Count Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Prize winner and internationally known humanitarian, as a member of the free-music movement.
Tutu has become involved with SOS Records, a label that plans to let users decide which acts it signs. Tutu was in New York on Tuesday to help launch the label's site, which will offer open MP3s free of charge.
In a telephone interview with CNET News.com, Tutu, famous for helping to end forced segregation of blacks in his home country of South Africa, said that after hearing about the idea from SOS Records' CEO Steve Nowack--during a chance meeting in an airport--Tutu instantly loved the idea.
"I am participating because we all belong to the human family and each human being has been touched by music," Tutu said. "Until now, there are people who may not have been able to access music because of the barrier of finance. Steve's project is now going to break down that barrier.
Tutu also said that SOS Records is a way for up-and-coming artists to be discovered and "get their fair reward," adding that "the democratization of music is very close to my heart."
The idea is to go one step better than MySpace.com. Instead of enabling music acts to just post music to the site, Nowack wants to enlist users, who will rate the acts, to help discover the most talented performers.
Nowack, a Canadian who has been promoting largely unknown musicians, such as singer Naomi Striemer, is hoping to entice artists to post music to the site by offering a chance to work with big-name producers. He hasn't mentioned who the producers are, but said he has worked in the past with Carlos Santana and has other high-profile music connections.
Tutu said "it might be the hand of God" that led him to Nowack. The two met in an airport lobby and Tutu said that he "warmed to the idea" after Nowack approached him with it. Tutu said he has seen first hand of the power of music and said it should be made available to everyone.
"Music helped us in our struggle," Tutu said. "When we were fighting apartheid, we had a song that we sang to hold up our hope. We had a song we sang when we were in pain. We had songs for crying, and for when we were laughing. Music is in our veins."
Below is a clip of Tutu discussing apartheid and the problem of AIDS in Africa.