Prior to writing this blog entry, I wanted to do my best to figure out what other research had been completed around crisis and building a sense of community either before, during or after the aforementioned crisis. Fortunately, I was able to find a recent article published by Rose Stone about the Ebola pandemic in Western Africa that took place primarily during 2014 thru 2016 (specifically in Liberia). In Western Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) documented 800 health-care workers that contracted Ebola – more than 500 of them perished. This extremely high death rate is what separates Ebola from the common flu, SARS, and other respiratory illnesses.
What I had found with the research that Stone completed as an ethnomusicologist allowed me to compare and contrast the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic as it has swept across the globe. Before March 17th or so, there were few cases in the United States, however, various cities and countries across the globe were on lockdown. “Lyrics of warning songs included key points of information developed by international public-health groups” (Stone, 2017) could not hold more true today. The government of Vietnam released an animated video on COVID-19 and various preventative steps to take in order to not contract the virus. As of writing, it has nearly 28 Million views on YouTube alone. Another parallel that I noticed recently was people singing various pieces of John Lenon’s Imagine to form a unified video. These viral videos bring people of all communities together to better “realize that Ebola [COVID] was not a government plot, and not a sign of witchcraft, but a real disease, which could easily wipe out entire areas of the country” (Stone, 2017) by having a celebrity or prominent member of the community discussing the virus.
A pastor at a church in Liberia was unable to hand the communion wafer to attendees but rather had to use a tweezer to ensure he would not potentially contaminate the wafer with his own hand. The pastor even stated, “sound could transcend the space between separated people and draw congregations close” (Stone, 2017). We’re seeing this today in Italy and other countries where people in quarantine/lockdown are playing instruments on patios with neighbors singing the words to popular songs. As Stone states, songs weren’t just for citizens to bond with one another, but even “normal and common way [for nurses/doctors] to prepare for fighting the Ebola battle daily.”
There is a certain sense of community knowing that everyone is going thru the same thing as each other (or should be practicing physical distancing). The religious songs that were repurposed in Western Africa, jingles created by celebrities, and other music-making played an integral part in allowing citizens to express community solidarity. As we move forward with COVID-19, it is important to think about what we can do to create jingles or have shared musical experiences to still have a sense of community – whether local or global with everyone.
Meni nga golong, e pilang wule mai, e kula lii soli su.
What I know about song, it came from sorrow.
A nee i wolo, i meni kelee ke,
Even if you cry, you do everything,
Fe no, i pele ke.
You must perform.
Nalong aa ke pele-kei.
The man is performing.
Nii suu aa laygi.
The inside of his heart has cooled.
Ilii a soli, ifa see tong ngono.
If your heart hurts, you can’t sit quietly again.
Kele, bifoo ba see tong, fe no i wule too.
But before you sit quietly, you must sing.
MIN OFFICIAL. (2020, February 23). Ghen Cô Vy| NIOEH x K.HƯNG x MIN x ERIK | WASHING HAND SONG | CORONA SONG. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtulL3oArQw
Ries, J. (2020, March 18). Here’s How COVID-19 Compares to Past Outbreaks. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-deadly-is-the-coronavirus-compared-to-past-outbreaks#20022004-severe-acute-respiratory-syndrome-(SARS)
Stone, R. (2017). “Ebola in Town”: Creating Musical Connections in Liberian Communities during the 2014 Crisis in West Africa. 63(3), 78–97.