“It could be your momma, it could be your pappa, your brother or your sister, let’s stand together to fight this deadly disease.” Lyrics from Liberia’s President George Weah COVID19 song.
The loss of 86 year old Cameroonian music legend, Manu Dibango, was a wake up call for those on the continent and in the arts community who may have doubted the reality or reach of COVID19 taking lives every minute across the world. Manu’s career survived over five decades and three generations with millions who knew the iconic Soul Makossa hook. He will rest in peace assured that his vibrant sax compositions and noteworthy contributions will remain an integral part of music history.
Understanding the power and impact of music, African artists on the continent have taken to studios to record musical messages educating the public, in the hopes that lives will be spared in the Motherland from coronavirus. Africa cannot manage the levels of outbreak taking place in Europe and the USA, with over 1 million afflicted to date. That said, songs about social distancing, identifying symptoms, washing hands, stay and work from home and other important messages are springing up all over the continent. Ugandan artist and political activist Bobi Wine starts his song with caution, “The bad news is that everyone is a potential victim, but the good news is that everyone is a potential solution.” In collaboration with vocalist Nubian Li, Wine wrote the song “Coronavirus Alert”. The message is simple and positive, “Sensitive the masses to sanitize. Keep a social distance to quarantine. The coronavirus is sweeping over mankind. Everybody must be alert! It’s a global pandemic we can never take for granted.”
While in West Africa, Liberia’s President George Weah, brings his country’s experience with the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and 2015 to the mic. His firm musical warning that the virus could cause their loved ones to perish chants, “It could be your momma, it could be your pappa, your brother or your sister, let’s stand together to fight this deadly disease.” In South Africa, hard hit by the virus with over 1,000 diagnosed, the Ndlovu Youth Choir is making waves as they dismantle myths that may cause further dissemination of the disease. The choir director Ralf Schmitt states, “We are from a community in rural Limpopo province that has a high prevalence of HIV and TB. COVID-19 could have a devastating effect on our community and because of this, we decided to make a video to dispel myths about the virus and encourage basic prevention.” The choir’s message is simply, “Don’t panic, we’ve got this.”
Visual artists are also doing their part as seen in Kenya. Kiberia is a massive informal settlement just outside Nairobi and not new to graffiti and street art. However with keen concern to protect the only homes known to thousands dwelling in this slum, education on how to protect the community is graphically expressed in Swahili slang. A group of five artists from Uweza Art gallery took the initiative to raise awareness with 25 year old artist Josphat Ndemo telling CGTN Africa, “We decided as artists to go around to write murals, to spread the message of the coronavirus. We wanted to emphasize the common enemy of the virus, that people should be aware of it, they should not take this virus for granted, they should be serious.” However I was most moved by the works of RBS CREW, a collective of Senegalese graffiti artists using their paint spray cans to create public awareness. According to Reuters, “Black and yellow block letters spell out the message “TOGETHER AGAINST COVID19…A BIG THANK YOU TO THE CAREGIVERS…next to the government’s health hotline on the high school wall.” Artist Sergine Masour Fall, the 33 year old lead of the collective, known as “Mad Zoo” said, “As Senegalese we have a duty, a responsibility to raise awareness….the majority of the population is illiterate, as artists we can communicate through visuals.”
In my sefer in Kazanches we have opted to give out crayons to the children in our neighborhood who are clearly bored and probably confused if not scared by the sudden change of social norms. It may not be much, but who really knows what to do, as the natural response from Ethiopian artists would be to organize a group show, maybe have a talk or two and raise funds for the good cause. This is not an option now. So maybe its best artists continue to do their part, posting on social media, staying in the studio and when this awful non-discriminatory plague like pandemic is defeated, we will have a burst of creative energy and expression that ushers in the next phase of the new normal in Ethiopia, on the continent and in the world. Be safe, stay home and keep washing hands.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.