Message Behind African Heaters For Norway Spoof

An online video, urging Africans to save Norwegians from frostbite, has gone viral. The tongue-in-cheek spoof features South Africans singing about sending radiators to Norway. The filmmakers hope to take on stereotypes of Africa that are reinforced by charities and the media. Host Michel Martin speaks to Erik Evans, one of the video's creators.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are going to stay on the subject of Africa, and what that continent of more than 50 countries needs or maybe - just maybe - doesn't. Remember this?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE THE WORLD")

USA FOR AFRICA: (Singing) We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let's start giving.

MARTIN: That was USA for Africa, singing to raise money for famine relief in 1985. Now, a student-run Norwegian NGO has its own charity video campaign. It's called "Radi-Aid." The tongue-in-cheek effort features South Africans singing about sending radiators to freezing Norwegians, for relief from the cold.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADI-AID")

AFRICA FOR NORWAY: (Singing) You know it gets a freezing. It's time for us to care. There's heat enough for Norway if Africans would share.

MARTIN: The spoof has now scored more than a million views on YouTube, but there is a serious message behind the fun. Here to tell us more about that is Erik Evans. He is one of the student leaders who came up with the idea.

Erik Evans, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

ERIK EVANS: Thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: The "We Are the World" song - and the earlier British effort, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" - that raised money for famine relief in Africa, I don't know if you have specific memories or firsthand memories of those, given your age; but is that, specifically, what inspired this effort?

EVANS: Oh yes, very much. And even though I might not have been old enough at the time, that I paid much attention to it, the fact that I have such a clear image of it just is a testimony to how that really defined our picture of Africa here in Europe, and also in the U.S.

MARTIN: How did this specific project come about, where - a bunch of you guys talking about this and thinking, you know, it would be fun? Or how - what exactly was the process that led to this?

EVANS: We've been working for quite some time - for several years, actually - on trying to counterbalance the simplistic image that is being portrayed of countries in the south and especially, sub-Saharan Africa. We're frustrated with how it's all filled with negativity. You have these - you know, the same images going over and over; of starving children, struggling women, gun-crazed men. And while that might be the case for certain regions in Africa, that is not the context that most Africans live in.

MARTIN: And the artists in the video, where did they come from?

EVANS: It was composed by Wathiq Hoosain, which is - a South African, living in Norway. And then we had some Norwegians making the lyrics; and the people in the video are actually, mostly volunteer students in South Africa.

MARTIN: You know, the irony, of course - you know I'm going to ask this - is the other people who thought this up are - Radi-Aid - are in Norway. And isn't - in a way, aren't you kind of doing the same thing you criticize other white people for doing; which is deciding that - what Africa needs, and doing it? I mean, whether - if African humorists want to do a spoof about that, then let them do it?

EVANS: Well, several African humorists have already done that and yeah, sure. I mean, we're part of the aid industry as well, so if you want to say that we're part of the problem, then sure. But what we want to do is try to make people more critical of this constant message that is being given to them from organizations - perhaps like our own - that is showing this simple image; which should be completed with more information, with more nuanced information, about all the other things that Africa is about because just like, you know - in the video, you have these pictures of freezing Norwegians. And sure, weather is a problem in Norway, but we are a lot more than that. I would be rather frustrated if that was the only thing people knew about my country. And that's the way most Africans feel as well.

MARTIN: What exactly would you like people to do, in response to this video? Would you like them to stop giving to international aid organizations?

EVANS: No.

MARTIN: What would you like them to do?

EVANS: Most of the time, aid is actually good. Not always, but most of the time. And people should definitely keep on giving. However, first of all, we want the media, and these organizations, to be more creative and positive and honest in their communication. But we also want the viewer to perhaps reflect more. We need to think more about what is actually causing these huge problems that need fixing. And European countries, the U.S. - we are actually a major part of that problem. We keep re-enforcing this structure where the world is, you know, divided into the haves and the have-nots. There's a system - an ongoing system - which has created these export-driven, resource-based, single-commodity economies in Africa that are more designed to develop Europe or the U.S., than they are to develop themselves. And this is a problem with - you know, with European and American trade policies, the foreign policies, agricultural policies. And we need to demand - I mean, we need to keep on giving, but we also need to demand change from our leaders; and perhaps look at our habits as consumers, how they play into this.

MARTIN: What reaction are you getting?

EVANS: Oh, overwhelmingly positive. It's...

MARTIN: From whom?

EVANS: Well, funny you should ask because we get a lot of reactions from all over the world now - which, really, we hadn't anticipated. But the reactions from people in Africa are - they have only been positive so far. There has been - a few negative reactions. Some of the reactions have been, you know, along the lines that you just mentioned; that oh, but you're also European, and you're criticizing this, and you're also one of these organizations. But funny enough, the people actually, you know, coming forth with this kind of criticism are all in Europe or in the U.S. So - I mean, the people that we talk on behalf of, in the video, have no problem with this.

MARTIN: Erik Evans is the president of the Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund. That is the group responsible for the Radi-Aid campaign and the video, "Africa for Norway," and he joined us from Oslo. Erik Evans, thanks for joining us.

EVANS: Thank you for having me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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