Far away from the modern world, in northern Mozambique, lies a vast expanse of land known as Niassa. It seems to stretch on forever under a broad African sky. Only one dirt road links it to the rest of the country. “It is a place the world forgot,” says FRONTLINE/World reporter Marjorie McAfee.
But in a poor, remote village, she finds a crowd gathering, as a band tunes their electric guitars. People have come from all around to see and hear Feliciano Dos Santos, one of Mozambique’s biggest Afro-pop stars.
When his band, Massukos, begins to play a lilting groove, kids start to dance, and a handsome, smiling Santos sings some unexpected lyrics in the local tribal language:
Let’s wash our hands
Let’s wash our hands
For the children to stay healthy
For the uncles to stay healthy
For the mothers to stay healthy
We build latrines
Most rock stars don’t sing about hygiene and sanitation. Then again, not many rock stars live and work in Niassa, one of the poorest places on earth, where people survive on subsistence farming and lack amenities such as indoor plumbing. Born and raised in Niassa, Santos writes and performs songs that literally save lives. His hit, “Wash Your Hands,” is part of a public health campaign organized by his non-profit group, Estamos, that promotes the installation of pumps to provide clean drinking water and “EcoSan” toilets to improve sanitation.
Santos shows McAfee that the brick-lined pits of the ecological latrines prevent water contamination. People are also taught to toss ash from cooking fires onto the waste and cover it with a lid to prevent odor and keep away disease-bearing flies.
But then, there’s another, unexpected benefit. After composting for six months or so, the waste and ash create a natural fertilizer, which can be used by farmers to increase the amount of corn and other crops they grow. Some farmers were perhaps understandably skeptical or squeamish, but as one says, when he saw the size of his neighbor’s cabbages, he requested an EcoSan toilet of his own. Santos’ group Estamos has so far installed over 300 of these low-cost latrines -- helping to build a sustainable sanitation system in an area that never had one.
Santos has a personal motivation for his work: He fell victim to polio as a child from contaminated water and lost part of his leg. “I don’t want to see children growing up with the same problem I have,” Santos tells McAfee. As a young boy, Santos made his first artificial leg out of cardboard and rubber bands. He is a survivor, not prone to giving up. But he still bears the emotional scars of the discrimination he faced because of his disability. He recalls the story of how his wife’s uncle rejected him, saying he was unfit to provide for a family. “He said this in front of my mother,” says Santos, as he is overcome with emotion and breaks off the interview.
Santos has always used his music for healing – for himself and for his country, which was consumed by a long, catastrophic civil war after Mozambique won a war of independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975. When the fighting finally stopped in the mid-1990s, Santos started his band, Massukos, naming it after a local, nourishing fruit.
“I was inspired to name the band after that fruit,” explains Santos, “because we were just finishing a war, and after a war, many people need to fight spiritual hunger. So our music is intended to fight spiritual hunger.”
His message resonates in a place like Niassa, where life is tragically short: Life expectancy is only 42 years. One reason for that is AIDS. One in six people in this region are infected with HIV. So Santos’s NGO, Estamos, also does AIDS education and prevention, sponsoring plays in which villagers re-enact the traumas of infidelity and infection.
Back in the Estamos office in the town of Lichinga, McAfee sees a dynamic group that now employs over 40 people and has an operating budget of nearly a million dollars, most of it coming from Western aid organizations. Santos has become an icon for clean water and sanitation throughout the country, says Simao, his friend, co-worker and fellow band member. And others outside Mozambique are also recognizing his accomplishments. Santos recently received a $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco for his work.
His band, Massukos, has also caught on with critics and world music fans in Europe, and with his growing fame, Santos could have opted to leave Niassa for a more lucrative career abroad, but he is committed to working for his homeland.
In a song dedicated to Niassa, Santos and Simao deliver a simple, heartfelt message: Life is short, don’t forget where you come from, and try to do some good while you are here.
Other people say,
I’ll never go back to Niassa.
