The coronavirus pandemic has hit the music industry hard especially with the death last week in Paris of African elder statesman of music, Manu Dibango. Dibango’s death at the age of 86, came just days after another top African musician, the soukous legend, Aurlus Mabele also died in the French capital, after contracting the coronavirus.
Beyond the tragedy of the death of two legendary African musicians, the disruption caused by pandemic to the music industry is enormous, from cancelled shows and appearances to venues and studios shutting their doors.
On the other hand, musicians are using their influence, thanks to online platforms, to reach out to their fans around the world urging them to safe from infection. As with previous global humanitarian crises, the coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity for musicians to be at the forefront of creating awareness about the infection.
One of the most popular songs so far is by the South African group Ndlovu Youth Choir, which has created a music, “We’ll Beat Corona” singing in both English and Zulu, about staying safe from the coronavirus.
In the video, the youthful members of the choir, that became famous after qualifying for the final of the 2019 edition of the TV show America’s Got Talent, clad in costumes bearing the national colours of South Africa. perform an energetic, choreographed dance to the beat of the song,
During an online interview with the BDLife, the choir conductor and renowned arranger and composer, Rolf Schmitt said recording this song was a very spontaneous decision.
“It was put together one morning, we got together in the studio, wrote it and then recorded it the same afternoon on a mobile phone.”
Schmitt says during the current pandemic people are inundated with medical and scientific advice from professionals all over the world. At the same time, fake news has also gained currency so the group felt music would be the perfect medium to share the core message of coronavirus awareness to assist communities around the world.
“South Africans still remember the devastating effect that fake news and rumours had during the HIV crisis in our county and we would not like a repeat of that, hence our four key messages and music is such a beautiful medium to make them understood,” says Schmitt.
“We wrote these fun lyrics reminding people to wash their hands, avoid touching their faces, not to panic and to avoid spreading rumours,” he says He says the reception to the song has been extraordinary with millions of views online and huge interest from broadcasters around the world.
“This is exactly what we wanted to achieve, by sending a very serious message but in a positive light to keep spirits up because it is quite easy to get bogged down by all the information and the atmosphere around Covid-19,” he says.
Will it eventually be released as a full length song? “I don’t think so because people have a very short attention span so you need to get your message out very quickly hence we decided to keep it short and sweet,” he says.
The one-minute video ends with an emphatic message: “Don’t Panic, we’ve got this!”
Meanwhile there is a mixture of uplifting classics and songs with isolation themes that are regaining popularity due to the current crisis.
The veteran musician Neil Diamond has released a video titled “Hands…Washing Hands” that contains reworked the lyrics of his classic song ‘Sweet Caroline” singing about personal safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
Strumming along to his acoustic guitar, he inserts the lyrics “Washing Hands. Don’t Touch Me, I won’t touch you.” As of this week, the video had three million views on the singer’s YouTube channel.
A song that has acquired fresh relevance during the coronavirus crisis is the classic Bee Gees disco hit “Staying Alive that has been widely used online. British musicians Robbie Williams streamed a live video of himself singing along to the song on Instagram in what he called a “coronaoke.”
A group of musicians has created a parody of the same song, replacing the original lyrics with “Stayin’ Inside” a reference to the strategy of staying indoors to contain the spread of the virus.
Other classic pop hits that have acquired fresh popularity due to their lyrics are “You’ll Never Walk Alone” a 1963 by Gerry and the Pacemakers, famous around the world as the theme song for English premier League side Liverpool. Two songs by the Senegalese- American performer, Akon have also gained rotation during the current crisis: “Locked Up” and “Lonely.”