Africa LiveBMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7519.783 (Published 29 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:783
On a stage with billowing nets and giant “mosquitoes”—dancers dressed in costumes designed by Oumou Sy—Nigeria's Seun Kuti mesmerised a crowd of 50 000 with his “Mosquito Song.” This slightly surreal public health message is one of the highlights from a concert in Dakar on 12-13 March this year that was organised by Senegalese Grammy winner Youssou N'Dour. More than 150 of Africa's top musicians entertained concertgoers—and warned of malaria's dangers. The concert, backed by the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, features performances from former Rwandan refugee (and now, heartthrob) Corneille, Cameroon's Manu Dibango, Malian legend Salif Keita, Touareg group Tinariwen, and Congo's Awilo Longomba.
Mick Czáky, director of Africa Live, first had the idea for an anti-malaria concert in 2003 when he met with Senegal's President Wade and Youssou N'Dour. “I'm terribly keen on African music. When I first thought of the Africa Live project, I had only two real thoughts. One was that it should be a positive way of presenting Africa that wasn't negative. I thought it would be fun to celebrate Africa with a spectacular concert with worldwide distribution,” he said.
The event was filmed by the BBC as a documentary and has been donated by the film's producers to pan-African broadcasters, who will be able to show it free of charge. The decision to make the film free for broadcasters was simple. “Education, education, education,” said Mr Czáky. “It's the best way of reaching the middle classes, who may already have their nets but need to think of their employees and fellow citizens.”
Backed by the Grand Orchestre du Caire, Youssou N'Dour told fans to stop the disease, which he calls “the tsunami that happens in Africa every day, where two million children die from something we can prevent together.” Similarly, Orchestra Baobab chanted “Down with Malaria!” with the crowd. Ironically, there are shots of open sewers outside the concert venue as a reminder that malaria lurks everywhere.
Africa Live is also available on DVD to help educate Westerners who are unaware of Africa's malaria epidemic. Malaria was eradicated from southern Europe and the United States in the 1960s. It has reappeared with a vengeance in Africa thanks to the conflicts and disasters of the 1980s and 1990s, when control efforts and healthcare systems collapsed.
The concert's message seems to be spreading in Africa, and Kevin Starace of the UN Development Programme feels the DVD will be an important tool in reaching the West. Music, said Mr Starace, is universally appealing and a useful “entertainment mechanism” for promoting awareness. “We've reached a lot of people on the radio [in Africa] but there's also the other audience in the Western world. Malaria is often overshadowed by uncurable diseases like AIDS and SARS,” he said.
A visual and musical feast, Africa Live finishes with a rendition of the spine tingling Swahili song “Malaika” by Angelique Kidjo, which Mr Czáky said had generated “tons of mail.”