“Why Don’t We Talk Prevention Before We Talk Medication?”

This post highlights recordings produced by the FolkwaysAlive! project “Songs for Sustainable Development and Peace.” FolkwaysAlive! is a partnership between Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and the University of Alberta that has become a platform for ethnomusicologists and recording artists to working in a range of genres, including hiphop, gospel, R&B, reggae, and traditional musics. By presenting these recordings, I will assist the project’s second goal of raising global awareness concerning critical global issues such as public health and education by “including a wide network of participants.” 

In this piece, I foreground the musics and videos produced through this process and highlight the global issues that operate within each song. If a reader would like more information and songs, FolkwaysAlive’s website and wiki provide comprehensive background information about each song and artist as well as ways to get involved. Each of the featured songs are at different levels of completion. Some of the songs are complete with a video and professionally done recording, while others have finished the recording but would like to produce a companion video. Finally, some songs remain in the demo phase looking for funding to produce a professional recording. To begin, here a completed project with the song recorded and video produced.

"Sanitation and Safe Water in Liberia"

Featuring Shadow, J-Glo, 5YA, Jacob V, and Chiller Coolnanee and sponsored by the Rotary Club of Calgary.

This recording contains electronic drums with synthesizers and clave keyboard parts that provide background tones along with lead melodic lines. The video highlights important words from the lyrics including most of the chorus. “Sanitation is what you need. So keep your area and city clean. I will sweep the dirt away. Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The Christain maxim at the end of the chorus stands out when linked with the scientific information provided in each verse. In Shadow’s rapped verse, he asks for latrine develoment, health education in schools and homes, and enviormental education that explains how individual actions effect the enviorment. Further, J-Glo explains “because of lack of santiation, people contract diseases that are so deadly” and to “wash your hands before you eat.” Tought this information may seem basic, serious health issues will continue to rise unless the entire population is practicing these protective measures Finally, Jacob V poignantly questions the government and international aid, “why don’t we talk prevention before we talk medication?” The song’s goal, as with the project at large, is to provide this information to places that might not receive it through formal means, rather the song can educate through the radio, internet, and compact discs.


Funded by Sponsored by the University of Alberta Department of Music's President's Fund, along with a pro bono production remix from producer Ari Mastoras at Rhodes Recordings.

This Liberian popular music begins with a smooth R&B feel overlayed with rap vocals that shift a listener’s attention towards the lyrical content. One may even overlook the Für Elise quote at the end of each chorus when it is juxtaposed with the forthright lyrics asking, “why things are changing. Let’s come together and find a reason.” The repetitive structure helps listeners discern the lyrical content after even one listening.

“Ebola is Real”

Here Samuel ‘Shadow’ Morgan's track serves a similar lyrical function as the previous two recordings, though within a more danceable setting. According to its number of youtube hits—well over 200,000 at the time of this posting—“Ebola is Real” is one of Shadow’s more popular tracks. It has also received attention from Vice News, the New Yorker, Al Jazeera, NPR, and many more. The information provided in “Ebola is Real” remains scant with the chorus of “Don't touch your friend! No touching. No eating something. It's dangerous!” But the club-like beats and danceable music allowed the song to reach a larger audience than the previous tracks. Unfortunately, no solutions to the issue are provided only advice on how to avoid the disease and criticism of the government’s handling of the issue. The official video and the video’s plagiarists provide and example of the importance of actual videos to be made for each song. The official video provides no actual video content rather are photo slide shows. Video content could be much more effective in showing an “Ebola greeting” and the sanitation issues that contribute to the disease’s transmission in Liberia.

There are still many projects in production that continue to seek financial backing.

"Religion and people"

Featuring Shadow, KB. & Quincy B.

This track supports a togetherness between all of the worlds religions spesifically naming Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Pagean, Traditionalist, and Judahism. The artists want each religion to support and love one another.

To hear more songs and find ways to get involved or donate to spesfic projects please visit http://fwa.wikia.com/wiki/Songs_for_sustainable_development_and_peace or see the similar project, Music for Cultural Continuity and Civil Society, which does similar things as but works with other countries like Guinea, Ghana, and Egypt.

Michael Frishkopf, an ethnomusicologist from the University of Alberta, (please read a recent interview with him here ), must be acknowledged for his intergral role in FolkwaysAlive! and bringing attention to global issues through music with artists from around the world. There are links in the Wiki and Website above on ways to contact him and FolkwaysAlive! to become involved and support the musics and projects helping to address global issues.


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