DAKAR (Reuters) – Dressed in hooded medical suits and protective goggles, Senegal’s activist hip-hop group Y’en a Marre rap about washing hands, disposing of used tissues and avoiding crowds in their latest release: ‘Shield against Coronavirus.’
The new video here marks a sudden change for the collective, named ‘Enough is Enough’ in French slang, which has a history of challenging authority, fighting social injustice – and urging Senegal’s younth to hit the streets to protest the government.
But when African countries confirmed their first coronavirus cases this month, the group offered to help the government persuade people to take the disease seriously, in an effort to stop it ripping through Africa as it has through China, Europe and America, killing thousands.
“As soon as we saw that things were going from bad to worse, we went to see the health ministry,” said Y’en a Marre’s Malal Talla, whose rapper alias translates as Sick Mad Man.
“We wanted to contribute how we could,” Talla said at the group’s headquarters in the crowded working class Dakar suburb of Guediawaye, where they work to support disadvantaged youth.
Senegal declared a state of emergency on Monday and imposed a curfew in response to the pandemic. It has confirmed over 80 cases, making it the second-worst affected country in West Africa after Burkina Faso.
After hearing Y’en a Marre’s song, the health ministry allowed the group to film its video in one of the capital’s main hospitals, where they posed as laboratory technicians, rapping as they examined test tubes and peered down microscopes.
“Prevention is better than treatment. The world is in distress,” the chorus intones, its plucked accompaniment giving the track a distinctive West African lilt.
The video has attracted thousands of views and likes on social media since its release last Thursday.
West Africa has long raised public health awareness through song. In 2014, musical heavyweights such as Salif Keita banded together to release ‘Africa Stop Ebola’ in the face of the epidemic that killed over 11,300.
Sitting in a courtyard painted with murals of black icons such as Nelson Mandela and Angela Davis, Talla said music had a vital role to play.
“In Africa, music is not the art of combining sounds,” he said. “It’s not just for dancing and jumping, it’s also a way one can raise awareness with joy.”
Reporting by Estelle Ndjandjo and Christophe Van der Perre; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Edward McAllister and Alexandra Hudson