Covid-19: Music meets Medicine inside Lagos Isolation Centres

Yinka Olatunbosun reports on how the Arts4Life programme by the Lagos State government explores music, amongst other forms of arts to impact positively on the lives of frontline workers and the Covid-19 patients at the isolation centres across the state in this encounter with the leader of the string Quartet that recently performed at the Infectious Diseases Hospital, Yaba.

The breezy garden with lush grasses serves as the orchestra pit for the four-man piece every Sunday at the Infectious Diseases Hospital, Yaba. For two hours, doctors, nurses, cleaners and patients at the isolation centre are serenaded with soothing music from the Quartet called Arts in Medicine Projects Orchestra. Long before the index case of Covid-19 was recorded in Nigeria, these musicians had actively performed at health facilities for therapeutic functions. But to perform in front of the isolation unit for patients of the dreaded Covid-19 disease is a different ball game.

Through an electronic interview with Peter Oluwadare, a violinist and a lead member of the Quartet in performance, the Arts4life initiative was projected as an attempt to bring Arts in Medicine to the frontline in the battle against the raging pandemic. Of course, it was only human for Oluwadare to think twice before accepting to be part of this project which he now considers as a honour.

“Music overtime has proven to be a tool of inspiration for people to connect, bond and help them to ease their pain and is a positive distraction for people who are at the isolation centre and we are excited to come on board to collaborate with Lagos State Arts4Life,” Oluwadare said.

He is not a stranger to performing at unconventional spaces especially in various health institutions. During his stint with the Arts in Medicine cohorts, he had worked with teams to facilitate music at isolated drugs wards in mental health facilities amongst others. That experience gathered over the years had come in handy at this moment.

“I have been able to acquire good skills and experience in the healthcare system through the various mediums of therapeutic processes, including bed-side music, mini concerts at hospitals, music for mental health, song writing sessions, music teaching sessions for children, adolescents and adults living with sickle cell anemia, and music for other patients as well as healthcare workers,” he revealed.

Naturally, performing artists tap their energy from the instantaneous responses that they get from the audience. But these may not be readily available at the isolation centres as some of the patients are confined within the facility; cordoned off by a long stretch of white and red stripped ribbon. Still, some of the patients stay glued to the windows, wave and applaud them after each performance. But it is not only the Covid-19 patients who relish the nerve-calming music from the string quartet.
“Government representatives through Arts4Life art program, healthcare workers and other essential workers too are also part of the audience who have enjoyed this music experience on a weekend basis,” he added.

Interestingly, there are plans to extend this music treat to the other isolation centres in Lagos and to add more music sessions to the week day activities at the facility. The Quartet often varied the music styles for wider appeal. Although the musicians were trained in classical music, they develop instrumentals along the lines of popular highlife tunes such as “Onidodo”, bringing nolstagia and positive energy to the hospital walls that could otherwise echo with shared pains and a state of depression.

“It’s not to marginalize other people who might be represented there, but we are very open in our expression. We perform different music styles with different languages and the Yoruba tunes is just one of them. Let me reiterate it once again. This initiative is hosted by Lagos State Art4Life and we are privileged to have been invited to come on board as collaborator for therapeutic music,” he explained.

If he wasn’t part of this project, Oluwadare would have probably been actively performing from his home while streaming it online to inspire people and spread joy. He believes strongly that music is a gift and a tool for healing. Still, he is conscious of his safety as well other those of his colleagues every time they arrive at the isolation centre. All of them are mandatorily covered in protective face masks as they perform the music with vigour at a safe distance from the patients who may sometimes watch from the corridors.

Reflecting on the role of music in the healing process, Oluwadare encouraged other musicians to do the same in this collective fight against Covid-19.

“It will be great to see more musicians use technology and the social media as a leverage to impact people within their environment, also while observing proper hygiene and maintaining social distancing in their various homes, they can perform in their rooms and compounds and spread music wherever they find themselves thereby helping people whose anxiety level has gone up, the depressed and as well as ourselves as musicians,” he said.

The Steering committee, Arts4Life, is chaired by a leading cultural enthusiast, lawyer and poet, Aduke Gomez who shed light on the initiative in a video uploaded on YouTube by Arts4Life. At the Easter Sunday edition of the performance which is the first of its kind, many health workers were seen dancing excitedly in short videos shared on social media which is a markedly different disposition to the Covid-19 fight when compared to other colleagues in badly hit countries in the Europe and of course, the United States of America. Gomez gave an introductory remark in the video that explains the whole idea of Arts4Life.

“What Art4Life has been set up to do is to achieve the intervention of arts into the entire healthcare; to introduce the benefits of arts to the patients and their families and also to the healthcare workers. We are bringing in the orchestra that you can see behind me because music helps to soothe the senses and allows a feeling of calmness which of course helps the healing process,” she remarked.

The co-ordinator and head of operations, Arts4Life, Wale Adeniji also revealed in a telephone interview that other aspects of the Arts and leisure are being explored to give therapy to the patients. One of them is the mural painting executed by visual artists on the walls of the hospital wards to add warmth to the walls. In the viral video shared by the Lagos Covid gang on Instagram, the walls have paintings and inspirational quotes that could make waking up every day in a confined state less traumatic.

Reflections in the Mirror

I knew she couldn’t cook
But it was never an issue
Until Armageddon knocked
And we were stuck with supplies
Without the wand to make magic…

I knew he wasn’t tidy
I never knew he was this tardy
We are living in a pile of clothes
And everything is everywhere
This is just day one…

The questions we ran from
Now sit with us on the couch
Patiently watching Netflix with us
Enjoying the laughs and emotions
All the while watching surreptitiously
With darting eyes and furtive glances

Is this really who I am?
Is this the person I have become?
This pandemic confronts with more
Than the mortality of humanity
It revealed the dying souls of men
Wandering as wraiths
In a pantomime of purpose

I have lived a lie
We have all been living lies
Who we truly are
Cannot recognise who we claim to be
We have become strangers
Even to our loved ones
We thought the hustle was for survival
And now
Confronted with the real need for survival
We realise the hustle
Was another form of escapism
Our wants have mutated our perception
Our needs disdained for lack of glamour

A naked man stands before the mirror
He sees himself
Not as he is
But through the eyes of his
Insecurity or vanity
But with the end of days
The scales will fall
The wind will blow
And the man now revealed
Must face himself…
(Poet: Femi Onakanren)

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