarmament, toward ending the old fashioned notion that problems can be solved by military force.’
Other influences were also brought to bear. ‘Kraftwerk, who I have not seen in twenty years, sent a sound logo titled “Zero Landmine” over the Net.’ This ‘logo’ gives voice to the name of the track in heavily processed, disembodied form at the outset of the piece and then at intervals within. Brian Eno contributed sounds that accompany Bosnian vocalist Jadranka Stojaković in the interlude between the words of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Princess Diana. ‘I was very happy when those sounds arrived!’
To follow the musical sweep around the globe, Ryuichi knew that there was a need for words to articulate the cause to which the project was dedicated. ‘After considering a lot of things, I asked my friend of many years, David Sylvian, to write a “simple, tender lyric that could be sung by children.” What he sent me, two or three days later, was a simple, tender lyric that one could not have imagined, looking at David’s usual work. His warm heart impressed me.’
‘This is my home
The land of my mother
The place I play
With sisters and brothers
The trees are rooted
In the ground beneath
Take away the violence
Give the earth back its peace’
Sylvian spoke of his friend’s request when he travelled to New York to record the vocal. ‘Well it was a difficult notion to write a song about this particular subject matter, particularly for children to sing, with a period of twenty-four hours. I had very little time to think about it. I just intuitively responded to the request and tried to find the right words that spoke about the condition, the situation, some directly but also indirectly: the emotional impact of what this means to us.’
‘This is our world
Our common salvation
It knows no borders
It serves no nation
The same sun shines equally
On those beneath
Take away the violence
Give the earth back its peace’
Asked after release about why he chose this style of lyric, Sylvian said, ‘I think I’m generally my most unkind critic particularly where these lyrics were concerned. Ryuichi asked for a song about the land mine issue. A song which was to be sung by young children. That narrows the range of possibilities enormously as far as I’m concerned. I hesitated to get involved believing I wasn’t the man for the job but Ryu was in a bit of a jam and needed a set of lyrics to work to with some urgency. Ultimately I only had a matter of hours to write them. Still, I’m not sure I’d have fared any better with more time on my hands to be honest. Having said that I gave the lyrics to Ryu suggesting he rework them.
‘But he was moved by their simplicity which I found quite touching and consequently composed a beautiful melody around them which gave them a whole new life as far as I’m concerned. When I sing the song now I barely recognise the lyrics as those I wrote in isolation. Their pedestrian nature, at least from my perspective (and I’m not attempting to justify them), overcome in large part by Ryuichi’s inspired emotional response to them.’
The final section of the track has a more conventional charity single vibe with a host of Japanese vocalists singing individual lines, alongside the author of those words himself and American star Cyndi Lauper. The music video has all the hallmarks of the genre, as was required for the all-important promotion of the cause.
Alongside alternate versions of the full-blown track, the EP also includes much simpler arrangements: solo piano performed by Ryuichi, a piano and cello arrangement where he is joined by Mari Fujiwara, and a piano and vocal version featuring just Sakamoto and Sylvian. It’s a treasure to have this stripped-back performance from two of my favourite musicians. The documentary contains a sequence where the pair rehearse for this recording, Sylvian at Sakamoto’s shoulder as he plays the grand piano. It’s lovely to eavesdrop on the moment through the camera lens.
Immediately following the airing of the documentary on 30 April 2001, there was a live broadcast of the piece with Sakamoto and the core band of Jansen, Takahashi and Hosono in a Tokyo studio alongside orchestra, guitarists, the children’s choir and the Japanese star vocalists. In what must have been a significant logistical challenge, a number of distant live performances were beamed into the mix, including David Sylvian stood alone in a studio in New York, and Kim Duk-Soo and his troupe performing on the steps of a ruined building somewhere far from Japan. Incredibly it’s a faithful live representation of the studio version that was weaved together from the complexity of over one hundred individual tracks on the multi-track.
In the general exhilaration and relief that follows the performance, Sakamoto calls out to Sylvian. ‘David, can you hear us? It was great – we made it!’ ‘Wonderful!’ the singer responds.
‘Sylvian has come up with words of crystalline simplicity that perfectly suit Sakamoto’s warm, delicate melody,’ reported the Japan Times. Two weeks after the TV special, ‘Zero Landmine’ by the collective known as N.M.L. No More Landmine hit the top of the Oricon singles chart in Japan. By that stage it had sold over half a million copies.
Chris Moon wrote in the cd booklet, ‘Albert Einstein said, “Our technology has advanced faster than our humanity.” It is time for our humanity to catch up and for people to realise that irrespective of race, creed or colour our similarities are greater than our differences.
