To contextualize these ideas, I will discuss my work on Africa Stop Ebola (ASE), an entertainment-education intervention that engaged a collective of West African music artists to create a song to promote community engagement in response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Led by the Ivorian reggae artist Tiken Jah Fakoly and featuring the artists Amadou and Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Sia Tolno, Barbara Kanam, Mory Kanté, Mokobé, Markus, Didier Awadi, and Kandia Kora, I contributed as a co-writer and co-producer of the song. The song was created as a collaborative composition in which I played the role of facilitator and researcher. As a facilitator, I investigated the key factors in social resistance to Ebola in Guinea, created a list of “topics” to address in the song, and worked in the studio with the music artists to record and edit the verses of each of the 12 performers.
Based on reports about Ebola that indicated public mistrust in health workers and a general loss of public hope in finding a solution to Ebola, we identified these key messages as the main subjects to be addressed in the song. Therefore, the song’s goal was to communicate two main topics: first, to persuade individuals to trust the health workers responding to the crisis, and second, to encourage hope that the crisis could be overcome. The song also included behavioral commands like “don’t touch the sick, don’t touch the dead” and “avoid shaking hands and be safe” to promote preventive behaviors. Through the verses, the song intended to serve as a nudge to remind listeners about the importance of listening to health actors involved in the response to the epidemic. We encouraged each artist to write an eight-bar verse in their own preferred language that addressed or emphasized these two key concepts. The resulting song included verses performed in French, Malinké, Soussou, Banbara, and Lingala, and the choruses “Ebola, invisible enemy” and “Ebola, trust the doctors.” The song was released as a music video (Fakoly et al., 2014) and was reported in the international media as a positive strategy to promote Ebola prevention in West Africa (Jones, 2014; Kozin, 2014).
Africa Stop Ebola Song Lyrics
Africa is sad, to see our families die. Do not touch our sick; do not touch the dying; Everyone is in danger, Young and old, we must act for our families
Chorus: Ebola, Invisible Ebola Invisible
Ebola you are our enemy, If you feel sick the doctors will help you, I can assure you, the doctors will help you, and there is hope to stop Ebola, trust the doctors
Chorus: Ebola, Ebola, Trust doctors
Ebola it’s not good, go see the doctor, Ebola it’s not good, go see the doctor, Ebola hurt you must see the doctor, Ebola it’s not good, go see the doctor
Take Ebola seriously. It is a very serious disease. When she reaches you, death follows. As soon as you have the symptoms, send for the doctors. They can help you. Wash your hands regularly and avoid shaking hands with others.
I beg you dear parents, let’s follow the advice of the medical authorities, Ebola came to hurt us, Let’s respect their advice.
Ebola you kill our people, you add pain to the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), but we will defeat you, let’s remain standing.
Get up, get up, Ebola is a problem for us, we cannot greet someone, we cannot kiss someone, It does not mean that person shames you, it’s just a reality
Ebola has become a problem for us today, I ask all doctors in Africa to get up, Ebola really became a problem for us
Once again we talk about tragedy, like a false note that comes in the melody, Ebola we thought you were since abolished, you walk in the debauchery sowing disease, we will not run away from you we will not bury ourselves, because we know we have ways to get away, we’re going to get hooked we’re not plague, we’re going to get together, we will fire you!
Among them there are many who have been able to access hospitals, those who are cured are no longer contagious, there are some who stay at home until the evil grows, Oh my God! Mama Africa get up and stay united as we are used to doing for our other battles, Ebola you will also be defeated
Another drama that hits the continent, Africa needs vaccine and medicine, is hope for them allowed? Is it necessary to close our eyes and leave them in oblivion? (no!) So we unite for a good cause, we mobilize, we break the closed doors, Ebola I swear to chase you until you leave, Africa needs the vaccine to heal.
