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As COVID-19 spreads across Africa, musicians have been plagued by canceled concerts, festivals and tours, and interrupted studio hours.
However, they have also risen to the challenge of composing catchy songs to sensitize and inspire hope, while others have seized the moment to grab their followers' attention and send other messages. As always, the musicians are on the move. And their work is global. Music is universal.
From West Africa to Oritental, a new genre of crown songs fuse the global with the local as musicians adapt creative messages with unique musical styles.
Those songs and videos reflect social life and themes that directly engage listeners. They express concerns and passions – but they can also present contradictions. Many seem to have occurred at breakneck speed, circulating on Instagram and YouTube, as musicians rush to take advantage of the crown moment.
And a long history of songs that inform and entertain at the same time – often supported by the world of international development – may also have prepared musicians for this moment.
Here is a small list of new “crown” songs recently released from East Africa.
Mzee wa Bwax, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Mzee wa Bwax offers us a Singeli-style crown song – a genre that grew out of the wild rhythms of groups like Jagwa. This is the music of Eswahilini – areas of Dar es Salaam where people live very close. The video clearly visualizes problems such as lack of sanitation and social distancing in the markets and within dala-dala (public buses).
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YE2Vo_55TJU (/ embed)
Maua Sama x Marioo, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Bonga Flava (Tanzanian hip hop) stars Maua Sama and Marioo have produced this crown song with the soft, soothing rhythms of bongo to promote a message of preventive action against the dangers of the coronavirus. Bongo Flava meets public health:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ6kPJI8Upg (/ embed)
Khaligraph Jones, Kenya
The freestyle of rapper Khaligraph Jones' crown song hints that Kenyans are not taking coronavirus and self-quarantine seriously. But this is not the typical song that informs and entertains – -but uses the crown to despise other rappers and to lash out at the socialist Huddan Monroe:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ibQjtA-eSY (/ embed)
Zenji Boy & The Band, Stone Town, Zanzibar
Zenji Boy comes out with a song and video in the Zenji Flava style (musical genre that comes from hip hop, was born in Zanzibar and its name can be interpreted as the “flavor of Zanzibar” since the word “Zenji” is the colloquial name of this country and “Flava” the flavor, or flavor, which asks God to help doctors and nurses in their attempt to treat the incurable virus. Produced by Stone Town Records, the song is accompanied by preventive measures, warns listeners to refrain from shaking hands and hugging. The title of the song, and the refrain, Inauwa crown, in Swahili means “crown kills”, warns listeners to take prevention measures seriously:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XASxhJlb6x0 (/ embed)
Jimmy Gait, Kenya
This crown song and video of the gospel singer tells the story of a friend married to a European. He suffers from cough and shortness of breath, and eventually dies. The doctor concludes that the cause is coronavirus. Gait's message is “God is in control” and that “Itkuwa sawa” in Swahili, which means “everything will be fine”. Although the song and video include prevention tips, its strong message of faith along with dramatic images can add to the confusion:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyJg0L3VLXw (/ embed)
DannyP's song was one of the first coronavirus-inspired songs to be released in East Africa on March 5. It has a lively kamba beat and the video features a dance featuring characters wearing masks, more of a crown fashion statement than advisable preventive action. The song suggests solutions like President Uhuru Kenyatta restricting the Chinese from entering Kenya – and calling on God.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsQ7ZDii8v4 (/ embed)
Bobi Wine ft. Nubian Li, Uganda
“The bad news is that we are all a potential victim!” Shouts Bobi Wine, a well-known musician and politician from Uganda. His latest hit, “Corona Virus Alert”, promises that “the good news is that we are all a potential solution!”.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3BQ7KXZGNg (/ embed)
A sector in crisis
Even as musicians rush to produce informed and inspiring hits, the music industry in East Africa has faltered due to the suspension of travel and world trade.
The main African music festivals announced cancellations, such as the Cape Town Jazz Festival in South Africa, the Bushfire MTN Festival in eSwatini, the Atlantic Music Expo in Cape Verde and Blankets and Wine in Kenya, according to Jess White of the Akum agency.
