Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Music of Ebola

Go Ebola 4 Go

A song written and performed by DJ. IKK

Music in Sierra Leone has always played an important role, both socially and politically. Used throughout traditional practices in all of the 16 ethnic tribes in Sierra Leone, music is a key way in which communities celebrate, commemorate, teach and mourn together.

When we first started this blog I wrote a post about traditional burial processes, and how they were identified as a key practice increasing the spread of the disease, link is here: Traditions, Rites and the Deadly Virus. In that post I looked at the impact of robbing communities of their traditional mourning practices, and the very real moments of reactionary fear that it created. In a similar, but much more drawn out, experience, the people of Sierra Leone and it’s neighbours have been robbed of the daily social practices that people around the world should be entitled to. The importance of music in Sierra Leone is huge; for any of you who have been to the country you will hear music being played from each and every loudspeaker possible. The real impact of losing this social pillar of daily life may never be truly known, but it is important to see that those music-makers – and their important position within society – have not been lost. It is true to say, however, that in many cases their function has changed.

Ebola Awareness Song, Sweet Africa

A song written and performed by Yung muse

Not only does music have a huge social impact for the community, it also has a large role to play in the politics of the country. A paper, published by Susan Shepler of the American University in 2010, looks at the importance of music around the general elections in 2007. Many of the things that she reveals are the same now as they were then, and the motives of the music that we have seen spring up around the Ebola outbreak mirror those of 2007 and 2008.

“In mid 2007, just prior to the presidential elections in Sierra Leone, youth music about politics was ubiquitous. It blared in public transport, internet cafes, in bars and at parties I attended. Although understood by both producers and consumers as ‘youth’ music, and therefore not quite a part of serious political discourse, the lyrics were on everyone’s lips and the tunes were hummed by market women, school children, and professors alike.” [1]

Zubairu Wai of York University, in 2008, agrees with Shepler’s thoughts, and wrote:

“Music has now become a major way of initiating political conversation about the country’s future and the youth’s role in it. Through music, spaces for social action were created, and these in turn helped in raising the consciousness of the population and [drew] their attention to the myriad of problems in Sierra Leone society and to the possibilities.”[2]

Katrina Manson, in a Reuters article from 2007, documents the same phenomenon:

“In Freetown’s rubbish-strewn slums, music blaring from shops and taxis tells Sierra Leone’s youth that politicians have failed their war-ravaged country.

‘Pak N Go!’ booms the chorus of a dance floor hit by rappers Jungle Leaders in a stark message to the ruling party. Other songs – in the Krio dialect – urge young people to oust the graft-ridden establishment and take a stand against violence. War-scarred youth hold the key to Sierra Leone polls.”[3]

Through all of these articles, we can get a sense of how interlinked the music in Sierra Leone is with the reality of life. Differing from the UK, where much of our mainstream music is built around the illusion of celebrity and an unobtainable goal, the music in Sierra Leone has a very real connection with the people it is speaking with. It is through that connection that it gains it’s power in the real world. Susan Shepler writes again:

“People love these songs, especially their fityai or disrespectfulness/resistance. In the newly post-war world, people were still very nervous about the violent potential of youth. When some people expressed concern to the [then] president, Tejan Kabbah, the president famously said that he would rather have them in production studios than carrying guns in the bush.”

Through music, then, we can see that the youth do have a political voice, and a voice that echoes around all members of society – from school children to academics, as Shepler wrote. This is not a new phenomenon, however. Folklore and the oral tradition have always been a central manner of teaching between generations. This didactic function is continuing to be replicated in face of the Ebola outbreak. In this scenario, it’s teachings are not about community knowledge, but about current affairs.

Early in the Ebola epidemic, the song "White Ebola" exemplifies the role that music can play within communities, as well as the dangers that these orators can pose. The song was released by a group that focuses on the general distrust of "outsiders" in Liberia, and the rumours that it may be those outsiders that are intentionally infecting people with Ebola.

White Ebola

A political song by Mr. Monrovia, AG Da Profit and Daddy Cool, centred on the general mistrust of foreigners.

Another example of a misuse of influence can be seen below. In this case, it is less the good intentions that are in question, but the execution of it. The artists that created Ebola in Tow, developed a dance was in which no body contact was required, a rare occurrence in African dance. However, some healthcare workers from the IFRC had concerns that the "Ebola In Town" song's warning "don't touch your friend" may worsen the stigma already faced by Ebola sufferers and survivors.

Ebola in Town

A dance tune by D-12, Shadow and Kuzzy of 2 Kings, a group of West African rappers, warns people of the dangers of the Ebola virus and explaining how to react.

Fortunately, however, most artists have used their position of influence for the good. The following artists have utilised their songs to spread constructive and useful information about Ebola. Aside from that, they also know how to write a really powerful song, even in the face of such a prolific and destructive adversary.

Africa Stop Ebola

These are Some of Africa’s best-known musicians and have recorded a song to raise awareness of Ebola and help people understand how they can protect themselves from the disease. All profits go to the MSF.

Ebola Does Not Discriminate

A song written and performed by Special C, featuring AOK, asking Sierra Leoneans to follow the safe practices and precautions from the health authorities.

Kick Ebola Out of Salone

Written and performed by the Bo Artist Union. It provides advice, and generally supports the medical and government agencies working in Sierra Leone.

With groups of over 5 people being banned by the state of emergency, many of these songs are the final connection that people have to a normal way of life. Whilst some of these songs can be destructive in their ability to spread misinformation around the country, they are generally positive and well-intentioned.

We hope that soon these Ebola songs will only serve as a reminder of the tragedy that has been going on in the past year. We also hope that, in a matter of months, life will be getting back to normal in Salone, and that we will be able to continue the mission laid out before us.

If you feel that you can help us in any way: by volunteering, fundraising, or donating, please do get in touch via our website.

EducAid, learning for life in Sierra Leone

Fighting for a life #AfterEbola


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