Red Hot + burning with a cause


By Brooke Alexander

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Red Hot -- the name of the organization is bold, and the group's Web site is provocative. It promises both information about AIDS and "a playground of original work and erotic films to advertise safe sex." That hasn't scared off hundreds of artists and musicians who've willingly joined the Red Hot effort to raise money for the fight against AIDS.

In part because of the strength of their collaborators, the Red Hot group has earned both critical acclaim and more than $6 million for AIDS relief since its work began nearly a decade ago.

Now, Red Hot's latest album project, "Onda Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon," matches Portuguese passion with rock, rap and African roots. It features 40 artists from 11 countries, singing in seven different languages.

"I started the Red Hot organization in 1989," says founder Michael Carlin, "primarily because I'd been an art critic in New York City in the '80s, at the heart of what was called the East Village Art Scene. And frankly, a lot of my friends got sick and died.

"I had the great fortune of having an idea that worked. I mean, I basically came up with an idea of doing an album and TV show," he says. "Artists said yes, film directors said yes, and we ended up selling a million records and had a TV show that was on in 40 countries around the world."

This, despite the problem, says Carlin, that "nobody wants to talk about AIDS."

In addition, he continues, "Nobody really wants to make album-oriented music right now that deals with musicians from around the world, people who don't sing in English, people that use complex rhythms. But that's a fun challenge, and being able to combine the two, which has been the legacy of Red Hot, has been an extremely fulfilling aspect of life."

Past recordings have featured leading artists like the Beastie Boys (who performed a live version of "It's the New Style" on "No Alternative"); Kirsty Maccoll and the Pogues ("Miss Otis Regrets" for "Red Hot + Blue"); and Johnny Cash ("Folsom Prison Blues" on Red Hot + Country").

"Lisbon" is no less blessed with talent: David Byrne collaborates on tracks with Marisa Monte and Caetano Veloso; the Portuguese-based ensemble Madredeus and Suso Saiz do a remix of "Os Dias Sao a Noite"; and kd lang sings the traditional Portuguese song "Fado Hilario."

"The idea," says producer Andres Levin, "was to bring together all the Portuguese cultures of the world, and make one record that unified, through rhythm and melody and songs, the way the Portuguese culture was spread out all over the world."

And Red Hot's work is not yet done. The next album in the series of AIDS benefit projects is "Red Hot + Indigo," a tribute to the legacy of Duke Ellington. It's slated for release in early 2000 on the BMG label.

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