UGANDAN musicians have welcomed the efforts by international musicians, football stars, celebrities, international health organisations and corporations that have joined hands to deter the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, infecting over 27,273 people with more than 11,173 deaths to date, according to the World Health Organisation. The worst-hit countries are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
West African communities are being crippled by the disease as a result of already-strained healthcare systems, mistrust of healthcare workers and fear and stigmatization of those infected.
Twelve prominent African musicians have now released a charity song as part of their effort to raise awareness of the deadly Ebola and how people can guard themselves from the disease.
A collective of African musicians who have come together to record the single, titled “Africa Stop Ebola,” features the Malian musicians Amadou and Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangaré and Kandia Kouyaté, the Guinean singers Mory Kante and Sia Tolno, the Ivorian reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly, the Congolese vocalist Barbara Kanam, the Senegalese rapper Didier Awadi, Konko Malela (aka Marcus) from Guinea and Mokobe from Mali.
The musicians say the song is a message to citizens about what they can do to help stop the spread of Ebola in Africa. The song is performed in French and vernacular languages widely spoken across the region to ensure that the message is understood regardless of the level of literacy and education of the population.
“Africa Stop Ebola” is a blend of African music and reggae. Its lyrics, which were written by the musicians and Carlos Chirinos – provide clear advice on protection and hope. People are advised to trust doctors, not to touch sick or dead people, and stick to proper sanitation and hygiene.
“Ebola, Ebola/Invisible enemy/Dear parents/Follow the advice of medical authorities/Ebola came to hurt us/Respect their advice.”
“Ebola is a problem for us/We cannot greet someone/You cannot kiss someone/It does not mean that person makes you ashamed/It’s just a reality,” the song goes in part.
Chirinos told the Guardian newspaper in England that the lyrics were developed to be as clear as possible and to dispel the myths surrounding the disease. “We hope that the song will do two things,” he said. “First, that it will rebuild people’s trust in the health services in their countries. There’s been a total lack of trust because of all the misinformation and a lot of cases of people going to churches and local healers to try to get Ebola medicine.”
The second aim, he said, was to spread hope: “We’re trying to send the message that this situation can be overcome. We’re using the fame and reputations of these well-established artists to reassure listeners about what they should be doing.”
“Africa Stop Ebola” will be distributed to radio stations across Africa with support from the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters. An accompanying video will be broadcast on television stations in Europe and across Africa.
The Ugandan musician and producer, Kaz Kasozi acknowledges the role of artists in such catastrophes, arguing: “Artists, particularly those who are already prominent within the public always have an obligation to highlight issues that are pertinent to society at large. It is not necessarily an artist's vocation to do so but a certain responsibility goes with the field. However, it should be issues that a given artist is actually truly concerned about rather than one jumping upon every single issue of import that comes along.”
“Artistes have a very important role to play in such catastrophes because they command a big following and the public trusts them. In the African setting actually artistes are multi-faced, they are teachers, doctors, counselors and politicians, among others. Hence, getting them to do such a song was a quick way of reaching the masses especially in West Africa. A man like Tiken Jah Fakoly commands a huge following all over West Africa. The same applies to the other artistes like Salif Keita, Mory Kante and Didier Awadi,” another Ugandan musician, Joel Sebujo, observes.
As to whether he supports the artist’s efforts in the fight against Ebola, Kasozi’s replies: “Yes and no. …one should take this effort from a genuine desire rather than jumping onto band wagons of issues. It’s unfortunate but true that a larger majority of musicians who do charity tunes tend to do them to further their own brand and marketability rather than for the real cause at hand. Having said that, for whoever is spearheading any charity song, the primary goal is to have the widest reach possible regardless of the particular aims of the individual participants.”
“So if some are doing it for more selfish reasons but their presence hugely benefits the cause at hand then it might not necessarily be a bad idea to have them on board. The simple reason is that music disseminates information faster and to a wider audience than speeches and plain adverts. It is also more enduring and so can last even decades as a reminder of the cause not to mention making hard topics palatable,” Kasozi adds.
A number of other musicians have recorded singles related to Ebola. Among these are: “Ebola in Town” by the Liberian music producers Samuel “Shadow” Morgan and Edwin “D-12” Tweh; “Ebola=Outbreak in West Africa” by Liberia’s international reggae star Black Diamond; and “No Ebola” by soca artists Rodney Benji and Tichard “Screws” Barrington from Trinidad and Tobago.
