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Across Africa, musicians (and the occasional president) battle COVID-19 with song

Ugandan pop star Bobi Wine's "Coronavirus Alert," sung with Nubian Li, is a reggae-inflected anthem about social distancing and hand washing in the age of pandemic. (Photo source: Handout)
Ugandan pop star Bobi Wine's "Coronavirus Alert," sung with Nubian Li, is a reggae-inflected anthem about social distancing and hand washing in the age of pandemic. (Photo source: Handout)

Across a continent where Internet access isn’t always easy to come by, messages about the COVID-19 pandemic are passed along through pop music.

Popular musicians in Africa are recording new songs with public-health messages, as well as videos for Youtube, for those who can access it.

Liberia’s singing president

And a surprising number of presidents from diverse African nations are also stepping up to the mic to sing the continent through dark times.

These include Liberia’s president George Weah, who recorded the pandemic-awareness song, “Let Us Stand Together and Fight Coronavirus,” for the airwaves.

Anthemic in tone and attitude, with choral harmonies and deft guitar backing up Weah’s auto-tuned vocals and sober spoken word, the song appeals to patriotism and awareness rather than the urge to groove.

Although Weah is more known for his prowess in politics and football, he has sung to support causes in the past — first during the Liberian civil war, and then during the 2014 Ebola epidemic.

And his current song is not an anomaly.

At least ten other coronavirus-awareness songs have been released by Liberian musicians since mid-March.

Political diversity — and public health

In Uganda, one of President Yoweri Museveni fiercest critics — Bobi Wine, also known as Uganda’s “Ghetto President” — has released a single, “Corona Virus Alert,” with fellow artist Nubian Li, using reggae-inflected pop to exhort the public to wash hands and socially distance.

“The bad news is that everyone is a potential victim,” they sing, “but the good news is that everyone is a potential solution.”

In Senegal, the politically active hip-hop group Y’en a Marre (“Fed Up”), has released a new single, “Fagaru Ci Coronavirus” (“Shield Against Coronavirus”), that depicts the rappers as medical workers equipped with biohazard gear conducting COVID-19 tests.

The video contrasts the seriousness of the pandemic against artful French-language rhymes and beguiling West African guitar work and melodies.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, superstar Fally Ipupa sings in French a sweet ballad, nimbly fretting his acoustic guitar throughout, about how to survive in isolation, and telling people to stop greeting each other with kisses.

‘Alone Together’

Speaking of presidents and their opponents, Bobi Wine has also orchestrated “Alone Together,” a three-and-a-half minute Afrobeat groover about self-quarantine.

The irrepressibly upbeat number features a racially diverse lineup of musicians, along with numerous present and former African leaders.

These include Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria — as well as F. W. de Klerk, the former South African president best known for working with Nelson Mandela to dismantle apartheid.

Additional writing by Josh Wilson

Sources: Radio France, Face2Face Africa, Mail & Guardian (South Africa), The Guardian, Front Page Africa, Jeune Afrique

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