THE SUBALTERNS SING : MUSIC, AGENCY, AND THE POLITICS OF LIFE DURING THE EBOLA EPIDEMIC IN WEST AFRICA
Abstract: The Ebola epidemic in 2014 was framed as the most serious humanitarian crisis that West Africa has faced since the beginning of this millennium. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, two countries that had just come out of civil wars less than twelve years ago, were the most affected. As Ebola spread in these countries, skepticisms, rumors, and distrust spread along, making it difficult for frontline workers and humanitarian actors to tackle the epidemic. To control the narratives and build trust, INGOs and national authorities had to turn to the music industry to produce sensitization/education songs. But they were not alone in this contested space: Along came the protest songs to expose structural violence and the hierarchy of humanities. What explains the emergence of the latter in Liberia and Sierra Leone? What role(s) did music play during the epidemic? This is a qualitative case-study of music as an expressive art for the subalterns. This thesis is grounded in anthropology, humanitarian studies, and postcolonial studies. Six songs that emerged during the Ebola epidemic have been analyzed within the cultural and contextual matrixes they were produced. The emergence of protest songs can be explained by the deep-rooted distrust of outsiders and the fact that postwar reconstruction efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone have not managed to fundamentally alter the perceptions of a remote state.
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