Paula Uimonen:

On 10 April 2020, a few weeks into the Corona pandemic, Hussein Masimbi posted a music video on his Facebook page. The song was bilingual, as Hussein reflected by email on 18 April: “I wanted to write in both English and Kiswahili, I thought both my Swahili speaking and non Swahili speaking friends and family are affected by the pandemic.” He introduced the video with a bilingual message, expressing care and hope, urging people to be careful with the Corona virus (Tuwe makini na hii Kirusi ya “Corona”) and to stay home and avoid social gatherings (Baki home, mikusanyiko sio dili).

Within a week, the posting had received quite a lot of attention from Hussein’s many friends around the world. Reflecting the transnational composition of his over 3,000 Facebook friends, most of the 120 comments were posted by his friends in Tanzania, but friends around the world responded as well. Some added emojis and other visual graphics, their comments written in social media style, with short messages, often using slang. The comments expressed appreciation, care and solidarity in Swahili or English, but many also used combinations of the two languages, a translingual form of expression reflecting his transnational social networks. After his posting, the video reappeared several times, as friends shared it on their pages, tagging Hussein. Within a week it had been viewed over 900 times.

On 14 April, Hussein posted the music video on YouTube,[1] adding some hastags when announcing the link on his Facebook page: #Covid-19, #stayhomesavelives, and #mkusanyikosiodili. Within a week, the video had over 70 views, 5 likes and 2 comments. While Hussein got more immediate reactions through his Facebook page, through YouTube he could reach a broader audience, beyond his network of Facebook friends.

The multilayered message of Hussein’s music video offers an interesting perspective on the global Corona pandemic. In the video, he combines footage from his hometown Bagamoyo with global images, such as graphic images of the corona virus and cautionary notes. Starting with soothing sights of the beach and ocean, accompanying the hopeful lyrics of a better day, the imagery switches to visualisations of the Corona pandemic. When calling on politicians to be realistic, the video shows a cartoon of Donald Trump, while the appeal to the world community is illustrated with the WHO logo, followed by images of people in poverty. When he switches to Swahili, the imagery combines newspaper headlines in Swahili with English texts on prevention. When he sings the last words ”Thanks for caring, thanks for sharing,” the images show poverty around the world, and a message of condolences to families who have lost loved ones. Meanwhile, the chorus is accompanied by calming sights of the sky and ocean, underlining a better and brighter day.

Better Day

There is a better day someday

There’ll be brighter day someday

Covid-19, Corona victims

Activities have seized and movements have freezed

I wish we had a shield or vaccine we need

We live in quarantine and no longer at ease

No matter nationality, color or creed

We all suffering and all the victims

And yo politicians so be realistic

This is not a matter for popularity

We asking for the whole world community

Consider those with financial difficulties

Help one another it’s responsibility

Not too late to care for humanity

Chorus

Better day someday

There will be brighter day someday

Kula kitu, kunywa kitu, fanya vitu si utukutu

(Eat something, drink something, do things that are ok)

Mkusanyiko usithubutu usijekumbwa na hii kitu

(Don’t gather, so you don’t catch this virus thing)

Uhai u mikononi, dunia i mashakani

(Life is in our hands, the world is in distress)

Virusi vipo kazini, tuongee umakini

(The virus is at work, we have to be more careful)

Vinapita mikononi, macho, puani na mdomoni

(They pass through our hands, eyes, nose and mouth)

Tuishi kwa umakini, tusipoteze tumaini

(We live a careful life, we don’t loose hope)

Chorus

There is a better day someday

There will be brighter day someday

Thanks for caring, thanks for sharing, Asante sana, God Bless you. One Love.

Chorus

There is a better day someday

There will be brighter day someday

There is a better day some daaay

There will be brighter day someday

Trump Care for humanity
Mtanzania Prevention
Better day Beach

In producing the music video, Hussein improvised around technological limitations, using computers in his office and his smartphone at home. His laptop was not working well but he realised he could use the imovie app on his phone. He went through the many photos he had on his phone and selected some, downloaded some images from the Internet, using Google, adding screenshots of local Tanzanian newspapers. “It took me couple of hours to do it, over and over again as it was a fun process. I also wanted the video and the song message to compliment each other,” Hussein recalled. Before working on the imagery, Hussein had recorded the soundtrack with the help of a student at the arts college where he works, Taasisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni Bagamoyo (TaSUBa), which was now closed. The chorus of the song was inspired by an earlier song Hussein had composed and recorded before studying for his Master’s in music education at Texas Tech University. For Better Day, he mixed different genres: “The rhythm and groove is influenced by traditional music from the coast and south of Tanzania. There is also some reggae influence in it, but it basically relates to some other African grooves and rhythms which I think is very common and cool in our traditional music.” While he wanted to make a song that sounded good, Hussein’s primary concern was the message: “My interest was not to make very sophisticated piece of music, but to convey a message and reach out to people regardless their nationality, color, creed, gender or age.”