Bob Geldof and Midge Ure have also pulled together a host of music stars in London to create the fourth incarnation of the Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It's Christmas.”
The money raised will go towards the fight against Ebola in numerous West African countries, which Geldof called a “filthy little virus” which renders its victims “untouchable.”
Geldof and Ure first gathered a group of musicians together in 1984, to record “Do They Know It's Christmas.” It sold 3.7 million copies and raised £8 million for famine relief in Ethiopia.
U2's Bono, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Emeli Sande, Underworld, Sinead O'Connor, Paloma Faith, Foals, Bastille, One Direction, Ed Sheeran and Elbow are among the acts who have taken part in Band Aid 30’s fourth version of “Do They Know It's Christmas.”
According to Geldof and Ure the song's lyrics have been changed to reflect the Ebola crisis.
Geldof said that changes to the lyrics include “burning suns,” due to the fertile landscape of West Africa compared to drought-stricken Ethiopia of 1984. But the African musicians involved in Band Aid 30 like Angelique Kidjo and Emeli Sande are lamenting that their changes to the lyrics were omitted.
This gives credence to Kasozi’s skepticism over Geldof’s motives contending that they are patronising. “I respect Bob Geldof but the one thing to note about his efforts and others like it is that it has a patronising tone in regard to Africa. Africa is always being depicted as the needy beggar with hands held out waiting for the white saviour. This image does more damage than good in the long run and its detriments are too deep and far reaching to dissect here.”
“There is always misrepresentation both in the music and in the video promo clips that escort such songs. It’s a cliché by now but African solutions for African problems would be best. For example, the latest installment which was generated from Geldof's 80s Christmas charity song I find sickly sweet and insulting form me as an African,” Kasozi adds.
On his part Sebujo argues: “First and foremost, it was a very brilliant idea that these 12 African artists came out to sensitize the public about Ebola. The Africa stop Ebola project was a timely release it came at the right moment, when the world had challenged Bob Geldof and Band Aid Project "Do They Know That It’s Christmas?" The Africa Stop Ebola song was actually the perfect answer to the common question: "Can’t Africans solve their own problems?" Thus, this time round we saw prominent African voices tackling an African problem.”
At the official draw for the just concluded 2015 Orange Africa Cup of Nations in December 2014 in Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) joined football stars, celebrities, international health organizations and corporations to announce the launch of ‘Africa United,’ a global health communications campaign aimed at preventing the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
The campaign, which is supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation and driven creatively by British actor Idris Elba, is designed to recognize the vital role of frontline healthcare workers, as well as to provide critical education and resources for the people of West Africa. Educational messages will be delivered on local and national radio and television, billboards and by SMS to audiences in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and neighboring countries.
In one of the television spots titled “We’ve Got Your Back,” Elba and a group of football players committed to the fight against Ebola in West Africa, including Yaya Touré, Carlton Cole, Kei Kamara, Patrick Vieira, Fabrice Muamba and Andros Townsend, are voicing their solidarity with the healthcare workers who are risking their lives every day to fight Ebola. In the video, the players acknowledge that, although fans regard them as heroes, healthcare workers tackling Ebola are the true heroes. Each player wears the name of a healthcare worker on his back as a symbol of respect for “the world’s most important team.”
“For me the battle against Ebola is a personal one. To see those amazing countries in West Africa where my father grew up and my parents married being ravaged by this disease is painful and horrific. Imagine having to sit down and tell your family that you were going to fight this disease. That conversation is happening across West Africa and around the world every day,” Elba says.
“I am in awe of the bravery of these health workers, who put their lives at risk day in and out to stop the spread of this terrible disease. My hope is that, in some small way, through the development of these PSAs and the creation of the Africa United campaign, we can ensure that these workers get the support they need and that health messages are delivered to people on the ground to help them in their fight…,” Elba adds.
“Private and public partnerships like ‘Africa United’ are critical to aligning organizations fighting Ebola and to ensuring quick, effective responses to changing circumstances and needs,” said Charles Stokes, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “The CDC Foundation remains committed to advancing response efforts in West Africa through public education and resources for use on the front lines of the Ebola battle.”