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

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    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.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.