By the time Hussein posted his music video, the Tanzanian government had introduced a number of measures in response to the global Corona pandemic. Schools and colleges had been closed and information campaigns had been rolled out, promoting social distancing and encouraging people to stay at home. According to the Wikipedia article ”2020 coronavirus pandemic in Tanzania,”[2]  the pandemic timeline started in March 2020, with the first confirmed case on 16 March, a Tanzanian returning from Belgium. The very next day, schools were closed. More precautionary measures followed, not least efforts to minimize the spread of corona through travellers. On 23 March, the government announced that all travellers, including foreigners and residents, arriving from COVID-19 affected countries would be subjected to mandatory 14-day quarantine at designated government facilities at their own cost. On 12 April, all international passenger flights were suspended.

Corona world map 17 April 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) map, 17 April 2020. Source: Google and Wikipedia

The Corona pandemic draws attention to global interdependence, even though it is unevenly spread around the world. Unlike Europe and the United States, Tanzania, like other African countries, has so far had very few cases of Covid-19. By 26 April 2020, the number of confirmed cases was 299, with 10 deaths, which are very low numbers in an estimated population of close to 60 million people (source: https://www.worldometers.info). Even so, the Tanzanian government has followed many of the WHO directives to keep the pandemic at bay, while avoiding drastic lockdowns. It has also held a period of national prayer.[3]

The global pandemic also brings to light transnational relationality, as exemplified by how social media is used as a platform to express care and concern, conveying digitally mediated empathy, in this case from Tanzania to the world at large. In my previous research on arts, culture and digital media in Tanzania, I have argued that cultural identities are multilayered, from local/ethnic to global/cosmopolitan (Uimonen 2012, 2013). This sense of being part of a shared humanity runs deep in the social fabric, a cosmopolitan orientation that springs from a cultural ethos of social relationality. Reflecting on the social distancing required during the Corona pandemic, Hussein noted: “Our life style and the way we interact makes it almost impossible not to have a social gathering.”

This cosmopolitan outlook is vocalized in Hussein’s music video, conveying hope through the aesthetics of art for society’s sake, in the spirit of one love. Similarly to musicians in other parts of Africa, as recognised in the Swedish radio program Coronakrisens afrikanska soundtrack,[4] Hussein used his talent to take the edge off worry and despair during the Corona pandemic, offering hope, while using music to inform. In the Tanzanian context, the social function of music is firmly embedded in the aesthetics of arts (Uimonen 2012). As Hussein reflected “It is a tradition in Tanzanian culture using music as tool for educating masses on sensitive or important issues. Musicians have always played a big role in educating the society.” In Bagamoyo, a small town with an arts college and a general ambiance of art and creativity, some of Hussein’s fellow musicians have also addressed the Corona pandemic. Jhikoman, a well known reggae musician, posted an educational music video entitled Corona Pandemic[5]  on YouTube on 7 April, which received 550 views within a week. More recently, the popular musician Vitali Maembe released Wimbo Mbaya 19[6] (Bad song 19), encouraging people to care for their mental and physical health during social distancing. He released the music video on YouTube[7] on 22 April and distributes a collection of songs via WhatsApp.

Covid-19/Better day, is a result of the pandemic that has affected us all, I mean the whole world (as nations, groups and as individuals)… I started thinking about a song and on how to approach this challenge as a local and global issue. We already had songs that are playing on radio, television and social media on same theme. I wanted to express my thoughts from all the confusion going on in the simplest way possible. I asked myself “How do I come up with a song that is relevant with a different approach?” I didn’t want to sound like I blame anybody as we all have a role to play. I thought of both local and international community. I wanted to support, encourage and appreciate all those hardworking people. Support those who have lost their loved ones and all of us as we are going through a hard/challenging time. I also wanted to remind ourselves that, those in power have to work for the interest of the people, be humans, at least this once.  Hussein Masimbi, 18 April 2020

 By highlighting Hussein’s music video from Tanzania, I wish to draw attention to the cultural creativity and political consciousness that is flourishing on social media, offering alternative narratives to the Corona stories that dominate in broadcast media. If I only had Swedish and international broadcasts to rely on, I would think that the Covid 19 pandemic is about to spread like wildfire throughout Africa and that the continent is ill prepared to cope with such an outbreak. News reporting on Africa is of course known for its story line of Afro-pessimism (Hannerz 2004), a deceptive narrative that African artists have challenged for years, as exemplified by Chimamanda Adichie’s TedTalk “The danger of a single story[8] back in 2009. But during the Corona pandemic, other voices are making themselves heard.

