Rappers tune up the fight against Ebola

AFP, Thursday 2 Oct 2014

Artists from a number of west African countries are producing songs and cartoons to warn citizens about the worst ever outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever, which has killed more than 3,000 people since the start of the year.

Police guard a roadblock as Sierra Leone government enforces a three day lock down on movement of all people in an attempt to fight the Ebola virus in Freetown, Sierra Leone, September 19, 2014 (Photo: AP)

A rapper in white doctor's scrubs reels off life-saving advice on Ebola to the sound of a hip-hop anthem, one of the many African artists putting their talents to work to fight the killer virus.

Upbeat songs and caustic cartoons have cropped up across Ebola-hit west Africa and beyond to spread a public health message that the authorities often struggle to convey.

Ebola knows no borders, Senegal's Xuman warns in "Ebola Est La" (Ebola Is Here), a parody of the hit "Umbrella" by Rihanna and Jay-Z released after Senegal's first case of the disease in August.

"The disease is among our neighbours, Liberians and Guineans," warns the rapper clad in medical garb and white gloves, in a video seen more than 20,000 times on YouTube.

"We thought it was far away, that there was no need to worry, but... even if the border is closed, it still came."

The worst ever outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever, for which there is no known cure, has killed more than 3,000 people, most of them in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, since the start of the year.

Slick music videos -- many featuring graphic imagery, computer animation and teams of actors -- depict Ebola's terrible symptoms, starting with fever, vomiting, cough and diarrhoea and progressing in some fatal cases to unstoppable internal and external bleeding.

And they hand out precious, detailed advice on avoiding the disease, warning how it can spread by contact with bodily fluids and by touching the sick or dead.

"No need to fear, just be aware. Prevention is better, wiser and cheaper. Always wash your hands with soap and with water," chants John Allu in his "Stop Ebola Virus Campaign Song" from Nigeria, where the disease has killed eight people.

Liberia's Samuel "Shadow" Morgan highlights the threat from bush meat -- wild animals whose flesh is considered a delicacy but which health experts say are a likely vector of the disease.

"If you like the monkey, don't eat the meat, if you like the baboon, I said don't eat the meat, if you like the bat, don't eat the meat," he chants to an afro-beat tune in "Ebola in Town".

The dance track, a joint effort with musicians D-12 and Kuzzy of 2Kings that has racked up more than 200,000 YouTube hits, claims Ebola is proving "worse than AIDS".

While Ivory Coast has so far been spared, journalist Israel Yoroba's reggae track "Stop Ebola" has become a local hit, played on the radio and picked up as a holding music by a telephone operator.

Yoruba stresses the importance of getting tested at the slightest Ebola-like symptom, and reporting any suspected cases.

The twice-monthly magazine Codivoirien recently ran a cover cartoon depicting a terrified patient with his trousers down while a doctor -- seeking to avoid contact -- prepares to give him in an injection using a slingshot.

In similar vein, Damien Glez, a French-Burkinabe satirist, drew a cartoon of an unfortunate African placed in Ebola quarantine -- under a giant condom.

It is hard to gauge the impact of singers and cartoonists who mainly use French and English, languages less prevalent in rural Africa.

But in a notable exception, a Senegalese group called Y'en a Marre (Fed Up) sings "Stop Ebola" in Wolof, Senegal's most widely spoken language.

A key part of containing the disease is convincing people it is "real", as Liberian former football star and one-time presidential candidate George Weah sings in "We Must All Arise to Fight Ebola".

Conspiracy theories have suggested Ebola was introduced by whites to decimate Africa's black population, or deliberately spread by local and foreign health workers. In mid-September, eight health workers and journalists were murdered in Guinea as a result.

Even in the DR Congo, where Ebola was discovered in 1976 and where the virus has returned for a seventh time, though in a different strain from the one ravaging west Africa, fears persist over quarantine procedures.

Ebola is depicted as public enemy number one in a drawing by Congolese cartoonist Kash, with an armed man in a gas mask standing in a street in northwestern DR Congo where the epidemic has killed 42 since August, saying: "Shoot on sight!"

Kash said journalists returning from a festival in Guinea in February, just before the epidemic took hold, played down the Ebola threat.

"I said to myself that if journalists didn't believe (the threat was real), imagine what it's like in remote villages," he said.

So when Ebola broke out in his home country, Kash took pen to paper.

"If that can raise people's awareness and make public authorities do something, it's a good thing."

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