News / Africa

Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

Liberian soldiers check people traveling in Bomi County, Aug. 11, 2014.
Liberian soldiers check people traveling in Bomi County, Aug. 11, 2014.

In Liberia’s capital, Ebola has captured the airwaves, and it's not just news about the often-fatal disease. The hit song Ebola in Town has a danceable beat, while also conveying a serious message about avoiding infection.

The idea for the song was conceived back in May, by three Liberian musicians who thought people weren't taking the Ebola outbreak seriously enough. People thought it was a government trick to get aid money. 

The musicians wanted to get people’s attention. 

It worked. Just a few days after they recorded it, Ebola in Town was a hit all over Monrovia.

Musical message

Musician Samuel “Shadow” Morgan says he and his fellow artists didn't want to produce the typical awareness song: slow, mellow and serious. They wanted something people could dance to.

Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message
Hit Song Delivers Ebola Messagei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

“Since everybody wants to dance these days, they will first dance to the beat," Morgan said. "And the next thing is, they will learn the chorus. From the chorus, you start going into the verses and what the song is actually about.”

The last verse, for example, is about how you can get the disease from eating monkeys and other bushmeat: 

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-o/
Don't eat the meat/
Ebola in town.

The song is simple, direct and authentic, and, says Jennifer Chu, who works on social marketing for public health campaigns at Ogilvy Public Relations in Washington, it's rare to find one that is both informative and popular.

“It is very catchy. I cannot get it out of my head now,” said Chu. “Somehow, magically it is a really catchy song with a good public health message.”

Powerful tool

Music like Ebola in Town can be a powerful tool for delivering a health message.

“Because you are out there with something that is already catching people’s attention because it is entertainment, half your battle is done,” said Susan Krenn, who directs the Center for Communication Programs at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.  

Krenn says the emotional response to a catchy tune helps make delivering the facts easier. 

She and the center have been doing this kind of work for more than 20 years. 

Back in the late 1980s, they teamed up with Nigerian singers Onyeka Onwenu and King Sunny Ade for a song about family planning called Wait for Me.

“Onyeka actually wrote the lyrics," Krenn said. "We briefed them on what we were looking for in terms of content, what we were trying to achieve with the program.  And they did the music videos and we put them out there, and they were big hits.”

The song was not only popular, it also helped make family planning a topic of conversation with the Nigerian public. 

Broader package

But, Krenn adds, it was not just the song that did it.

“One song alone is not necessarily going to make the difference," she said. "I would say that the best way to use a song is as part of a broader package.”

The package in Nigeria included radio and TV programs, newspaper and magazine articles and more. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded it. 

Krenn’s research showed the more of the campaign people saw, the more likely they were to use some kind of family planning. People who saw the most of the campaign were nearly twice as likely to use contraception as people who saw the least, for example. 

In Liberia, Ebola in Town is not the only song about the disease you will hear. The Liberian ministry of health put out a song that included these lyrics:

Always wash your hands with soap and water/
Always cook your food very well/
Go to the health facility any time you have headache/
Fever, pain, diarrhea, rash, red eyes and vomiting.

There’s a lot more information in it, Chu says, but it might not resonate with people the way Ebola in Town has. 

“One comes off as just, ‘I am practically taking a fact sheet and setting it to music,’" she said. "Whereas the other is, these are the messages people themselves are saying to each other and it comes off as more real.”

Not that fact sheets are bad. 

“I think it is what people remember," Chu said. "So how you get the information out there can be a catchy song. It can be a TV PSA (public service announcement). It can be a fact sheet. But different delivery methods work for different people. It has to be what people will accept, believe and be willing to act on.”

Some health communications experts have said Ebola in Town’s message is a bit too restrictive.  The musicians say they are happy to revise it, but after meeting with the Liberian health ministry, they say, no one has called them back.

  • A man working for a humanitarian group throws small bags of water to the residents behind the fence as they wait for a second consignment of food from the Liberian Government, at the West Point area, Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 22, 2014.
  • West Point residents stand behind a green string marking a holding area, as they wait for a second consignment of food from the Liberian Government, at the West Point area, Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 22, 2014.
  • Liberian policemen (right) speak with residents of the West Point area to calm them down as they wait for a second consignment of food from the Liberian Government, at the West Point area, Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 22, 2014.
  • Kevin Brantly, the American doctor who, along with a second American aid worker, contracted Ebola treating victims of the deadly virus in Liberia, has recovered and was discharged from Emory University Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 21, 2014.
  • Kevin Brantly, who contracted the deadly virus Ebola, looks at his wife Amber during a press conference at Emory University Hospital, in Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 21, 2014.
  • Kevin Brantly (left), who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, looks down as his wife Amber (center) hugs a member of Emory's medical staff during a press conference at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 21, 2014.
  • Kevin Brantly, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, hugs a member of Emory's medical staff during a press conference at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 21, 2014.
  • Kevin Brantly (left), who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, thanks Bruce Ribner, medical director of Emory's Infectious Disease Unit during a press conference at Emory University Hospital, in Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 21, 2014.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Roland Dunbar from: Liberia
August 22, 2014 6:50 PM
Well written article that make a good point about different strokes for different folks...

In Response

by: Courtney from: USA
August 24, 2014 5:43 PM
I really hope those people be more educated and aware of eating monkey's, baboons, bats. Those are animals not for human consumption.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid