Covid-19: Hope During and Beyond the Pandemic

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Napoleon da Legend. Photo: Personal collection.
 
One of my favorite Thomas Sankara quotes is “he who feeds you, controls you.” It encapsulates the genius of one of our most important Pan-African figures with its poignant truth, its simplicity and poetic insight. For those who are unfamiliar, Sankara was a progressive revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987, when he was assassinated, due to his stance against neocolonialism.
 
As an emcee and artist, I dream and strive to have my music one day connect with people in the same manner that Sankara’s message did. We are living in a time in history, where there will a Pre-Corona world and a Post-Corona world. It is apparent that the world as we know will never be the same again. We can only speculate as to where it is going. The only thing that truly matters for us: Will we come out of it better or worse?
 
I, for one, feel relatively “privileged” at this beginning stages of the crisis. For one, I am not feeling sick. I had a bad “flu,” could have been Covid-19 for all I know, in February and have been fine since. Secondly, my day to day hasn’t changed much since the pandemic. Apart from doing shows and touring, which are absolutely cancelled for the next few months until further notice, I do most of my creating at home.
 
Pre-Corona, when I would be on the road or “out and about” too much, I used to look forward to some “down time” to create and finish up on my never-ending stream of ideas, concepts and projects. It seems that all I have is time right now. However, I feel for those considered essential workers, particularly people in the healthcare system, who put themselves at risk to care for patients and keep our economy going.
 
I remember about 6 years ago, back when I was making a name for myself in the rap scene in New York City and working a 9-5, when I finally decided to quit my job to focus on what I actually loved to do. Many of my peers, friends and loved ones tried to convince me not do it and told me I was being unreasonable for letting go of the security of a job to pursue such a difficult career in a market over-saturated with talented artists with dreams of “making it.”
 
I think they all underestimated my “crazy” and the resolve I had to build a viable career as an independent artist while still living in this expensive Brooklyn borough. Once I left my job, I never looked back. Although times were tough in many instances with some months almost forcing me to go back to the workforce—my longest stint was working as a busboy in a restaurant for two days before quitting again—I kept on and was able to accomplish so many amazing things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing prior.
 
In the midst of this crisis, I am fortunate enough to be able to create, release music—I released an Afrobeat/Hip-hop “Afrostreet” album on March 27–and continue to market and promote myself in time where people are looking for good entertainment while in “quarantine.”
 
In the meantime, tens of millions are being laid off from their work hoping for the government to do the right thing by them and without any idea about the length of the crisis and how—and if—the economy will recover. Pre-Covid, being an independent, non-salaried artist or most self-employed “insert trade here” was looked at as a precarious position to be in, in our economy. This has seemingly flipped around, whereas millions of salaried workers have no true prospect of where this crisis will lead them. Most of the socially accepted western preconceptions of the world are now being brought into serious questioning. What is my value within an organization? What is my value to society? What role is government supposed to play in my life? Is my—our—way of life reasonable and sustainable?
 
A big reset button has been pushed on the world. Change and uncertainty is a very uncomfortable thing, which artists learn to skillfully navigate like a sailor in turbulent ocean waters. I am originally from the Comoros Islands, in East Africa, which I visited many times in my life. Going back there serves as an anchor for me, as it allowed me to experience “real life” in my opinion. Dirt floors, living around livestock, getting water from a well, going to the “champ” to get a few vegetables to eat alongside my late grandmother.
 
I used to always tell my friends here, if one day things really get out of hand, I can always go back to Comoros. Although, I may not benefit from the luxuries we are used to in America and New York City, I know I would be fed and wouldn’t have to worry about rent. Subconsciously, I always knew I could survive and live decently with less. 
 
Now, don’t get me wrong there are major issues that affect countries such as Comoros, such as inadequate healthcare and lack of transparent governance for example, however, culturally, the sense of community is deep and strong.
 
As we brace ourselves for a tsunami of deaths, sickness and financial strife for many, I hope that this violent viral wave will lead to an awakening of the collective conscious. I hope our love for each other will grow and manifest itself in a heightened sense of solidarity demanding better pay and conditions for the working people. 
 
I hope artists use their gift to uplift and highlight the best parts of our humanity. I hope we have the courage to demand the basic decent human rights for everybody without exception as a non-negotiable right from our elected civil servants and government. I hope we have the courage to admit to ourselves how cruel, unfair and destructive this current economic system has been for humans, animals and the earth.
 
I hope we can be more present, kinder and more gracious with each other. I’m aware that in our cynical world of “time is money”, “nothing moves but the money” and neoliberal Obama-type speeches, the mention of “hope” may seem idealistic and played out. When stripped to the very core, “hope” is often all that’s left to keep us going. 
 
“Hope” through uncertainty and tribulation has preserved me to this day, which makes me a dreamer, a believer and, more importantly, a manifester. Hopelessness and dehumanization are direct by-products of predatory capitalism.
 
I don’t have to have the credentials of an expert to say that “hopelessness” has killed more spirits than the Corona virus will ever kill bodies. Also, if you don’t believe in “hope,” look up the results of what a positive prognosis versus a negative prognosis from a doctor does to a patient.
 
My thoughts go out to all of those who have suffered and lost loved ones in this ordeal. We will make it through, because we don’t have a choice but to fight. It’s what makes us human. 
 
Napoleon Da Legend is an artist based in Brooklyn, New York. 
Instagram teamndl 
 

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