The pandemic can be a catalyst for decolonisation in Africa,”[9] flashed by in my Facebook news stream while writing this text, an opinion piece by David Mwambari published on the Al Jazeera web site. He pointed out how “the myth of Western invincibility fell apart,” as Europe and the US became epicentres of the global Covid 19 pandemic, while the “idea that Africa is a continent of disease and death” no longer holds. While lamenting how often Africa is viewed through neo-colonial lenses, Mwambari expressed his optimism, not only on the continent’s ability to cope with the crisis, but as an opportunity for change: “the pandemic presents an opportunity for African peoples to see themselves differently.” He concluded that “decolonisation may well be fast-tracked because of the threat of a pathogen” (Mwambari 2020). Keeping in mind that African philosophies of decolonisation are pronouncedly cosmopolitan (Uimonen 2019), such fast-tracking would certainly benefit the world at large.

Anthropologists are well placed to assist in efforts to grasp the Corona crisis as an opportunity for change. At a time when anthropologists are advancing the rethinking of our world along the lines of a world of many worlds, a pluriverse (de la cadena & Blaser 2018, Escobar 2011, Ingold 2018), we can hopefully contribute to the making of a better world, especially now that our planet is fast-tracking change. As Thomas Hylland Eriksen reflected in response to the Corona pandemic: ”I see a window of opportunities,” as ”people will start talking differently about the good life and the good society” (Hylland Eriksen 2020, my translation).” He envisages a change of course towards ”slower living, with greater closeness, less environmentally damaging consumption and more time for our fellow humans,” and an economy that would evolve from being ”a means to make meaninglessly rich people even richer” to ”a means to satisfy peoples’ needs.” These are not merely lofty ideals, but norms and values that are prominent in many parts of the world, not least in many African societies.

Let me conclude on Hussein’s hopeful note, a cultural imaginary of a Better Day, as the global Covid 19 crisis offers us an opportunity to rethink our humanity and remake our world.

I’m glad people liked the song and I got many positive feedbacks, most of the people who commented said “Thank you”. I think that made me realize the song meant something to them, as it does to me. I think we can be separated by borders, social and economic status but we should never stop being human and care for humanity especially at this time.

One Love!  Hussein Masimbi, 18 April 2020

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Paula Uimonen is a senior lecturer in social anthropology at Stockholm University, Sweden. She is specialised in digital and transnational anthropology, as well as anthropology of art, visual culture and world literature. Paula shares her time between Stockholm and Bagamoyo. She was inspired to write this text after watching Hussein’s Better Day on Facebook.

Hussein Masimbi is a tutor at Taasisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni Bagamoyo (TaSUBa), a national institute for arts and culture in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. He has a Master in music education from Texas Tech University. Hussein is also a musician and song composer. Hussein contributed to this text with an essay, translations, and positive vibes.

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References cited

Adichie, C.N. 2009. The danger of a single story. TedTalk.

de la Cadena, M & M. Blaser (eds). 2018. A World of Many Worlds. Duke University Press.

Escobar, A. 2011. Sustainability: Design for the pluriverse. Development, 54, 137–140. https://doi.org/10.1057/dev.2011.28

Hannerz, U. 2004. Foreign News. Exploring the World of Foreign Correspondents. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hylland Eriksen, T. 2020. Professor: ”Tänk om det är den här krisen vi behövde.” Interview with Thomas Hylland Eriksen by Hilde Lundgaard, Aftenposten. Published in Svenska Dagbladet, 3 April 2020.

Ingold, T. 2018. One world anthropology. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 8 (1/2): 158-171.

Mwambari, D. 2020. The pandemic can be a catalyst for decolonisation in Africa. Al Jazeera Opinion. 15 April 2020.

Uimonen, P. 2012. Digital Drama. Teaching and Learning Art and Media in Tanzania. New York: Routledge. http://www.innovativeethnographies.net/digitaldrama

Uimonen, P. 2013. Visual identity in Facebook. Visual Studies, 28 (2): 122-135

Uimonen, P. 2019. Decolonising cosmopolitanism: An anthropological reading of Immanuel Kant and Kwame Nkrumah on the world as one. Critique of Anthropology, 40(1): 81-101.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P8HKzCcB14&t

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_coronavirus_pandemic_in_Tanzania

[3] https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/ea/Covid19-Tanzania-declares-three-days-of-national-prayers/4552908-5526674-7pncj5/index.html

[4] https://sverigesradio.se/artikel/7458985?fbclid=IwAR17ulbgAbA7zdgD9-OL4otz05ftNlAhrjohKEOtP_T8wiPliOu6ZIt5dXM

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh5rdO4KqRY

[6] https://www.musicinafrica.net/magazine/covid-19-tanzanias-vitali-maembe-tackles-mental-health-new-song?fbclid=IwAR2HaN1Wos_Is1s7FYcp9MQmIb8mGjA24oATaiqNd63R8bEMMZYujAZsxSY

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4N6-fY21US4

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg

[9] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/pandemic-catalyst-decolonisation-africa-200415150535786.html?fbclid=IwAR0LmPE_WD8WMIdiUAj7i3IStAOGcDu0w4tvoB7fnv4V_0pMmq5ZKFWn6L4)