Liberian immigrants hope their song will offer support to those dealing with Ebola back home

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Chillton James (left) and his collaborators put the finishing touches on their song, "Kick Ebola" at a community recording studio in Philadelphia.


Elana Gordon

Chillton "De Merchant" James, is a Liberian-born musician who runs a community recording studio in southwest Philadelphia.

The studio sits on the top floor of the nonprofit ACANA, or the African Cultural Alliance of North America and is located in a neighborhood where thousands of West African immigrants live.

For the last few weeks — in between engineering and working on other people’s projects — James has been humming his own tune, one that he just couldn't shake.

"It's like, 'Kick Ebola, kick Ebola out of Africa'..." he sings. "I'm still working on it. I haven't played it yet, but it's in my mind. That's why I came running here to see if I could put something in the machine."

James says he felt helpless while more people in his country were diagnosed with Ebola. He says support doesn’t seem to be arriving soon enough. And he’s constantly bombarded with misinformation and confusion, especially on social media. So he’s turning to something he knows, music, to spread information and support. 

For the last couple of weekends, James has brought in some friends to help develop his concept for a song and lay down the tracks.

"The only thing we can do to prevent and stop this deadly virus from spreading around ... is create awareness," he says.

“We are too beautiful, too precious to be dying like this,” says Sametta Tupee Morris, a backup singer and producer. “The more we sing [the more powerful] we become." Morris says the process of creating this song has been cathartic for her. She just recently lost a dear friend and fellow musician, Alexander KoKo Anderson to Ebola.

"We are here, but we feel the pains back home," adds drummer Tsneh Harris.

"As a Liberian, you hate to see your country in a negative light," says James Suah, who sings background vocals for "Kick Ebola." During the weeks since song production began, Suah has felt that sentiment grow not just abroad, but also in the US. "To me, what it feels like is we're not just fighting the virus, but we're fighting the stigma."

James says the song has grown beyond the Liberian American community.  “My view is if we are not together, we are not going to stop Ebola from spreading,” he says.

Just as the group put final touches on the song, Steve Worjloh stopped in. Worjloh is James' mentor and is widely known across West Africa as "Big Steve."  Worjlah, who has produced songs for international public health campaigns, told the team that the song needed more edge and an "enhanced" message.

“There are a lot of Ebola songs out there," Worjlah says. "And they just say, 'Ebola, Ebola' like they’re praising Ebola.”

James agreed, so he added Big Steve to the song at the end, as well as with this passage in the middle:

This is war. And it's raw. Against mankind. And there's no time. Calling all world powers.

James says they feel an urgency to get their message out as soon as they can.

This story was originally produced as part of WHYY's The Pulse. Read the full story.

In Arts, Culture & MediaMusicGlobal Nation.

Tagged: PhiladelphiaAfricaNorth AmericaLiberiaUnited StatesPennsylvaniaWest AfricaJames SuahChillton JamesTsneh HarrisSametta Tupee MorrisSteve WorjlohEbolamusicculture.