The promotion of the song in the international media led to a strategic association with the medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières
(MSF France); they used the song and the image of the ASE artist collective in their awareness campaign and fundraising efforts to combat Ebola in West Africa. As a result, the campaign was nominated to Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development, an innovation award that provided resources to implement an intervention in the form of a song contest in Conakry, Guinea
I worked with collaborators to create a participatory communication intervention in the form of a song contest to engage local artists in Conakry, Guinea, to create songs to promote Ebola prevention. To promote the song contest and recruit local artists, we implemented a social marketing campaign with TV and radio ads, posters, leaflets, and social media posts. Over 250 local artists auditioned, out of which 14 were selected to participate in workshops with health promotion workers and music coaches to enable them to write original songs about Ebola. Through this process, local artists were able to talk with health workers such that both parties articulated their ideas and expressed their opinions. Yet the final lyrical content of the songs was created by the artists and included diverse points of view and diverse music genres (e.g. gospel, reggae, traditional music, and Afro-pop). To conclude the intervention and select a group of winners of the song contest, we organized a final public event that was recorded for TV broadcast and online streaming, in which artists performed their songs and spoke about their personal experiences with Ebola (Africa Stop Ebola, 2015). The public event was hosted by the artists Tiken Jah Fakoly and Mory Kanté, both considered international music celebrities with a strong cultural connection to Guinea.
The affiliation of the song contest with the local office of MSF may have helped improve the image of health workers with the local communities through a process of negotiating reciprocity and trust with local music artists who represented civil society, helping break the barrier between health institutions and civilians. The workshops and collaborations with other artists and health workers to write the lyrics of the songs created a genuine process of engagement that helped local artists better understand the social and behavioral challenges of Ebola prevention. In this regard, the process of the song contest was more important than the resulting songs since it created a space for dialogue, self-expression, and knowledge generation. The resulting songs provided a narrative about Ebola prevention from the point of view of the communities affected. Many of the resulting songs reinforced trust in the health sector and avoidance of contact with others, which were to a great extent, narratives promoted by health actors as well. However, the manner in which the songs appealed to the public started from local culture to make sense of the crisis and encourage the public to prevent the disease.
In this intervention I applied an action research methodology in which I became a facilitator of a process of dialogue between local music artists and some of the health workers responding to the crisis. I documented events in audiovisual format, conducted a knowledge, attitudes, and practices survey of the general public, and carried out interviews with health workers to understand the impact of the intervention in Ebola prevention (Chirinos-Espin, 2019). Through this process, I learned that social resistance to social interventions to control Ebola was the result of previous negative experiences with ruling political parties and medical interventions in West Africa. In the context of a medical emergency caused by an unknown infectious disease like Ebola, my findings suggested that music artists may be in a better position to communicate with civil society than institutional actors because they are trusted by the public and are able to communicate complex biomedical information in appealing stories. The source credibility model provides a theoretical basis to explain this, as it suggests that the trustworthiness of the information source does not affect the acquisition or retention of information, but it significantly influences opinion change (Hovland & Weiss, 1951). For example, evidence of the effectiveness of spokespersons in public service announcements suggests that people pay less attention to messages when delivered by international celebrities because they lack a direct connection to the crisis or are doing it for their own image, but people pay more attention and are motivated to change their opinion when a local person delivers the message because of a sense of belonging to the same place and identifying with them (Toncar, Reid, & Anderson, 2007).
The involvement of local artists in the songs and the public broadcast of the contest on radio, TV, and online enhanced the perception of local ownership of the message and enabled emotional engagement. In the vacuum of professional journalism and constraints imposed on the media by governments or private commercial interests in Africa, music is a tool for emancipation of youth that reflects the everyday experiences of people in the peripheries; lyrics often represent the everyday concerns of ordinary people (Mano, 2007).
The original ASE song was produced in the style of reggae, a music genre that is part of a legacy of social activism as a pan-African music genre associated with critique of racism and imperialism. Reggae represents an avenue for self-expression and dissent that challenges the status quo and enables the voice of youth in Africa, disenfranchised by poor job opportunities and political oppression, to contest dominant narratives and call out abuse of power by local and global elites (Reed, 2012). Thus, even though the lyrics of the song addressed trust and hope, reggae suggested a connection of the crisis with the imbalances of global political power. In this sense, collective song creation allows communities to interpret a social phenomenon, create and share collaborative knowledge, and appeal to youth and collectivist societies that value music as an endogenous form of cultural expression.