Using Music as a Tool for Social and Behavior Change
Updated: Aug 22
Fidelis Da-Uri and Philip Kinyota discuss ways music can be used to engage communities in SBCC campaigns
Amplio’s partners and affiliates use Talking Books to share hours of audio content, including social and behavior change communication (SBCC) messaging to promote health and well-being. Similar to radio, Talking Book content is produced in the form of songs, dramas, interviews, and endorsements. Fidelis Da-Uri, senior content manager at Amplio Ghana, says that music can be a powerful SBCC tool.
“Songs are part of our everyday life here in northern Ghana,” said Da-Uri. He often uses music to strengthen communication for development campaigns for Talking Book partners such as UNICEF and Ghana Health Service. A talented musician himself, Da-Uri plays the xylophone, composes music, and regularly collaborates with local musicians and singing groups.
Da-Uri and Phillip Kinyota, senior technical manager for Centre for Behaviour Change Communication (CBCC) in Kenya, an Amplio affiliate, shared three ways music can strengthen SBCC messages for Talking Book programs.
1. Popular artists can appeal to your target group
To engage communities for the USAID-funded Afya Timiza project in Turkana and Samburu counties, CBCC asked some popular local musicians to get involved. The artists created jingles, which CBCC included at the start of each Talking Book message. The result? Listeners were hooked.
“During the community entry stage, we learned what artists were favorites among our target audiences. When it was time to develop our Talking Book content, we already knew what music people liked,” Kinyota said. “We chose musicians to appeal to different groups, by age and gender. For example, Moses Eiton, a musician in Turkana, has a style of music and message delivery that is very much for the parents. In contrast, Akidah, a rap artist, represents the youth of today. When we’re creating audio content, we’re not afraid to mix it up.”
Kinyota said the artists were excited to participate because the program was for their communities. “When you’re doing SBCC work with rural remote communities, it can be important to have a brand ambassador as an entry point—someone who represents the values you want to promote, and that people already want to see and hear,” he says.
Selecting artists who appeal to different groups helped CBCC grab the attention of target audiences. This helped boost attention and attendance at Talking Book meetings.
“When you’re doing SBCC work with rural remote communities, it can be important to have a brand ambassador as an entry point—someone who represents the values you want to promote, and that people already want to see and hear.”
2. Music itself can convey information
When working with communities in northern Ghana, Da-Uri often includes traditional Ghanaian xylophones in the audio content he records for Talking Books. He explained the instrument has the power to convey specific information, as well as emotion.
“The xylophone is the major musical instrument among many communities in the Upper West Region. For instance, during funerals, xylophones are played to console and create emotions like empathy and sympathy. Many people enjoy the sound, but there’s also another aspect. Those who understand the language of the xylophone are able to tell the sex of the deceased, whether they were married, their age, cause of death, and more, just from the music.”
Da-Uri said the tone and rhythm of music can help listeners understand how they are meant to perceive a message. Music offers substantial entertainment and emotional value. When used to enhance SBCC content, music can both help inform and create a deeper connection with listeners.
"The xylophone can also convey information. During funerals, those who understand the language of the xylophone are able to tell the sex of the deceased, whether they were married, their age, cause of death, and more, just from the music.”
3. Songs can be used to teach and motivate
“In northern Ghana, people often sing motivational songs while undertaking farm activities and other tasks. Traditionally, songs are also used to critique bad behaviors and promote positive ones,” said Da-Uri, who often uses songs to promote healthy attitudes and practices for Talking Book programs.
“When we're producing audio content for Talking Books, the messages are not solely aimed at telling people how or why they should change their behaviors. It’s also important to motivate people. Songs can help,” Da-Uri said.
Da-Uri strives to turn SBCC messages into songs that people will enjoy hearing and singing. In the remote rural area where Da-Uri works and grew up, the Talking Book is viewed as a trusted and reliable source of information.
“Sometimes communities compose their own songs based on what they’ve learned from the Talking Book. The device has a built-in microphone for user feedback. People have used it to record and share new songs about new beliefs and behaviors.”
Mixing music with other SBCC tools
Music can be an effective addition to Talking Book content, along with other SBCC tools, and it can be incorporated in a number of ways. But variety is the spice of life! Mixing audio content formats, including music and songs, and integrating Talking Books with others tools like flip books can help keep participants more receptive and engaged.
Phillip Kinyota is Senior Technical Manager for SBCC and Innovations for Centre for Behaviour Change and Communication in Kenya. An expert in social marketing, he holds a master’s degree in communications for development from Daystar University. Connect with Phillip on LinkedIn.
Fidelis Da-Uri has worked for Amplio Ghana for over a decade. As senior content manager, he designs, produces, and manages content for Talking Book programs for UNICEF, CARE, and other partners. Connect with Fidelis on LinkedIn.