Band Aid pushback? West African stars sing their own tune on Ebola.

Released this week, 'Africa Stop Ebola' is set to pop and reggae and sung in seven languages by famous West African artists. It offers advice on how to combat the virus – without, supporters say, tapping stereotypes and fear.

Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes
Ivorian reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly (r.) and Malian singer Mory Kante attended a news conference to present the 'Africa Stop Ebola' album in Paris on Monday. Some of Africa's top musicians launched an Ebola appeal song with proceeds going to fight the virus that has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa this year. 'Africa stop Ebola,' sung in French and local languages including Malinke, Soussou, Kissi and Lingala, uses a mixture of rap and melodies that are distinctive to West Africa to urge people to take Ebola seriously and go to a doctor if they are ill.

After you hear it, you might find yourself singing it – with the words “Ebola, Ebola” rolling off your tongue. It might seem strange to hum about one of the world’s most pressing health crises, especially to such an upbeat refrain.

But that’s exactly the point of a new creation by a collective of West African artists, called Africa Stop Ebola. They’ve set five minutes of what is essentially a public service announcement to pop and reggae in an effort to dispel myths and stereotypes about the virus and get Africans to do all that they can to prevent it.

Their song has come out as Band Aid has released its own song to raise funds to fight Ebola, a remake of “Do they know it’s Christmas Time?” Organized by Irish singer Bob Geldof, it has topped UK charts. But it’s also been slammed for stigmatizing Africa with lyrics that perpetuate fear, sung by a line-up of famous artists that include only one African.

Africa Stop Ebola, on the other hand, is sung by the artists whom many West Africans know well, and its lyrics, in seven languages, are as straightforward as the group’s name. “You cannot kiss someone,” belts out the Guinean artist Mory Kanté.  “It’s just the reality.” Other lyrics include: “Take Ebola seriously,” “wash your hands, and “avoid shaking hands of others.”

“We chose to sing because we need to talk about Ebola,” says Barbara Kanam, a well-known Congolese singer, in a bright royal-blue blouse at the Paris offices of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which benefits from the song's proceeds “The message is easier to hear in a song than what a doctor says to you. Through song, people can understand that it exists, but that it can be overcome.”

MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, has been on the frontlines of the fight against Ebola in West Africa. But the group is the first to admit that when it comes to prevention, it is the musical stars, including reggae artist Tiken Jah Fakoly and pop-singer Salif Keita, not the nurses and doctors, who can spread prevention advice fastest.

“These people are very popular musicians, everyone wants to listen to their music,” says Becky Oba, a nurse for MSF from Nigeria who works in Liberia. “People hearing these popular artists singing, passing this information, is going a long way in spreading awareness.”

The song, produced by Carlos Chirinos, a music and development expert at the University of London, was written specifically for the radio because it’s how most Africans receive their information. “Radio is still the medium that is closest to the community,” says Mr. Chirinos. “The power that radio has is that it can reach those houses that are the most isolated.”

The Band Aid song has a different audience and plays a role in awareness that is important  But Chirinos agrees with some of the criticism of lyrics that make it seem that Ebola is a continent-wide problem and stereotype Africa as place to fear. “Here a kiss of love can kill you – and there’s death in every tear,” the lyrics read. “And the Christmas bells that ring there – are the clanging chimes of doom.”

 “That has a knock-on effect on trade and investment ... and a knock-on effect on tourism,” he says. “Who is going to Africa next year for their holidays?”

Africa Stop Ebola, on the other hand, relays specific health advice and tries to instill public trust in health authorities. But at its core is a message of hope for the people directly affected, says Chirinos.

“It sends a message that this can be overcome,” he says.

[Editor's note: The original version misnamed the anti-Ebola song.]

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Band Aid pushback? West African stars sing their own tune on Ebola.
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2014/1128/Band-Aid-pushback-West-African-stars-sing-their-own-tune-on-Ebola
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe