Two dozen Lagos healthcare workers in scrubs and face masks rushed outside the isolation tents and, making sure to keep six feet apart on the bright green grass, danced and swayed as a saxophone and trumpet struck up the band.
Inside the tents, some of the patients, all battling the coronavirus, watched through plastic windows and, if strong enough, danced and swayed along with them.
Abolaji Banjoko, a 32-year-old also known as BeejaySax, typically would have spent the day playing to a crowd of thousands at a packed megachurch in Nigeria’s thrumming commercial capital.
But this was no ordinary Sunday. Lagos was under lockdown, mass gatherings were banned and Banjoko and his musicians were under special orders from the state to play their gospel tunes to try to speed the recovery from a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands worldwide.
“The purpose was to lift the spirits – to deliver spiritual healing,” Banjoko said. “That was greatly achieved.”
The virus is still spreading though the capital, the epicentre of the outbreak in Africa’s most populous nation, upending life for its 20 million residents and stretching government resources.
On Monday, there were 2,558 confirmed cases in Nigeria, home to large Christian and Muslim communities, 1,107 of them in Lagos.
Music plays an integral role in Nigeria, the nation of Fela Kuti, Afrobeats and a steady stream of chart-topping artists including WizKid, Davido and Burna Boy. Thumping gospel at weekly church services propels congregants to feel the power of God.
Akin Abayomi, Lagos state’s health commissioner, launched the Art4life project last year to add music, painting and poetry to the healthcare arsenal. Now it includes weekly concerts outside coronavirus isolation and treatment centres.
Abosede Lewu, a Lagos doctor, called the initiative essential.
“If we have something that can stimulate people fighting back, which you cannot quantify in terms of the number of pills or whatever you give … we have to encourage it,” she said.
Peter Oluwadare, a 23-year old violinist, said it was scary to be so close to the pandemic but said the music helped him conquer his fear.
“It was refreshing to see the affected people and healthcare workers, you know, revitalised with the music,” Oluwadare said. “I feel so honoured to play there.”