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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs