Global Hit: Feliciano dos Santos

The World

You probably think songs about washing your hands are the sole domain of Sesame Street. But Mozambican musician Feliciano dos Santos does not. His songs about hygiene and sanitation reflect a pressing concern with water-borned diseases in his native Mozambique. His songs — and Mr. Dos Santos’ work in the field — last month garnered him the 2008 Goldman Prize for the promotion of human health. The World’s Marco Werman reports.

As a musician, Feliciano dos Santos has written songs about love and other often raked-over subjects. But after considering the messages that dos Santos felt his audiences needed to hear, he and his bandmates in the group Massukos decided to write songs about…good sanitation.

�We realized we could use music because we want to see people changing their behavior, people realizing what’s going on. So yeah, there was nothing about love, nothing about the other things, but we sing about our problems, things releated to our problems, our day to day problems.�

That’s a song called Niassa, named after Feliciano dos Santos’ home province in northern Mozambique.

In it, Massukos sings about why there’s no shame to come from a poor place. It may seem presumptuous that dos Santos believes his audience needs songs about clean water and proper hygiene. But dos Santos is from Niassa and knows its problems.

And this is also personal for dos Santos. As a child, he contracted polio, which is often transmitted through water. And today, at age 43, Feliciano dos Santos recalls all too well how polio affected him back then.

�I have to tell you that it was not easy because when I was a child I couldn’t run, I couldn’t play football, when you are young even girls avoid to have relations with you because you know you are disabled, things like that. But I transformed those things into a positive way and I fight to be a normal person.�

Feliciano dos Santos isn’t kidding when he says he fights. He is a seemingly inexhaustible campaigner for clean sanitation. By night, he and Massukos rehearse and gig. By day, he runs an NGO called Estamos in rural Mozambique.

Estamos and Feliciano dos Santos have convinced rural populations there to adopt an ecologically-sound composting-toilet.

And he has also just published a user-friendly guide to sanitation that will be distributed throughout Mozambique.

All reasons why last month Feliciano dos Santos was awarded the 2008 Goldman Prize for human health and the environment, often considered the green Nobel Prize.

As a tireless development worker and a musician with chops, Feliciano dos Santos is double-trouble.

Because of songs by Massukos, people from dos Santos’ home province of Niassa think differently today about sanitation.

But just as important — maybe even MORE important — is the self-respect Feliciano dos Santos has unwittingly passed on to the people of Niassa.

�Because Mozambique was considered the poorest country in the world, and then Niassa was the poorest province in Mozambique. And the people from Niassa living in Maputo and other cities, they hide to say that ‘I’m from Niassa,’ because they felt so ashamed to say that. But after we released our first album in 2001, they go out and say loud ‘I’m from Niassi,’ with pride because of the music we produce.�

It doesn’t hurt either that the debut album by Massukos sold 40,000 copies in Mozambique. And their new CD, Bumping, is now creating quite a buzz.

For The World, I’m Marco Werman.

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