‘There is a saying, “All it needs for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” None of us have the right to ignore appalling human suffering. By buying this cd you are helping to stop the suffering caused by land mines. Thank you for making a difference.’
‘There’s fire in the ground
In the space between the trees
In the forests and fields
On pathways, in dreams’
‘Who painted the green grass red with danger?
Who coloured the big sky blue with sorrow?
A strong wind carrying fear and anger
Came and went and stole tomorrow’
‘With each copy of this CD sold, the removal of some number of land mines is assured,’ reiterated Sakamoto. ‘I would like to make this sort of flow of the money clear. I would like to show on the Web the status as they are being cleared. It’s not just the land mines. We must not bequeath any negative legacy of the 20th century to future generations. Is it naive, after all, to hope for a world in which people are not killed over wealth, power, or religion? I don’t want to think that this is a delusion. If we have such hopes, they should be made reality. Doesn’t everything start from “the things we hope for?”
‘Through the actions of non-government organizations (NGOs) like the HALO Trust, land mines are verifiably being removed from the world one by one. The large map that I was shown in Mozambique was stuck with red pins indicating places where there were thought to be land mines still buried, and with countless blue pins indicating places where they had been removed. It is expected that in this country in the next five years the blue pins will have been replaced all the red ones. Here it is, slowly but surely – a real hope.’
By March 2006 it was reported that through CD sales and donations the Zero Landmine project had enabled the clearance of 3,075,436 square metres of minefields in Cambodia, Angola, Georgia, and Mozambique. Total clearance in Mozambique took a lot longer than the five years Sakamoto had hoped for, but in 2015 HALO finally declared that the country was mine-free after the removal of some 171,000 deadly devices. Elsewhere, work continues.
‘Zero Landmine (piano and vocal version)’
Ryuichi Sakamoto – piano; David Sylvian – vocals
Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Lyrics by David Sylvian.
Performed on entire track: Haroumi Hosono – bass; Steve Jansen – drums, Ryuichi Sakamoto – keyboards, piano; Yukihiro Takahashi – drums
Kraftwerk (Huetter/Schneider/Hilpert) – sound logo
Korea section: Kim Duk-Soo – changgo, k’kwaenggwari, buk; Ryuichi Sakamoto – k’kwaenggwari; Yun Seo-Kyong – ajaeng; Choi Su Jyung – vocal
India section: Ustad Sultan Khan – sarangi; Sonaali Rathod – vocal; Talvin Singh – tabla, kanjira
Bosnia section: Jadranka – voice
Angola section: Waldemar Bastos – vocal, guitar, backing vocals
Mozambique section: Amanhecer No Campo and the children of Bagamoyo Elementary School, Maputo, Mozambique
Voices: His Holiness the 14th the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso; Diana, Princess of Wales
Choir: David Sylvian, Chara, Taeko Onuki, Miwa Yoshidi (DCT), Kazutoshi Sakurai (Mr Children), UA, Motoharu Sano, Teru (Glay), Cyndi Lauper; Backing Vocal: Masato Nakamura (DCT), Takahiro Nishikawa (DCT)
Chorus: The Little Singers of Tokyo
Brian Eno – sounds; Mari Fujiwara – cello; Yuichi Ise – percussion; Lee Jun-Woo – k’kwaenggwari; Yasou Kimoto – break drum; DJ Krush – spinning; Arto Lindsay – guitar; Jacques Morelenbaum – cello; Reigakusha – shyou, hitiriki, ryuteki, uchimono; Sugizo – guitar; Takuro (Glay) – guitar; EYE Yamataka – spinning
Produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto. From Zero Landmine by N.M.L. No More Landmine, Warner Music Japan, 2001.
Lyrics © samadhisound publishing
Physical media links: Zero Landmine (Amazon)
Artist quotes are from interviews in 2001 unless otherwise stated. Chris Moon quotes are from his book ‘One Step Beyond’ unless indicated (Amazon). Full sources and acknowledgements for this article can be found here.
Coincidentally, during the writing of this piece Steve Jansen posted some behind the scenes footage from rehearsals for the Zero Landmine live TV special on his Youtube channel – view it here.
The full documentary of The Making of Zero Landmine can be seen here.
‘Landmines are evil environmental pollution. They lie active in the ground for decades after the fighting has stopped and cannot tell the difference between the footfall of a soldier and that of a child. Many of those injured by mines die slow dirty deaths. Those who survive often live lives of misery, poverty and discrimination.’ Chris Moon, 2001