My colleague Aisha Harris does a great job explaining why Band Aid 30’s star-studded, Ebola-themed update of the 30-year-old charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is as cringe-inducing as its predecessors. Its lyrics are both condescending—perpetuating an image of Africa as an undifferentiated mass of suffering where there is “no peace and joy”—and borderline nonsensical: Liberia is predominantly Christian, as is Ethiopia, the subject of the original 1984 version of the song, so people there are presumably aware that it is Christmas. Guinea and Sierra Leone are predominantly Muslim, so the majority of people there probably don’t care.
This year’s video, which features footage of a dying woman before transitioning to pop stars like Bono, Ed Sheeran, and One Direction dodging paparazzi on their way to the studio, has also been criticized as exploitative.
On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with success. Band Aid 30 is currently sitting at No. 10 on iTunes and has already raised millions of dollars for Ebola-related charities. As organizer Bob Geldof put it, “I don’t care if you like it, just buy it.”
Of course, there’s a way to support the fight against Ebola without endorsing Geldof’s schlock. Just give money directly to one of any number of organizations doing difficult work on the ground in West Africa. But if you absolutely must have a musical accompaniment for your charitable donation, let me suggest the single “Africa Stop Ebola,” released last month by an organization of the same name.
Aside from being more pleasing to the ear, it’s a very different beast from “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The artists are all West African, including the superstar Malian duo Amadou & Mariam, Malian chanteuse Oumou Sangare, and Ivorian reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly. Only one African artist, Benin’s Angelique Kidjo, participated in Band Aid 30. The British-Ghanaian Afrobeat star Fuse ODG explained in the Guardian Wednesday why he turned down Geldof’s invitation to participate after being “shocked and appalled” by the lyrics.
Unlike Band Aid’s platitudes, the lyrics, in French and several West African languages, are practical and aimed at people in the countries affected. Fakoly’s verse, for instance, tells listeners to trust doctors to help them if they feel sick. It’s one of a number of pop songs by local artists giving advice about the disease in recent months.
“Africa Stop Ebola” is available on iTunes, and all proceeds go to Medecins Sans Frontieres. No Bono involved.