Songs for Africa

Music saves lives


Design Opportunity













































































Inspired by UNICEF's Wearables for Good Challenge, we delved into the context of low resource, underserved communities.


From our research, we uncovered three design opportunities with regards to healthcare organizations' communication with their target audience in Africa. 

#1 Current healthcare communication is undermined by low literacy rates

Literacy rates in underserved, low-resource communities are incredibly low. 24% of all illiterate adults live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Frequent miscommunication and misunderstandings happen as campaigns are misconstrued or ignored by those who do not understand. Moreover, circulating literature about health can be notoriously technical, making it difficult for the lay person to understand, remember and act upon. Although disease prevention objects such as mosquito nets and condoms are frequently given out, people fail to use them properly or do not use them at all.


#2 Africa is a mobile-first continent

The technological landscape in Africa and other underserved communities are growing at an unprecedented rate. Mobile phone ownership is growing at more than 40% a year and it is estimated that by 2016, Africa will have 1 billion mobile phones. Due to the lack of landlines, broadband internet is inaccessible and unreliable in most parts of Africa. Thus the majority access the internet solely via their mobile phones and this is projected to increase 20 times in the next five years


#3 Potential for music-based learning

Radio has been a longtime staple in the African household and have been relied on for communication to a large audience, especially to isolated rural areas. Despite the wide variance in capabilities of feature phones in Africa, most phones are equipped with the radio function.

Music is powerful because they are highly accessible and highly integral to its culture - on the streets of Sierra Leone, music is blaring from the speakers all day. The audience need not be literate or educated to listen, sing and learn. This potential has been leveraged by various organizations who used songs as a medium to create awareness for health issues and encourage health enhancing behaviours (e.g. UNICEF for Ebola, MoHS Sierra Leone for maternal health, Doctors without Borders for Sleeping Sickness).


How might we rethink the way health issues are communicated to encourage adoption of health-enhancing behaviours throughout Africa?


Songs for Africa is a music service that aims to educate and activate people on health issues, and encourage them to adopt positive behaviours, through the infectious and accessible medium of songs.

The service is primarily designed for organizations, the government and NGOs who wish to spread messages that aims to enhance health enhancing behaviours. Specific focus areas for the music content can be health/diseases and hygiene, or otherwise determined by individuals and organizations who wish to drive social good. 


Taking the current mobile handset capabilities into consideration, Songs for Africa can be rolled out in two phases.


Today’s implementation focuses on the SMS based service and the radio. It begins with creating a music database by gathering and organising suitable songs (e.g. Ebola’s in Town). To grow this database, there can be an open call for collaboration between African singers and individuals/organizations. Music will be produced through partnerships with music production studios, who can sponsor recording equipment. To create awareness for this service, popular radio stations can air new songs and advertise the SMS-based service. Songs for Africa service allows people to play songs for fun or broadcast them when teaching and learning in a group. 



In five years’ time, prices of mobile phones (i.e. high end feature phones and smartphones) will be likely to decrease, increasing ownership. Extending the SMS-based service is a mobile app, which provides tools to help individuals create songs that activate and educate on health issues. To assure content accuracy, lyrics will be contributed by subject matter experts, e.g. gynaecologists on maternal nutrition. Users can simply produce a song by remixing lyrics with a tune they compose.

At the heart of the service is a self-sustaining ecosystem whereby content is continuously refreshed by healthcare organizations and users who are passionate about creating change through music.



Compose with record & remix

Tapping on a button allows a tune to be recorded e.g. familiar soundtrack, instruments, voices. Different tunes can be recorded using the different buttons and remixed for the song recording.


Mashing up with lyrics of choice

The app provides suggested lyrics for the composed tune based on the lyrics' ratings (by users and healthcare workers) and its compatibility to the composed tune. Simply swipe to browse different lyrics and record with a single tap. 


Initial exploration


To learn more about the project, see the project PDF.




Claudia Ciarpella, Myoungeun Kim and Samantha Lim



~2 months