14 Nov 2014

Does Bob Geldof know Africa’s Ebola aid songs?

West Africans are using a surprising weapon in the fight against the spread of the Ebola virus – catchy educational tunes.

Watch Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson’s report from Port Loko, in Sierra Leone.

Ahead of an announcement by campaigner Bob Geldof that he will re-record Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? charity single to help the fight against Ebola, African musicians across the region have been recording songs promoting healthy living in a bid to stop the proliferation.

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“Take Ebola seriously, this is a very serious disease,” are the lyrics of the awareness-raising song Africa Stop Ebola, an anthem by a host of global vocalists from the region.

The collective features internationally-renowned stars, such as Amadou & Mariam, singing in an array of vernacular languages widely spoken across the region to ensure that the message is understood regardless of the level of literacy and the education of the population.

‘If Geldof was really committed to using his platform as a musician, then work with African artists’

Solome Lemma, co-founder of grassroots response initiative Africa Responds, said that there were “other ways for Geldof and his famous friends to contribute”.

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Ms Lemma said: “While the original Band Aid single raised the profile of the Ethiopian famine and money, it left Ethiopia, and really the rest of Africa, with a terrible legacy that painted us as famished, poor, and downtrodden.

“If Geldof was really committed to using his platform as a musician, then work with African artists. There are a multitude of artists from the three most-affected countries-Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea -and the rest of Africa that he could have brought on to do a different song […] The first one was flawed in every way, including the terrible, patronizing lyrics.

“International organizations have an important role to play and they are certainly partners in the fight against Ebola. However, we can’t win without Africans and African institutions. To that end, Geldof and friends can also allocate a portion, if not all, of the proceeds to local organizations in each country.”

‘Protect yourself’

From as far back as May, Unicef Liberia released tracks to help dispel rumours that the virus was part of a political scam. Teaming up with local artists Hott FM, the aid organisation’s song Ebola Is Real became the number one tune on Liberian radio.

Its lyrics alert listeners: “It’s time to protect yourself, protect your family, protect your community.”

A tune that swept the dance floors of Liberia and Guinea warns “don’t touch your friend” and “no eating something, it’s dangerous”.

Revellers in Monravia and Conakry, capitals in the respective areas, crafted a dance to match Ebola in Town recorded by trio D-12, Shadow and Kuzzy of 2 Kings, which consists of no bodily contact with people.

With more than 1,160 deaths in Sierra Leone alone, a local music network has been showcasing a variety of songs dedicated to the issue. Sierra Network Salone regularly features artists taking on the topic in an attempt to spread information about preventative measures.

In Nigeria, which is reported to be free of Ebola now, the Stop Ebola Virus Campaign Song focused more on personal hygiene, urging locals to “always wash hands with soap and water”.

Even in Senegal, where there is so far one case of the virus, artist Xuman parodied US singer Rihanna’s Umbrella song, warning in Ebola Est La (Ebola is Here) that the “disease is among our neighbours”.

So it seems if locals are already following in the words of the Africa Stop Ebola collective: “Mama Africa get up and stand united as we used to do before for other battles, Ebola you also shall be defeated.”