I remember the first one. I was about six years old or so and innocently used to bop to it without paying too much attention to the lyrics. But as I got older and Christmas swung around again, I actually started to feel increasingly irritated when the song came on air.
If you’ve not heard the ‘Feed the World’ lyrics, let me recount some of them for you in all their shameful glory. I will also provide you with the asides I would add when the song would play…..
“Well there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time”
(well duh! There’s never any snow unless you are in the southern part of the continent)
“The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life”
(how condescending we are not all starving, diseased and poor)
“Where nothing ever grows”
(yep nothing ever grows but the rest of the world still manages to source a hell of a lot of fruit and veg from there)
“No rain no rivers flow”
(yep it NEVER rains. The Nile, Volta, Niger, Zambezi are just puddles of water …. There are around 93 in total, according to a Wikipedia check.)
“Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”
(Nope we Africans are just sitting in the dry scorching heat swatting flies with our kwashiorkor bellies).
Bob Geldof KBE
So you can imagine my absolute horror to hear that Geldof has launched another version to fight the spread of Ebola. I know that there are some groups such as Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) that are annoyed that a few Black musicians were involved in producing the single.
Ghana’s Fuse ODG said on his Twitter feed that he has declined Geldof’s invitation to be involved. But according to the BBC, participating stars included Benin’s Angelique Kidjo and Emeli Sande, whose father is Zambian.
If I were a musician, no matter my heritage, I would seriously question my involvement. For a start, despite the fact that the virus is considered to be widespread, (it is only in three of Africa’s 54 countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), Ebola is seen as an African problem.
I know of African people in London who have had to deal with train commuters changing seats because an accidental cough was misconstrued as an indication that they were harbouring the deadly virus.
And even my friend who teaches in Bristol has faced a barrage of questions from students asking if he hails from ‘Africa’ where Ebola comes from.
And yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USA is classed alongside Mali as a country ‘with an initial case or cases and or localised transmission’. And believe it or not but Spain shares a classification with Nigeria and Senegal as being a country previously affected by the virus.
The motive to raise money to help those in need is well intentioned. And according to media reports, 1984’s Band Aid raised £8million in aid for Ethiopia. But my lasting memory was not that this money was raised to help one country in Africa but that those pictures of emaciated children were symbolic of Africa and Africans.
And it doesn’t surprise me that many years later that ignorance is still rampant. I remember reading in the Telegraph article entitled ‘Ebola fears hurting African tourism’ on 20 October 2014 that travellers were putting safari trips to Kenya and South Africa on hold because of Ebola fears…
These kinds of damaging perceptions caused by lazy journalism and one-dimensional images of the African continent and its peoples perpetuate that viewpoint that Africa is one homogenous place – hell, let’s say it – that it is a country!
And it doesn’t surprise me as not too long ago someone told me that the capital of Africa was South Africa……
Africa Stop Ebola
So, as I try my best to navigate through Christmas without hearing either versions of the song, I invite you to check out other more positive routes to tackling and raising awareness of Ebola.
I say this because even Geldof has repeatedly said in the media that even if we, the public, hate the song, we should still part with our cash to help Ebola victims. But Geldof, this is a song we are talking about and the lyrics are a major part of it.
I see you’ve stripped most of the insulting words from the original song and made a half-baked attempt to create something new in the short space of time. But check out what your brothers and sisters have accomplished over the Atlantic Ocean.
The words may be in French and a mix of local West African languages, but the song is accessible, pregnant with meaning and far from patronising. ‘Africa Stop Ebola’ features singers including Mail’s Salif Keita, Côte D’Ivoire’s Tiken Jah Fakoly and Guinea’s Mory Kante and has the catchy chorus “Ebola Ebola invisible enemy”.
By Kirsty Osei-Bempong
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