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Ebola is also killing our Entertainment industry

OCTOBER 29, 2014 By Murtala Mohamed Kamara

The deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has so far claimed more than one thousand lives and thousands more infected in Sierra Leone. The number of new infected cases continues to rise almost six months after the disease first entered Kailahun in eastern Sierra Leone, and there is no sign that it is ready to go soon.

The EVD is not only taking lives but it has also affected our way of life and the economic impact is vast. From tourism to mining, hospitality to construction, it has significantly affected almost every sector and it has taken its toll on the entertainment industry too.

The World Bank says the epidemic could become “catastrophic” if the disease is not contained on time, whilst the WHO reports that the epidemic threatens the “very survival” of the worst hits countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Travelling around West Africa these days from any of the Ebola affected countries is almost impossible. Regional flights including Arik, Gambia Bird, Air Cote d’Ivoire, and Kenya Airways have all suspended their operations in Sierra Leone because of Ebola. Air France and BMI also seized their operations with only Air Maroc and Brussels Airlines still in operations.

Under normal circumstances, in the months of November, one could feel the buzz of the holiday festivities. At this time, the ‘fever’ should have gripped Freetown and the ‘JCs’ should have started arriving in time for the jamboree.

Jingles should have been playing on the different radio stations for either musical concerts, beach fiestas and beauty pageant shows. The noise of musical sets occupying major junctions playing loud songs all night should have started. By now, entertainment centers, including the national stadium, Family Kingdom, could have been fully booked for the festive period. This is the period that most artists release their songs and it means business for the industry. The EVD has affected the entertainment industry significantly, leaving the sector losing billions of Leones.

The entertainment industry currently employs more than 20% of mostly young people, from musicians to record producers, actors, directors to marketers etc. Artists have lost hundreds of millions with many shows cancelled due to the epidemic.

Popular Black Leo rapper Kao Denero was scheduled to perform alongside Jamaican reggae artist Glendale Goshia Gorden, better known as Busy Signal, at the National Stadium in May this year. The S/Leonean US-based rapper and the Jamaican had collaborated in a song titled, ‘Ghetto Struggle’, and the stage was all set for the performance of Busy Signal for the first time in Sierra Leone.

And then Busy Signal took to the social media and announced that he will not travel to Sierra Leone over the fear of Ebola. The Jamaican artist said he took the decision on the advice of his medical doctor and management team. But that was back in May. The show was expected to be a sold out for Kao Denero who has one of the largest fan bases in Sierra Leone. The rapper could have raked hundreds of millions of Leones in just one night, had the concert been staged, and Sierra Leone enjoying a good PR from the visit by Busy Signal.

In June this year, myself and two other journalists from Sierra Leone attended the ‘MultiChoice Africa Content showcase in Mauritius. The event showcased the amazing content that DStv and GOtv offer across all its platforms, mobile, online, PVR and streaming. It also features channels like BBC, lifestyle and entertainment, Turner: CNN, Cartoon Network and Boomerang, NBC Universal; Telemundo, M-Net: Africa Magic.

During that conference, we made a strong argument to Nico Meyer that Sierra Leonean contents are not featured except for a very few. We discussed possibilities on how our contents will be featured on the various DStv channels. I also held meetings with MTV Base senior contents staff on the possibilities of our music videos being featured. All the meetings were successful and when we came back to Sierra Leone, we came up with the idea of organizing a workshop in collaboration with the MultiChoice Sierra Leone branch on how to get our contents to various DStv channels. The MultiChoice office in Sierra Leone bought the idea and as we were making preparations for the workshop, the Ebola situation became worst and we had to cancel that workshop.

Popular Ghanaian actor, Majid Michael, whom I interviewed in Mauritius, even expressed interest to be part of that workshop as a facilitator as a way to support the emerging film industry.

Sierra Leone was also excluded from participating at West Africa’s biggest reality TV show – Project Fame. The organizers in Nigeria, after a successful auditioning in Sierra Leone, decided to exclude the country from participating at this year’s event. An SMS message which was sent by the organizers in Nigeria to their local representative in Sierra Leone disclosed that they cannot risk allowing Sierra Leone to participate.

The SMS which was published in a SaloneJamboree report reads: “We have a major challenge now with Ebola. MTN has said they cannot take the risk of an outbreak.”

Khadison Duwai, who was selected to represent Sierra Leone in Nigeria, told SaloneJamboree in an interview that he was sure of winning the star price but his hopes were dashed.

Then came the Big Brother Star Game. Auditioning was done and finalists selected to represent Sierra Leone in South Africa. Again, we were later told that they were denied entry visa by the South African embassy in Ghana.

Sierra Leone continues to lose out on other major international events including pageantry, all because of Ebola disease.

Despite the hard economic toll on the industry, our artists have been playing their part in producing sensitization songs and films to stop the spread of the disease. As the disease continues to claim more lives, our industry continues to suffer. Night clubs remain closed and shows suspended. The Public Health Emergency which was pronounced by President Ernest Bai Koroma, a measure to stop the spread of Ebola, makes it a crime for public gathering at this time.

Artists are anxiously waiting to get back to business once the Ebola is eradicated in Sierra Leone.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Murtala Mohamed Kamara is the Founder and CEO of SaloneJamboree, Sierra Leone’s foremost Arts and entertainment magazine. He is a Curator for the Global Shapers community Freetown Hub and President of Young Entrepreneurs Network Sierra Leone. He is an award winning Journalist, right activist and Media Entrepreneur. Kamara blogs about the Arts, technology, youth issues and entrepreneurship and current affairs.

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