KeruBo's Irene Kerubo Webster (center) with AALV staff in the "Chanjo" video
Though Vermont's COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been relatively smooth, Afro-jazz artist and social worker Irene Kerubo Webster has noticed some hesitancy to get vaccinated among the Burlington area's resettled African community. Originally from Kenya, Webster works for the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV), a nonprofit that helps Africans and other New Americans living locally achieve independence and acculturation.
In response to the resistance she's seen, Webster's band KeruBo, which includes her husband Michael, recently released a new music video to bolster acceptance for the vaccine. Titled "Chanjo," the Swahili word for "vaccine," the clip is a sort-of sequel "Hakuna Lolote," a Swahili-language, pandemic-themed music video the band made in the spring of 2020 that highlighted coronavirus safety protocols.
"When I had been working with these groups of people, I realized that there were so many barriers that kept them from engaging fully and knowing what was going on around them if nobody helped them," Webster said in a recent video chat with Seven Days.
"They're really afraid," she continued, noting the influence of misinformation-filled internet videos, many of which derive from African media outlets and social media channels, a major source of news for some resettled Africans. She also touched on the legacy of European colonization as a source of mistrust within the local African community as it relates to the vaccine.
"We can't blame them [for being fearful]," Webster said. "['Chanjo'] is my attempt to persuade them, and to tell them, 'This is the real information, it's OK.'"
The video begins with Webster seated at a piano in the AALV-VT's community gathering space, accompanied by Burlington-based South African dancer Bonisewe Luthuli. As the song hits its chorus, Webster sings, "We can eradicate this pandemic with the vaccine," accompanied by colleagues from the AALV-VT. Shortly thereafter, we see Webster receive the vaccine herself.
"Chanjo" is filled with montages of joyful and reassuring singers and dancers. Webster emphasized that it was important to not only make the song fun and engaging, but also to cast it with people of a wide spectrum of ages.
"Music has a way of being very impactful when you see images and people that you already know — that remains in your mind, and reinforces the message," she said.