Do They Know This Africa At All? #BandAid30

 

In the left column of the table below are the original lyrics to Do They Know It’s Christmas, a song to raise money for a charitable cause – to feed the victims of starvation and drought in East Africa. The words have been changed a little in the 2014 version, recorded to raise money to fight the Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa.

 

When people with influence give their time and skill to helping others, I think it is ultimately a good thing. However, there will be fewer literal of examples of how the road to hell is paved with good intentions, almost like Stuart Jeffries points out.

 

BAND AID (1984) BAND AID 30 (2014)
It’s Christmas time; there’s no need to beafraidAt Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shadeAnd in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy

Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

But say a prayer to pray for the other ones

At Christmas time

It’s hard, but when you’re having fun

There’s a world outside your window

And it’s a world of dread and fear

Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears

 

And the Christmas bells that ring there

Are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime

The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life

Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

 

Here’s to you, raise a glass for everyone

Here’s to them, underneath that burning sun

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

 

Feed the world

Feed the world

 

Feed the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Feed the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

It’s Christmas time; there’s no need to beafraidAt Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shadeAnd in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy

Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

But say a prayer to pray for the other ones

At Christmas time

It’s hard, but when you’re having fun

There’s a world outside your window

And it’s a world of dread and fear

Where a kiss of love can kill you and there’s death in every tear.

 

And the Christmas bells that ring there

Are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you

Bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa

A song of hope where there’s no hope tonight

Where to comfort is to fear and to touch is to be scared

How can they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Here’s to you, raise a glass for everyone

And here’s to them, and all their years to come

Let them know it’s Christmas after at all?

 

Feed the world

Feed the world

 

Feed the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Feed the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

 

It was at a party on a dark December night’s evening in 2008 that I heard the Band Aid words for the very first time. I had known the song since I was a little boy and would excitedly sing its chorus, but I did not actually hear it until that party. Everyone was singing along, cup in hand and I joined in where I could (which really, to be honest, was the chorus at the end of the song) and as the other words hit me, I could not help squirming through some of the rest of it.

 

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time…” and I was like, duh-uh, it’s too hot to snow in Africa. Then I figured what they meant was that it would not be a frosty, festive Christmas, the sort of which Europe and America had. Well, uhm, okay, no Jack Frost but uhm, no festiveness across all of Africa? All?

 

The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life…” Hmmm. Okay, so as a Nigerian seeing the pictures of ‘starving Ethiopian children’ in the 80s, that might make some sense. But, again, the greatest gift? All of Africa? “Clanging chimes of doom”? A tad bit melodramatic, no?

 

“Where nothing ever grows…”, – now, hold on just one second “No rain or rivers flow…” In Africa? MY Africa? My country is divided by 2 rivers and we have a world famous delta. The vegetation in the southern part of the country is the Mangrove RAINforest. We still had groundnut pyramids in the 80s. So, just where on earth were Bob Geldof and his friends describing?

 

The song has been re-recorded this year, to raise funds to support the fight against Ebola, with a little lyrical tweaking. Now, in WEST Africa, all of West Africa, there’s no peace and joy this Christmas and the only hope we’ll have is being alive, because a kiss of love can kill us and there’s death in every tear. Great intentions again, Ebola being serious and deadly, but here’s the “Ebola Map” of Africa at the time of the song’s recording.

 

Ebola Map

 

What’s the harm in these well-intentioned lyrics, Sir Bob might ask. For one, it reinforces stigmas and stereotypes. The people who sing along to kisses and tears of death in “West Africa” won’t come here as tourists or businessmen. For another, the lyrics are just plain inaccurate. There’s also the question of how useful it is to set metaphors of a harsh Christmas for some against the homogeneity of the Euro-American celebrations. Bitter streams of tears have flown in different parts Africa at different times, but we’re not just a big crying, starving continent. There has been famine and starvation in some parts, but that’s scant justification for describing Africa as a place “where nothing ever grows”.

 

There is now a growing backlash to the latest iteration of the song. It’s been described by Emeli Sande and Lily Allen as “patronizing” and “smug”. Sande actually feels some parts need re-writing or a whole new song is required.

 

So let’s re-write the song for Ebola. Put your re-written lyrics as comments or send me an email at rfawole@yahoo.com, and  I’ll publish mine and my favourite five (yes, I’m being optimistic about the number of entries I’ll receive but at least there’ll be one new version). And if we can’t make it work for Ebola, then maybe Sir Bob should indeed break the wheel and re-invent another song. Or, if they wanted a truly pan-African cause to change the lyrics to again, they could sing “Do They Know Corruption Kills?”

 

Better yet, Sir Bob and Friends could help promote this alternative song against Ebola. Every little helps.

 

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3 thoughts on “Do They Know This Africa At All? #BandAid30

    • Just seen and shared your piece. Yes, the issues are somewhat complex, I guess. All giving is good and no help should be refused. But we won’t be hungry or ebola-infected forever and how we’re treated afterwards depends a whole lot on how we’re perceived now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for reading and sharing.
        @how we’re treated afterwards depends a whole lot on how we’re perceived now. I agree to an extent. I like to think that we can be powerful architects of a new narrative. For example, when I hear Rwanda, I think reconstruction, while genocide plays in the periphery of my mind. Naïve? Maybe. Hopeful? Yes.

        Like

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