The Dawn of a New Era for The Weeknd © BRIAN ZIFF
By Raye Mocioiu
Abel Tesfaye, known to his fans as The Weeknd, emerged as a mysterious and underground R&B sensation back in 2011—although now, a decade and some later, he would be better described as one of the most prolific pop stars in the world and one of the most significant artists of the 21st century.
While the character of The Weeknd is known for music that evokes dark themes and feelings of escapism set to a shape-shifting mix of pop and R&B, the man behind the music is a vessel for lightness, known for sharing generously and making significant contributions to causes that are dear to his heart and his history.
Music, of course, is one of the artist’s driving causes, and Tesfaye proves that there is room for both lightness and darkness when it comes to art. As he told GQ Magazine in 2021, “My art is dark, and I’ve gone through dark times. I’ve used those dark times as inspiration for my art.”
Darkness, indeed, can inspire lightness, and Tesfaye’s string of philanthropic donations is proof of that illumination at work.
Known for his air of mystery, the 32-year-old superstar seems to prefer actions over words, supporting important causes through sizable donations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tesfaye showed his support for fellow musicians and members of the music community through a generous donation of $500,000 to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. His support didn’t stop there, either.
Among the organizations that have received his support is the Colin Kaepernick Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defense Initiative, to which he donated $200,000 in support of those who were arrested or fell prey to police brutality while protesting the extrajudicial murders of Black people. He also donated $100,000 to the National Bail Out, a collective of Black abolitionist organizers working to end mass incarceration.
In addition, the singer made a donation that gave back to his hometown—$500,000 to frontline health workers within the Scarborough Health Network in support of COVID-19 relief efforts through sales of his popular line of XO face masks.
The Grammy Award-winning Scarborough native shared that he “felt it was important to give back to the community that raised me during the hard times of this pandemic,” in a statement on his website.
Last September, Tesfaye was presented with the Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award at the inaugural Black Music Action Coalition Awards for his commitment to giving back to social justice organizations. In his acceptance speech Tesfaye, nearly overcome with emotion, shared that Jones once taught him a meaningful lesson—“that giving back is always more important than receiving.”
One needs only to look at his partnership with The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to see that Tesfaye has put that lesson into action time and time again.
Last April, the star announced a $1 million donation for hunger relief in his parents’ native Ethiopia through the World Food Program USA, the U.S. affiliate of the WFP. His parents emigrated from Ethiopia in the 1980s, when the country was reeling from civil war, and came to Toronto, settling in Scarborough, where Tesfaye was born and raised. The significant donation, which equates to two million meals, will provide life-saving food to those affected by conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray Region.
“My heart breaks for my people of Ethiopia, as innocent civilians ranging from small children to the elderly are being senselessly murdered and entire villages are being displaced out of fear and destruction,” said Tesfaye of his donation.
Tesfaye’s donation supported the UN World Food Programme’s efforts to ramp up emergency food assistance response, in addition to the humanitarian agency’s provisions of corn, rice, and vegetable oil to 60,000 people in towns in the eastern and southern parts of the region. In addition to delivering emergency food assistance in Tigray, WFP also provided nutritional support for vulnerable pregnant or breastfeeding women as well as children in the region.
In October of 2021, the multiplatinum and Diamond certified global superstar was named a WFP Goodwill Ambassador, joining an international roster of ambassadors who use their voices and platforms to advocate for ending global hunger.
“The U.N. World Food Programme is doing urgent and important work to change and save lives on a daily basis and I feel passionately about addressing world hunger and helping people in need. Our partnership is an authentic extension of all our efforts and intentions to help those in need and bring an end to so much suffering,” said Tesfaye.
His words were echoed by WFP Executive Director David Beasley, who shared: “We are thrilled to welcome The Weeknd to the WFP family. His compassion and commitment to helping the world’s hungriest people is truly inspirational. Every night, 811 million people go to bed hungry, and another 276 million are marching toward starvation. This is just not right and we have got to speak out and act today to save lives. We need everyone to come join our movement to end hunger—it is all hands on deck to avoid a global catastrophe.”
Earlier this year, Tesfaye partnered with WFP to launch the XO Humanitarian Fund, Powered by World Food Programme. The new fund will support the organization’s response to an unprecedented hunger crisis in 2022, threatening to unleash starvation, destabilization, and mass migration worldwide.
To launch the fund, the star made an initial donation of US$500,000. As well, US$1 from each ticket sold in North America for The Weeknd’s highly anticipated After Hours Til Dawn Stadium Tour will be contributed to the fund.
“The goal with this fund is to provide immediate life-saving support to people who are on the brink of starvation,” the star shared in a statement. “I’m so thankful to have WFP as a partner and to further expand our reach to those who need it most.”
The new fund will direct support to hunger emergencies around the world, with a special focus on Ethiopia, where an estimated 9.4 million people require urgent humanitarian food assistance.
With more than 48 million people facing famine and climate shocks compounded by COVID-19 and rising costs driving millions closer to starvation, immediate action is essential. Recognizing the fund’s life-saving impact, World Food Program USA’s Board of Directors, together with donors, will contribute $1 million. The funds will assist families and communities on the frontlines of hunger in countries like Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen, and now Ukraine.
“As he launches his global tour, The Weeknd is not just lighting up the lives of his millions of fans—he is also shining a spotlight on the suffering of the millions threatened by famine,” Beasley shared of Tesfaye’s involvement. “The XO Humanitarian Fund, Powered by World Food Programme is a new dawn in the struggle to end global hunger and WFP is proud to partner with Abel to save lives. He is truly an inspiration to the next generation of humanitarians.”
From dark and mysterious music telling sordid tales of reckless nights to headlining the Super Bowl, it’s the dawn of a new era for The Weeknd—and the man behind the music.
Tesfaye’s partnership with WFP creates a new kind of legacy, separate from the one shared through his music. To date, the star has contributed over US$1.8 million to WFP’s work. He proudly represents his Ethiopian heritage and the city that raised him, he gives generously, and he makes room to use his voice to speak out about causes that genuinely matter to him.
“Whether he is performing or speaking out about global hunger, The Weeknd’s voice is powerful and inspiring, only matched by his dedication to helping people around the globe,” said World Food Program USA President and CEO Barron Segar. “We are honoured that he has joined our mission. He will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of humanitarians in the fight to ensure no man, woman, or child goes to bed hungry.”