Anything that raises money for charity is great, and I am fully behind sending relief money to help the Ebola crisis that is happening in West Africa. Nevertheless, like many others, aspects of the new Band Aid 30 single make me feel uncomfortable with regards to its portrayal of West Africa and West Africans.
Although I think the single in itself is a fantastic idea - releasing a song often has great success in raising money for charity, and it's wonderful to see well-known artists use their platform to encourage others to give to charity - some lyrics of the new single left me feeling uneasy to say the least. I am not alone in believing that they seem to propagate harmful and damaging stereotypes about Africa and Africans, which further paint the continent as one characterised only by endless suffering, misery and death. Lyrics that stood out to me especially were these:
'There's a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear.
Where a kiss of love can kill you,
And there's death in every tear,
And the Christmas bells that ring there,
Are the clanging chimes of doom
A song of hope where there's no hope tonight'
Everyone is aware that Ebola has had devastating effects in this area of the world. However these lyrics cross a line for me, and paint a very harmful old cliché that applies not just to West Africa, but to the African continent as a whole. They paint the continent as one that is joyless, hopeless and helpless - a nightmarish place full only of despair. African people are portrayed as passive participants in the crisis that is developing around them, a disempowering, one-dimensional portrayal that robs its people of any agency and emotional complexity.
The question 'Do they know it's Christmas time?' also feels a little tone-deaf and inappropriate. Approximately 62.7% of sub-Saharan Africans are Christians, and I think it's likely that all of them, and their fellow non-Christians, will know that Christmas is coming around...
All of those who made the single have done a fantastic job in taking time to record a song and raise awareness of Ebola, and I am sure that it will raise a lot of money for this cause. I have no doubt that all of those involved made this with the purest, most admirable of intentions. This is not to criticise anyone who buys the single, as it is money well spent. It would just be refreshing to see Band Aid release a single that did not play into harmful, patronising ideas about Africa and its people, ideas that have were embodied by their 1984 single which raised money for the 1983-85 famine in Ethiopia. No matter how much money these singles raise, it is important to be aware of the real, negative consequences that they can have upon our perception of the continent - a hugely diverse, amazing place, and not just a land of doom.
To see something different, check out Africa Stop Ebola, a collective of African musicians that came together to record a song of the same name, which is markedly different to Band Aid's song, and one which feels more empowering. It features musicians Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare and some others, and offers useful advice for those affected by Ebola. All proceeds go towards Doctors Without Borders. You can also find a song released by UNICEF Liberia called 'Ebola Song' here. It is clear that it is not the concept of a fundraising song that is the issue - more that it represents the people it is fighting for with respect and dignity.