October 2, 2008

Former boy band Hanson helps poor in Africa

For The Tennessean

Brother trio Hanson has taken quite a few steps in the years between its career-launching 1997 hit single "MMMBop" and last year's soulful The Walk album.

That 2007 album collects many of those steps: the brothers' move from the boy-band spotlight to the lives of married family men, their shift from major-labeldom to their own 3CG label, the genre-spanning musical roots they've displayed over the years. But the album's title more reflects the campaign they've been passionately promoting over the past two years as active advocates for the fight against AIDS and poverty in Africa.

The band's Take the Walk campaign, says drummer Zac Hanson, means "not looking at what you can do with your pocketbook, but what you can do with your industry.

The crisis in Africa "needs to be faced by using the tools that are available to you — looking at what you create and thinking about how that can make an impact."

The band's current Walk Around The World Tour, which stops in Nashville Friday, is a direct step toward taking action for Hanson's campaign. The guys host a mile-long, barefoot walk before each show to put fans in the situation most African children face every day.

"It makes sense to me to walk barefoot and experience the situation others are in for a moment — to be a little uncomfortable," Zac says.

At the band's Web site, fans also can organize their own walks within their communities. For every registered mile fans walk before the show or within their community, Hanson's campaign will donate $1 to one of five causes outlined on the site: providing clean water and shoes, building schools, supporting medical research and providing access to heath care.

Even if he and his brothers are the only ones walking, Zac says, they'll still be covering the mile at each stop. To the Hansons' surprise, however, fans have been consistently receptive and willing to participate.

"It's gratifying," Zac says. "We have great fans. We always have."

The Hanson brothers aren't the only ones involved in the Take the Walk campaign aiming to make a broader impact with their work. In looking for ways to offer fans further resources for tangible contributions, the band came across TOMS Shoes, a company that donates a pair of shoes to a needy child in South Africa or Argentina for every pair purchased.

"They're not a charity," Zac says. "They are a group of young people who are entrepreneurs but also wanted to do something impactful with their company. In so many ways, what they're doing is more important by saying, 'We're going to take our business and we're going to find a way to use that as a tool.' "

While Hanson puts themselves in a similar role with the Take the Walk campaign, band elder and guitarist Isaac Hanson stresses that the campaign and tour are "more about trying to encourage our fanbase."

"It's the beginning for us," he says. "It's another expansion upon a goal to provide our fans with opportunities to do things themselves in their own community, and feel their own individual power and take action."