On Friday, March 13, St. Louis rapper Nelly became the first American musician to perform in the Kurdish capital of Erbil in the ancient city's entire 8,000 year history. The U.S. has been facing ongoing criticism from the Kurds in the region for its lack of assistance during their ongoing war with ISIS. The Kurds are in dire need of financial support as well as weapons to deal with the daily attacks they're suffering at the hands of the Islamic State.
Enter Nelly, secret weapon of the United States. While the Saintliest of Lunatics may not have come loaded with the street-sweepers that the Kurds were hoping for, he did show up to party.
Nelly's appearance was part of a larger benefit held by the Kurdistan-based Rwanga Foundation at its yearly soccer tournament, which included other entertainers such as motocross star André Villa. The foundation states on its website that the annual event seeks to "celebrate the people of the city, promote peace and bring hope to those who need it most," with all proceeds going to help those affected by current conflicts. The Rwanga Foundation was created to raise money for education, health care and other critical issues facing the people of the embattled region.
In a city that hasn't had a decent rap show in the last eight millennia, the news of Nelly's debut was initially met with excitement and support -- the city of Erbil rarely has reason to celebrate lately, and the concert seemed to raise hope and lift the spirits of some.
However, almost immediately afterward, the event was met with criticism on social media. How did Nelly end up performing in Iraq? Hey -- must be the money! Nelly's management has declined to comment on what his compensation was for performing, but some Twitter users have wondered if the cash -- estimated to be well into the six-figure range -- wouldn't have been better spent on weapons and food and supplies.
Some even reported that the concert was poorly attended, though it should be noted that the show was held adjacent to a war zone. The sparse attendance doesn't seem too surprising, but it does call into question the cost-effectiveness of bringing in a celebrity who typically charges high fees for appearances.
It seems unlikely at this point that any official numbers will be released, and regardless, the Rwanga Foundation considers the event a success.
"We are delighted and proud that the city of Erbil hosted this landmark charity concert," the group said in a statement, "and would like to thank Nelly for his involvement." Tensions are high as the region wait with bated breath to see if Nelly will add a show in the Middle East to his upcoming summer tour opening for New Kids On the Block. Don't give up hope, Erbil!
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