Zara is currently volunteering in Kaolack, Senegal, as an English and IT teacher. Having been living and working in West Africa since September, she’s written about her thoughts on Band Aid 30:
Earlier this month an array of stars stretching from One Direction to Bono gathered together in London to record and release Band Aid 30. The Christmas classic was originally released 30 years ago to draw attention to the Ethiopian famine of 1984, but the lyrics have been reworked to focus on the ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa. I’ve been living and working in Senegal since September as a Project Trust volunteer, and can only describe the lyrics as just as backwards as they were when they were first written.
Before I go on, I would just like to make very, very clear that by no means am I diminishing or denying the ongoing threat that is Ebola, nor am I against charitable giving. The good intent behind Band Aid is there, however the execution is lacking.
So, why are the lyrics so terrible? To think the African continent is as helpless as Band Aid would lead us to believe is to disregard all Africa’s credibility as a functioning and dynamically growing region. It is the likes of Band Aid that are responsible for stereotyping Africa as irredeemably downtrodden.
Let’s start from the beginning: “Do they know its Christmas time at all?” Africa is a different continent, not a different planet. Even in Senegal, where the majority of the population are practising Muslims, I can safely confirm that people here do in fact know what Christmas is. Like elsewhere in the world (including Britain) many people celebrate the holiday despite not being Christian themselves.
Apparently Africa is a place “Where a kiss of love can kill you – and there’s death in every tear.” I should probably let this one slide on the basis of artistic license, but I can’t quite bring myself to. It is true that Ebola is transmitted via bodily fluids meaning kissing a loved one who is already infected with Ebola could potentially pass the virus on to you. But, even if you are carrying the virus you are not actually infectious until you start showing signs of Ebola, such as vomiting and bleeding. By that point you really shouldn’t be kissing anyone, should you?
How arrogant of us to think that we must “Bring peace and love to West Africa this Christmas time,” when West Africa is a place where people greet each other by saying “salam alaikum,” meaning “peace unto you” and where it is considered the height of rudeness to not reply “alaikum Salam,” meaning “peace unto you too.”
The original lyrics were also flawed and incorrect: “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time.” Actually, I’m fairly sure there will be. The ski resorts in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco would be pretty useless without it this winter, wouldn’t they? South Africa, Tunisia and Algeria are all African countries regularly laying claim to snow fall. Not to mention the peaks of Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda, to name a few. Snow has even been recorded in the Sahara desert!
“Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow.” Ah, it seems like only weeks ago I couldn’t walk from the shops to my house in Senegal without having to dodge the puddles that filled the flooded streets, but that must have been a dream. Oh no, wait, it was only weeks ago. Isn’t Africa home to the world’s second largest river, I hear you say? Why yes, I do think the 6,853km long river Nile is in Africa. If Africa is truly such a useless and unproductive place where nothing ever grows where would we possibly import all our bananas and mangos and peanuts and watermelons from?
This could be countered by saying these lyrics were intended to target the Ethiopian famine that the song was originally written to raise money for. Then why not replace the word Africa with Ethiopia? Africa is a continent: we need to stop using the blanket term “Africa” and start acknowledging the 53 separate countries the continent consists of.
“Charity is good, but charity combined with ignorance is dangerous” says Ronke Lawal, and I fully agree. The intentions behind Band Aid are good; wanting to help others is good. But why should we be paying for a song that is both incorrect and factually misleading when there are better ways to educate people and raise money?
I applaud the likes of Adele and Fuse ODG who graciously turned down the offer to participate and did not use the controversial song to bask in the lime light. Fuse ODG, a British-Ghanian rapper, has set up his own charitable movement entitled T.I.N.A (This is New Africa) to help raise awareness of African issues in a more positive way. We don’t need to demean Africa to entice people around the globe to help join the fight against Ebola. We need to be honest.
It would be easy to dismiss my reaction to a charity song as over the top, in fact I would have done the same before I came to Senegal. But I would be extremely embarrassed to let my friends in Senegal listen to this song and hear the way many British people stereotype them. I don’t want to be seen as tearing apart a good cause but this issue deserves attention. For me it is not any one line that stands out as the worst, it is the condescending and uninformed tone which encompasses the whole song. To quote Melissa Mono, who sums it up perfectly: “The African continent should sue the rest of the world for slander and defamation of character.”