Why go back?
But here we are.
Santos is Niassa.
Simao is Niassa.
Estamos is Niassa.
Massukos is Niassa.
What an amazing story and a wonderful man! (And the band as well.)
There is so much bad news in the world. Thank you for showing that this is not all there is!
Safety Harbor, Florida, USA
What a wonderful use of music to teach. In fact, a modern version of an ages-old tradition of story telling. The idea is absolutely delightful. And I do hope his effort meets with great success for the wellbeing of his people and his country. Feliciano, nosso grande herói! Está de parabens! E felicidades no seu projecto! Um grande abraço!
That is such a powerful film about an even more powerful man - music is such an underused medium when it comes to getting a message across and he is doing it so well.I am happy and will forward this link to many people.Let the world sing and dance its way to enlightenment.
San Francisco, CA
What a positive story. To those who've posted here that have worked in Niassa with Estamos, thank you for sharing your feedback as well. Also, I couldn't get enough of Massukos's music.
Thank you for the story about Feliciano Dos Santos. What a wonderful human being. His love for his community is inspiring beyond words!
He's so brave and generous. When he described the way his uncle rejected him - it moved me to tears.
Needless to say, I was happy to see him in the last few frames, smiling, singing and playing his musical love songs to his home land.
Thank you, thank you, thank you Frontline!
What an amazing and inspiring story - a real grassroots effort, by such inspiring community members. Please share this link that I found as a way to contribute to Massukos's cause: http://www.tuneyourworld.com/profile/Massukos
San Carlos, CA
What a great story! Truly, the actions of one person can impact the lives of thousands! Wonderful reporting!
Great positive story! It was informative as well as inspiring. Great job reporting & producing.
I thought "Guitar Hero" was wonderful! Dos Santos' story is a touching and inspirational one. Ms. McAfee did a fantastic job bringing it to the small screen. I hope this story will bring Mr. Santos and Niassa the extra help they need. Well done!
I knew Santos when I was working in Niassa Province; he and his group have always been a very positive force for change. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with him and ESTAMOS on two projects and I can say that this is definitely not hype. He and the people with whom he works are deeply committed to the well being of the folks in Niassa and Mozambique in general.
A delightfully positive story for a change. There really is good news all over the world and I appreciate the efforts that Marjorie McAfee and Frontline World went to in order to present this story. Good job!
This is amazing and ingenious! This inspires me to do something similar in parts of Peru that I work in. Thank you for sharing this story, more good can come from it.
I found this so inspiring and beautiful. At the end of the segment, Santos says what I think is his mission statement, "Know where you come from and do some good while you are here." It is simple, yet centering.
This is so amazing, every day my job is to teach child care workers about sanitation and the importance of hand washing in preventing illness in our very young children. My hand froze on the remote when I heard Massukos singing the Wash Our Hands song. All across the world and the message is still the same, except we have no excuse to justify not washing our hands and using good hygiene measures every day. I intend to share this story and the great results that have occured because of Santos's vision. I intend to send the link to all the other Child Care Health Consultants in North Carolina.Thank you Frontline and PBS for such an inspiring tribute to this band and their home country. I will pray for the continuation of this great mission.Thanks to each member of Massukos.
I have seen this first hand so I know how hard it is for the people in Mozambique. It is so sad to see these people suffer. I spent a few days in Panda and it is full of kind people who have pure joy. These people deserve good things and need help.They are truly grateful for everything they receive.These men are a great example to all nations!
jessie Kabwila Kapasula
Thank for featuring Africa from an agency driven perspective. Your coverage shows us as a people with agency, people who can solve their problems and are dynamic victim- survivors. This musician is doing very good work for his community, with no self pity or victimhood syndrome. I particularly appreacite his pragmatic message and how he owns his innovation. More power to you for covering this story in the way you did, you allowed him to speak in his own language, thank you particularly for doing that. As Ngugi says, when you lose your language, you have lost a good part of you and, more power for his being at home with his Niassahood.