TACOMA, Wash — “Ufimata” is a happy-sounding song with a serious message, about wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Ufimata”. It's a Samoan phrase that means “Put It On”.
It’s one of three music videos produced by the Tacoma Refugee Choir to help the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department keep specific communities safe through Share Culture, not COVID program.
“The Tacoma Refugee Choir is all about love hope and belonging,” says founder Erin Guinup, “and so when the pandemic hit we really wanted to make sure we kept a sense of love and hope throughout this challenging time.”
Guinup, a former opera singer, started the choir the same year a new president ordered travel bans.
“And I knew I wanted to do something,” she says, “and music is my language. So what better way to connect with others than through music?”
The choir has given a voice to the voiceless and community to the lonely. Guinup knew musicians and singers who could help spread the health department's messages during the pandemic.
In “La Salud Collectiva”, South Sound artists remind Spanish-speaking listeners why they need to practice social distancing.
“I love the line ‘para mi abuela,’” says Guinup. “For my grandmother.”
“We Will Overcome”, written by Congolese refugee Providence Kamana, is sung in five African languages.
“COVID-19 is a very dangerous disease,” Kamana sings. “Let's protect ourselves.”
“When we remember why we make sacrifices, it makes it so much easier to get through tough times,” says Guinup
No single community has had a tougher time than Pacific Islanders, whose infection rates have been four times the national average.
Ala Talo, one of the singers in the “Ufimata” video, says she knows why.
“ If you know Pacific Islanders, it's really hard for us to stay away from our families,” she says. “Like we get together.”
Talo says her mom, her sisters, and a brother all got sick.
“It was really scary,” she says.
Everyone in her family has recovered but Talo says the “Ufimata” message is important.
“Wear your mask all the time to protect not just you but also your families,” she says.
The Tacoma Refugee Choir is a tax-deductible nonprofit that accepts donations.