When graduate student Dipo Oyeleye heard the song "We Go Win (Corona)" by Cobhams Asuquo, a Nigerian singer-songwriter, he knew what his next research project would be: a study of the myriad coronavirus songs that flourished in Africa at the pandemic's onset on the continent.
"I was just basically fascinated. I love artists using the moment to create music that actually helps to disseminate the right information to the general public," Oyeleye told The World.
Originally from Nigeria himself, Oyeleye studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he is now researching COVID-19 songs from Nigeria to Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo to Ghana, among many other places across the continent. Oyelele has been able to compile and track the impact of at least 50 songs from various African artists.
Unlike the US, where very few artists have taken on COVID-19 as a subject in songs, African musicians quickly turned to their songwriting as a form of communication and to disseminate crucial public health information: social distancing, washing hands and staying home during lockdowns.
"This is a major [pandemic that] directly affects everybody, including the musicians. Some of them had to cancel their shows. I think the personal became political," Oyeleye explained.
Having battled epidemics such as the Ebola virus, most Africans are used to governments that call on musicians to produce "edutainment," or songs with a message to sensitize the public.
But Oleyele says that what makes the coronavirus songs different is that it was not "necessarily initiated by the governments. It's just, you know, individuals lending their voices to help prevent the spread of the virus."
Some artists took a direct public health approach, while others used humor or religion to ease fears and connect with various communities. And some songs were specifically meant for people who could only communicate in local languages.
There's really something for everyone.
As COVID-19 continues to pose a threat, take a listen to these powerful African songs with a strong "corona" message.
In this inspiring ballad, Asuquo implores listeners to "always do the right thing" by following public health measures and ignoring "fake news" that circulates on social media about the virus.
"Wash your hands / love each other / we go win o," he croons at the piano.
In this reggae-inspired song, Wine opens with the bad news that "everyone is a potential victim" of the virus, but also a potential solution. Wine manages to weave every COVID-19 symptom into his upbeat song, and calls it "patriotic" to social distance and isolate if sick with possible virus symptoms.
Relatively new on the music scene, Cryme Officer drops this fresh beat emphasizing all the usual coronavirus prevention protocols while also calling on God to protect Ghana, because there is no current cure. In the video, the young musician with swagger holds up signs that say "Do the do's" and "Do not stigmatize."
The legendary singer Koffi Olomide takes a totally different approach, singing that the anger of God is what caused the coronavirus.