Access to reliable information is not always guaranteed in the Corona pandemic, especially for people on the move such as refugees. Corona Songs, i.e. sensitization songs, can play an important role here. Based on a recently published forum article in the Z’Flucht, I will discuss the potential of Senegalese Corona Songs as a source of information and sensitization for Wolof-speaking refugees and migrants.
“Fagaru gënn faju”
(Eng.: “Prevention is better than medical treatment”)
Y’en a Marre in the song “Fagaru Ci Coronavirus” (2020)
In the course of the Corona pandemic, states have taken various measures to contain the virus. Yet not only political but also civil society actors participate in the fight against COVID-19. In many African countries, musicians have composed Corona Songs – as they did during the Ebola epidemic – to raise awareness and spread information. In Senegal, Corona Songs have been created since March 2020. In this blog article, I analyze the potential of Corona Songs to provide important access to information for Wolof-speaking refugees and migrants. For this purpose, I took a closer look at 20 Senegalese songs.
Lack of information for refugees and migrants in the Corona pandemic
Refugees and migrants in countries of transit and residence face particular challenges in the Corona pandemic. They often have limited or no access to health care, water and soap or the possibility of social distancing due to a difficult housing situation. However, they are particularly vulnerable not only because of their precarious living conditions, but also because of their limited access to reliable information. Understandable information about the coronavirus and about protective and behavioral measures is vital during the pandemic. Although non-governmental organizations try to counteract the lack of information – for example, through information leaflets in various languages – they often only reach literate refugees and migrants.
Corona Songs as alternative sources of information
Corona Songs can serve as alternative sources of information. Even people who are not literate can understand information if it is sung. The songs are mainly distributed via social media and are easily accessible with the smartphone. For refugees and migrants, the smartphone is often an important medium for obtaining information. During the pandemic, the smartphone takes on a particularly important function, as native-language information on the coronavirus can be consumed on the Internet.
The 20 Senegalese Corona Songs studied were published between March 18 and May 10, 2020, and are also widely distributed via social media. All songs are mainly in Wolof, the lingua franca of Senegal, and can therefore be understood by almost all Senegalese. Also in the neighboring countries there are Wolof-speakers, however in a much smaller extent. The spread of important information, the sensitization and also mobilization of the population via music has a long tradition in Senegal. For example, songs are used in the context of elections to sensitize the population and musicians are established as a trustworthy source of information. The songs offer Wolof-speaking refugees and migrants the opportunity to inform themselves about developments in their country of origin. But the Corona Songs spread information that is also important beyond the country of origin.
Sensitization potential of the songs for refugees and migrants
Through the analysis of 20 Senegalese Corona Songs, three different functions can be identified: first, they inform about the coronavirus; second, they explain protective measures and rules of conduct; and third, they deconstruct fake news. The information about the virus in the songs is in accordance with the findings of experts. Both, the contagion and the symptoms are described in simple words and visualized in the video clips. This makes the information easy to understand even for non-literate refugees and migrants.
The worldwide spread of COVID-19 and the existence of the virus in Senegal are especially emphasized. The danger of the virus and its worldwide consequences are shown in the music videos through sequences from news broadcasts showing people all over the world in hospitals, in epidemic protection clothing and coffins. Local events are thus embedded in the global context and the relevance of the information outside Senegal is made clear. Wolof-speaking migrants and refugees are thus given the opportunity to relate the messages of the Corona Songs to themselves and their living situation in transit and residence countries.
The different protective measures like washing hands, wearing masks or coughing into the crook of your arm are mentioned and shown in the music videos. The rules of social distancing and keeping distance to others, and the call to avoid gatherings and to stay at home are emphasized in the songs. Another point that is very important in many songs is the call for local and global solidarity. Their message is that the coronavirus can only be overcome through global efforts and cohesion. Refugees and migrants are addressed through that and can feel part of the global collective effort to fight the virus. Prayer is mentioned by some singers as an important strategy for coping with the effects of the pandemic on a personal level. This may also be particularly relevant for refugees, because prayer and faith can be important strategies for people on the run when coping with difficult life circumstances.
The deconstruction of fake news in the songs is very relevant. Dip Doundou Guiss for example clarifies in his song that black people can also get the coronavirus. He thereby invalidates rumors that arose at the beginning of the pandemic which claimed the opposite. In the song “Corona Virus” by Bitikou Laye feat. Esprit, arguments against protective measures such as the use of disinfectants or wearing masks are refuted in simple words and in the form of a conversation of the two singers.
At the same time, the instrumentalization of prayer and faith is criticized in the song. Prayer is thus not only mentioned in the Corona Songs as a coping strategy, but is also viewed critically when it leads to non-compliance with the rules of conduct. Kine Laam et al. deal with US-American fake news, namely the precautionary intake of chloroquine, which the singers strictly advise against. Wolof-speaking migrants and refugees in the USA can receive important information for their protection through the song. The distribution of the Corona Songs through social media is also a counterbalance to fake news, which are also distributed through social media.
For refugees and migrants in the Global North and the Global South, one thing becomes particularly clear in the Corona Songs: The pandemic has drastic consequences; it claims many lives and overtaxes hospitals all over the world. The worldwide validity of the rules of conduct and protective measures presented in the songs is thus emphasized. This shows the thematic relevance of the Corona Songs for people in transit and residence countries.
The potential of music and video clips in the communication of information
The analysis of Corona Songs is a good example of the potential of music and video clips in conveying information. Catchy melodies with texts in simple words can easily communicate important messages. Video clips additionally illustrate these messages. This makes the information easy to understand for refugees and migrants. The easy access to the songs through social media also promotes the dissemination of information. These factors should be taken more into account when designing information and awareness materials for refugees and migrants.
This blog post was also published in German and is part of the series Consequences of COVID-19 for Forced Migration and Refugees on the FluchtforschungsBlog.
For a more detailed analysis see: Stier, Julia (2020): “Senegalesische Corona-Songs als Sensibilisierungs- und Informationsquelle für wolofsprachige Geflüchtete und Migrant*innen“. In: Zeitschrift für Flucht- und Flüchtlingsforschung (Z’Flucht), Jg. 4, H. 1, S. 131 – 148.