Ebola in Perspective: The role of popular music in crisis situations in West Africa

Takun J performing "They Lie to Us" at Rasta Beach in Monrovia

Cultural Anthropology published a series of articles last week called “Ebola in Perspective,” curated by two experts on crisis in the Mano River region, Danny Hoffman and Mary Moran. The Hot Spots series is an attempt by the journal to provide deeper insight into international crises making headlines today. I contributed my own entry looking at the role of popular music in crisis situations in West Africa, and the specific types of songs that have come out of the Ebola crisis:

If there was ever a barometer for the mood of the people towards a specific event, outbreak, or crisis in West Africa it would have to be popular music. The Mano River War in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Guinea was exemplary of this. During the war, music took on a central role as a form of expression, escape, information sharing, and political contestation for average people on the ground. The post-war period in Sierra Leone and Liberia especially saw short but intense music industry booms directly related to the nation-building process. A host of factors influences such creative booms in West Africa. Not only do social factors lend themselves to the need for the young and marginalized populations to express themselves but also the proliferation of recordings has been assisted by the advent of digital recording technology and digital distribution forms via the Internet and mobile phone technology. In the age of the mp3, broadband, Youtube, and Soundcloud, any outside observer can see the mood and opinions of local communities reflected in real time. In the case of Ebola, such real time transfer of information in the form of popular media is able to give outsiders a more in-depth perspective on the general population’s sensitization to and feelings about the disease, as well as giving locals an important platform to be heard from.

Although things are moving so fast that some of my song samples may already be a bit “out-dated,” finish reading “Beats, Rhymes, and Ebola” on the Hot Spots website, and check out some of the songs referenced and more below:

Shadow’s famous “Ebola Coming” out of Liberia:

Senegal’s rap superstars with a sensitizing message:

Sierra Leone’s Black Nature with a prayer home:

Diaspora based Liberians Mr. Monrovia, AG DA Profit, and DDDYCool with a political take:

Sierra Leone’s Kao Denero with both a prayer and a political message:

Cote D’Ivoire keeps with it’s strong tradition of socially conscious reggae:

Just out this week, Takun J gets political on Rasta Beach in Monrovia:

Xuman does a Rihanna parody:

And finally, for fans of @Futbolsacountry, Liberian football superstar George Weah does his part on a pan-African sounding tune:

Further Reading

A worthy ancestor

The world is out of joint and Immanuel Wallerstein, one of its great public intellectuals, has left us—albeit with tools to battle the dying kicks of capitalism.