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A Message to the Ebola Virus: Pack up and Go

The Ebola Crisis is worldwide news at the moment. Since the outbreak started in February, flights to the Ivory Coast have been restricted and over a thousand people have died. The BBC reported this outbreak to be the “deadliest to date” since the virus was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976.

Newspapers are reporting that many of the infected sites – Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria – are bringing in soldiers to monitor and establish strict quarantine sites. When speaking to Barmmy Boy, a young man visiting Hull from Sierra Leone and unable to return because of the outbreak, he compared the crisis the civil war which affected the country from 1991-2002.

Barmmy Boy, aka Lansana Mansarey, is from Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. He came to the UK to work with several schools in Hull, teaching our young people about the conflict and corruption in his country as well as offering rap lessons. He has been unable to return due to the Ebola crisis, having to extend his time here until the end of the month. Though this may seem like a lengthy holiday, now that the kids are on their summer break, Barmmy Boy continues to work over here in order to support his family, a family who he misses and worries about constantly. He spoke to a group of us about his fears for the people in Sierra Leone, including his family and the members of a friend’s family who have contracted the virus.

Next week, Barmmy Boy is working with Steve Cobby, a music producer from Hull who has worked with such musicians as Radiohead, to produce a song about the dangers of Ebola, which he described as a “stranger” coming into the country and taking control. He said that you would not accept this from a stranger, telling him to pack up and go before he could cause any damage, and so he says the people must treat the Ebola virus in the same way, shunning it until it leaves. He aims to take the song back to Sierra Leone in order to teach the young people of his country about the precautions they can take to evade this virus and stop it from spreading. Ebola is contracted through bodily secretions, including sweat, and in a country with a 60% Muslim population, the shaking of hands is a custom difficult to break. Barmmy Boy explained that to test for a fever, a person will place a hand under the jawline to check temperature, something which is perfectly sensible were you to fear the other person had the flu, but which can be deadly if that person indeed is showing one of the first symptoms of the Ebola virus.

Barmmy Boy told us that “music is a driving force for many people in Sierra Leone”, describing the ways in which young people, including ex-combat fighters, can use music to give themselves a voice, to express their ideas and discuss their problems in a way which many still feel they are not entitled to do. He explained that his music is about many serious topics, including the conflict and corruption he has witnessed in his country, taboo subjects such as child abuse and HIV, as well as promoting a different way of life.

His song about Ebola will be similar to that of his biggest and most famous track ‘HIV Dangerous, which promotes taking precautions against this deadly virus. With messages written into this song such as “get up, stand up, make up, and go for check-up” as well as “better use a condom” his point is clear. His songs are catchy, with traditional dancehall rhythms and use of repetition to ensure the meaning stands out in strength. When asked why he was using a similar sound, he simply said that this is what is popular, and in order to reach as wide an audience as possible the song needs to be one which the people can accept quickly into their dancehalls and onto their radio stations.

In addition to the song about Ebola, Barmmy Boy will produce a song about the flaws in the education system, which he aims to produce when he returns to Freetown, which he admitted “the government might not like”. Previously, he has had his music taken off radio stations, and he said that they may threaten to banish him from Freetown, but he did not seem too concerned as he has a wide fan base not only in Freetown but also internationally with the work he has done in the UK and with WeOwnTv, a media production company based in Sierra Leone working with international companies and North American Filmmakers.

Barmmy Boy stated the messages he shares in his songs are “the most important thing I do” and that “there are things that can change in Sierra Leone” which he wishes to promote and share with his people.

I wish him all the best, and look forward to the release of ‘Pack ‘n’ Go’.