Many musicians have lamented the loss of essential income from concerts, tours and festivals. Store owners and agents are also concerned about the future of music projects, series, and shows.
Kenyan musician Makadem is currently stranded in Denmark, where he gave a concert on March 28, supported by an artistic aid program that offers free live productions to musicians affected by crown-related cancellations.
On March 25, the Government of South Africa announced a “liquidity injection” for creatives and artists, in an attempt to cushion the blow, for a total of $ 860,000 destined for those affected by the restrictions related to COVID-19 within from South Africa.
Priority will be given to artists who have been hired to perform in state-funded activities, and to other “legends” in the industry, according to Music in Africa.
But White asked on Facebook on March 25:
Is that it? Money for legends, people who were booked for government events and emerging artists fight for the scraps at provincial levels… what about other layers of the industry?
What is this? Money for legends, people they hired for government activities, and emerging artists fighting for leftovers at the provincial levels. What about other levels of the industry?
indeed, musicians from other African countries have not been offered any support or sponsorship for lost earnings due to restrictions by COVID-19.
Issac Peter Abeneko, a performing artist from Tanzania, has released two new songs and urged his followers to follow him on YouTube after he missed a major European tour due to the coronavirus. Abeneko, who directs the famous music series Marafiki Live in Dar es Salaam, also appealed to his followers to seek funds so that his series can move forward, along with a public health message:
We are looking forward to resuming the Marafiki Night Live after the current situation got improved, we shall all work together highly to reduce the rapid spread of the Covid-19 outbreak.
1. Stay home & work from home to avoid crowded areas.
2. Social distancing
3. Clean your hands often with soap / hands sanitizer.
4. Stay safe and health.
We hope to resume Marafiki Night Live after the current situation has improved, we will all work together to a great extent to reduce the rapid spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
1) Stay home and work from there to avoid crowded areas
2) Social distancing
3) Wash your hands often with soap / hand sanitizer
4) stay safe and healthy.
Rest in power
As musicians in East Africa and across the continent try to spin this new paradigm, the industry is already mourning the loss of legends.
The coronavirus has claimed the life of music giant Manu Dibango, revered jazz saxophone player from Cameroon:
Today we lost a legend. RIP Manu Dibango 🎷 pic.twitter.com/1SiZaxpAOI
– BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) March 24, 2020
Today we have lost a legend. DEP Mani Dibango 🎷
And Aurlus Mabele, known as the king of Congolese soukous (or African rumba) music:
Aurlus Mabele: Congolese music legend dies ‘from coronavirus’ https://t.co/n04fEUwXvg
– BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) March 20, 2020
Aurlus Mabélé: Congolese musical legend dies “of coronavirus”.
Aurlus, king of the soukous, died the same day he was taken to the hospital.
Aurlus Mabele: Congolese musical legend dies “of coronavirus”
In Denmark, the first reported coronavirus-related death was that of Kwabena Maanu – a native of Ghana and later a Danish citizen. Many, like the journalist Søren Villemoes, paid tribute to Maanu's contribution to the spread of African music in Denmark:
Jeg er i TV2 Nyhederne kl 19 for at fortælle om en af vores første corona-offer, altid glade Kwabena Maanu, som var min fars nære ven, og som jeg har kendt fra jeg var lille. Han bragte afrikansk musik til Danmark i 1980erne. In sand legende.
Rest In Power. pic.twitter.com/H2b2f0BmjF
– Søren K. Villemoes (@SrenKVillemoes) March 16, 2020
In the news on TV2 at 7:00 p.m. I will talk about our first victim of the crown, the always happy Kwabena Maanu, who was an intimate friend of my father, and whom I have known since I was little. He brought African music to Denmark in the 1980s. A true legend.
Rest in power.
However, Tanzanian musician Diamond's representative, Sallam Sharaff, fell ill with the virus on March 19 after visiting Switzerland, Denmark and France and is recovering. Tanzanian rapper MwanaFM also tested positive for the virus on March 20 and is reportedly recovering at home.