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Photo: UWisc
Ugandan Bobi Wine and Nubian Li. perform a coronavirus alert.

When pandemic restrictions caused the cancellation of African musicians’ concerts, many took the coronavirus battle into their own hands, without having to be asked by any government to create a public service announcement.

Public Radio International’s The World reports on the wave of Covid-19 songs giving Africans reliable information and warning against fake health news on social media.

“When graduate student Dipo Oyeleye heard the song ‘We Go Win (Corona)‘ by Cobhams Asuquo, a Nigerian singer-songwriter,” the radio show reported in September, “he knew what his next research project would be: a study of the myriad coronavirus songs that flourished in Africa at the pandemic’s onset on the continent. …

” ‘I love artists using the moment to create music that actually helps to disseminate the right information to the general public,’ Oyeleye told The World.

“Originally from Nigeria himself, Oyeleye studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he is now researching COVID-19 songs from Nigeria to Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo to Ghana, among many other places across the continent. Oyelele has been able to compile and track the impact of at least 50 songs from various African artists.

“Unlike the US, where very few artists have taken on COVID-19 as a subject in songs, African musicians quickly turned to their songwriting as a form of communication and to disseminate crucial public health information: social distancing, washing hands and staying home during lockdowns. 

” ‘This is a major [pandemic that] directly affects everybody, including the musicians. Some of them had to cancel their shows. I think the personal became political,’ Oyeleye explained. 

“Having battled epidemics such as the Ebola virus, most Africans are used to governments that call on musicians to produce ‘edutainment,’ or songs with a message to sensitize the public. 

“But Oleyele says that what makes the coronavirus songs different is that it was not ‘necessarily initiated by the governments. It’s just, you know, individuals lending their voices to help prevent the spread of the virus.’ 

“Some artists took a direct public health approach, while others used humor or religion to ease fears and connect with various communities. And some songs were specifically meant for people who could only communicate in local languages. There’s really something for everyone. …  

” ‘Wash your hands / love each other / we go win o,’ [Asuquo] croons at the piano.

“In [a] reggae-inspired song, Bobi Wine opens with the bad news that ‘everyone is a potential victim’ of the virus, but also a potential solution … and calls it ‘patriotic’ to social distance and isolate if sick with possible virus symptoms.” More at PRI’s The World, here. Extra details at the Washington Post, here.

I’m impressed with these musicians. Will we get songs to slow the spread here, too?

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