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HANSON: Finding hope, conquering divides by increasing awareness of AIDS
Sunny Hutchinson
Issue date: 10/10/07 Section: Arts & Entertainment

On tour with a purpose

AIDS. Poverty. Africa.

Three words that can evoke many emotions.

Hanson.

Another word that can evoke, in some cases, a very different emotion.

However, combining these four words are proving to be a very beneficial combination.

Recently celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their first major label release "Middle of Nowhere" that contained the infamous hit single "MmmBop," the three Hanson brothers have arrived back on the scene with the release of their new album "The Walk."

However, this time around (no pun intended), they are making sure their voices are heard.

Inspired by friends from a company that was donating millions of dollars in research funds to hospitals in Africa concentrated on treatment efforts for AIDS, Hanson became consumed in educating themselves about AIDS and poverty in Africa.

"It's been an issue for the last 20 years; it's just that in the last few years it's become incredibly crucial for our time because it's become such a dire need because of the millions of the people dying from AIDS every day," said Isaac, lead guitarist and eldest of the siblings.

Their educational trip soon turned into a recording session that drew inspiration from the issues they were studying to the culture they were immersed in while staying in Soweto, South Africa.

During their African stay, Hanson joined forces with local children's music classes to record songs they felt would get the message out.

The message: Ngi Ne Themba.

Spoken in Soweto's native language of Zulu, the message is simple and translated into English it is just as powerful: I have hope.

The saying, spoken by children during the recording session, proved to be an expression that captured the essence of the songs they were recording, even giving Isaac chills the first time he heard it spoken.

Wanting to send a message of hope to those who listen to their newest single "Great Divide," the brothers of Hanson realized that this was only the beginning to a journey in making their fans understand the urgency in educating oneself on how to take tangible, direct actions to cure problems such as AIDS.

"The main message of this album is a message of hope," Isaac said. "Conquering seemingly insurmountable challenges and odds."

Joining forces with the choirs in Africa on other tracks such as "Blue Sky," Isaac and his brothers hope that the entire album inspires people to go from being purely aware of an issue to taking a direct action on it.

To help their fans make a tangible difference, the Hanson brothers returned home with a few tricks up their sleeves that they believe will make an impact.

They created three ways that people can take action in helping to find a cure for AIDS and to help eliminate the horrific side effects of poverty.

First, once Hanson finished recording "Great Divide," the song was released on iTunes. Second, a special AIDS awareness shirt was designed promoting the need to "conquer the divide." Proceeds of both of these efforts go to the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa.that has successfully decreased the percentage of AIDS being transferred from mother to an unborn child by 38 percent.

Third, to help increase awareness about the issue of poverty, Hanson joined forces with TOMs Shoes, a company that donates a pair of shoes to children in Africa who cannot afford shoes of their own.

"Over the years we shied away very consistently from taking on charitable things this way because we felt like it's really important that whatever you embrace you embrace it fully, passionately, in a long-term way. We feel like Africa, AIDS and poverty are issues around the world that our generation has begun to make an impact on," Isaac said.

Currently Hanson is on tour for the new album and has made sure to keep the message of the music with them as they travel.

At every location on the tour that they perform, Hanson sponsors a one-mile AIDS and poverty awareness walk. Usually located around the venue in which they are performing, middle sibling Taylor gathers fans around and encourages them to walk barefoot for one mile to understand how children in Africa without shoes feel.

"We as a generation have a job to do," Taylor said. "And it's out there, in Africa, right now. We have a role to play, to look back and say we made an impact."

"Music is a unique thing; it has the ability to become a personal expression for someone who is listening, the same way as it is for someone who is creating it..." Isaac said.

"We have the ability to make a profound impact and I hope to inspire people to take a tangible action."


Breaking through

For the Hanson brothers, their personal journey in the music business has been filled with its ups and downs.

After celebrating much success with their well-known first single, they released their sophomore album "This Time Around," on their newly renovated major label, Island def Jam (which bought out the original label they signed with, Mercury Records, in 1997).

"There were a lot of misconceptions and predispositions towards this band because of things like 'MmmBop.' People misunderstood what this band was all about," Isaac said.

With the first album a huge financial success and the second one not as much, the brothers soon realized that their artistic abilities were being controlled by a company that was not catering to their sound.

According to Isaac, all Hanson wanted was to not change the natural quality of who they were for a bunch of hip-hop guys who didn't understand pop music.

"We're reasonable guys, but we're not going to compromise on becoming something that we're not," Isaac said.

And they didn't.

Taking a huge leap of faith, Hanson left the financial comforts of Island def Jam and created their own independent music label, 3CG (also known as 3 Car Garage).

Their emotional and financial battle was documentary titled "Strong Enough to Break." Hanson released its first independent album, "Underneath," in 2004 which debuted on the Billboard Independent Chart at #1.

The release of "The Walk" marks their second studio release on the independent label, fourth total studio album.