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South Sudan artists face the brunt of COVID-19 pandemic

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Before night clubs were banned in South Sudan in March as a preventive measure against COVID-19, traditional musician Martin Ojok was earning about 100,000 to 200,000 South Sudanese pounds (about 300 to 600 U.S. dollars) weekly by performing in parties and weddings.

But four months after a ban on mass gatherings was imposed, Ojok and his traditional band have been rendered idle, with no steady income.

“There is no work and no money. We are facing a lot of problems because we are all stranded in our houses doing nothing,” Ojok said during an interview in Juba on Monday.

In South Sudan, the majority of entertainers rely on concerts for their income, but that is no longer possible since the government banned social gatherings to control the spread of the COVID-19.

The arts industry in South Sudan is not spared from the COVID-19 crisis as many artists have now found themselves without a steady flow of income as social events remain banned across the country.

Performing artists like musicians, poets and comedians said the COVID-19 lockdown introduced in March has disrupted their businesses.

Ojok worries that if the restrictions continue, artists in South Sudan will be subjected to more suffering because the majority do not have other sources of income apart from stage performances.

“I used to get 100,000 or 200,000 SSP in a week before the COVID-19 pandemic. But now with the lockdown, there is no income,” Ojok said.

“We are surviving on our savings which are running out. If this lockdown continues for more days or months, life will get worse,” he added.

“Before the lockdown, I used to get money from performing in cultural events and weddings, but since March, I have been unable to perform, which makes it difficult to get money, said 42-year-old Drummer James Athian.

“Life is really very difficult for artists at the moment. Our request to the government is that they should open up space for us to be able to perform and make a living,” he added.

Deputy spokesperson of the South Sudan Artists Union, Isaac Lumori acknowledged that artists in the country are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic because their livelihoods have been interrupted.

“COVID-19 has really negatively affected many businesses including the music industry. We are really down, we do not know what to do,” said Lumori.

“As the cases of COVID- 19 go down, the government should at least relax some of the restrictions and allow musicians to perform,” he added.

Lumori urged the artists to be creative and embark on other business ventures in order to survive the economic shocks brought by COVID-19.

“I would love to see that our artists open their minds and they should not only think of singing and dancing on stage but do something outside music,” said Lumori.

South Sudan’s confirmed COVID-19 cases stood at 2,211, with 45 deaths and 1,180 recoveries as of Sunday.

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