A song and music video launched recently by a renowned Malawian musician is effectively spreading the message about river conservation in Malawi.

The most important aspect of protecting urban rivers and natural assets is the local community.  It is local community members that engage with rivers on a daily basis and whose impacts are contributing to the high levels of degradation experienced in African cities. It is also the communities that are most vulnerable to flooding and on-the-ground issues exacerbated by land use change and environmental degradation.

It is essential that the way nature is currently thought about and engaged with is changed. The value of rivers in cities needs to be communicated effectively through the correct channels to the appropriate audiences. The UNA Rivers project is achieving this through innovative approaches such as the Mpumulo song.

Mpumulo, translated directly from Chichewa means “Rivers for Life”. This is name of the UNA Rivers project, which aims to improve planning and management around urban rivers.

The ‘Rivers for Life’ song

The lyrics and upbeat rhumba tempo of Mpumulo speaks to local community members about the value of urban rivers and the need to protect them. The song has been written and produced by the renowned Malawian artist, Lulu. Lulu entered into a partnership with the UNA Rivers project to raise awareness about the importance of rivers in cities and has become an ambassador for the project. He officially launched the song and the music video on 12 June 2018 in Lilongwe.

The ‘Rivers for Life’ music video

A music video was produced to accompany the song and shows Lulu front and centre spreading the “breaking news” on the value of rivers.

Distribution and community awareness

Driving through Lilongwe with music blasting from the speakers on moving vehicles, Lulu and his team handed out over 2 000 CDs, which included the new single, to local community members.

The song has also been handed over to “burn centres” in Malawi. These centres store and sell songs to local communities and are the most effective way of engaging with the masses as the majority of people do not have access to CDs. Here songs are loaded directly onto cell phones and USD flash sticks which are then used to play the music.

A launch and press event was held on the evening of 12 June 2018. The event was well attended by community members, reporters from newspapers and radio stations. Attendees were treated to a live performance of the song, as well as messages from ICLEI CBC and SwedBio about the UNA Rivers project and the value of nature in urban life. The event was showcased on three local radio channels: Rainbow TV, Zodiak and MBC. In addition, newspaper articles continue to spread the message of the song and create awareness about the importance of rivers.

Moving forward

The song and music video continue to make their way around the country naturally. Evidence of this was when it played in the taxi transporting our team to the airport after a recent trip.

 “We asked our taxi driver how he got the song and he said a friend recommended it to him, and now it is his favorite! We then had a long discussion on the importance of rivers, led and championed by our local driver who seemed frustrated with the state of their rivers.”  –  Jess Kavonic, ICLEI Africa’s UNA Rivers Project Manager.

More formally, the plan for the song, which is being championed by Lulu and his team includes a) becoming a key feature on the band’s performance set (to be played live at all events); b) engaging with vendors at the Lizulu and Tsoka market in order to work with them to clean up this pilot site; c) fundraising for finances to duplicate the video and CDs; d) producing a documentary to drum up support for the Lilongwe River conservation activities and e) holding awareness raising events.

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