Mozambican Singer Wins Prize For Strong Songs on Taboo Topics

Feliciano dos Santos, who sings about issues from HIV to waste management, won a Goldman Environmental Prize.
Feliciano dos Santos, who sings about issues from HIV to waste management, won a Goldman Environmental Prize. (By Steve Fisher Photography)

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By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 19, 2008

The velvety voice of singer Feliciano dos Santos delivers messages about HIV prevention, proper sanitation and sound farming techniques to the poor of Mozambique.

My brothers,

Come here to wash our hands

So we can avoid diseases. . . .

Water is life.

Teach our children.

For his work with the poor, dos Santos was honored with a $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize, one of six awarded in ceremonies this week in San Francisco and Washington.

"Sanitation continues to be a taboo subject throughout the world, though it remains one of the most pressing problems in poverty-stricken regions," the Goldman foundation said. Dos Santos had "found ways to discuss human waste management techniques with villagers through both grassroots outreach and music," it added.

Mozambique, a country of 21 million in southeastern Africa, was devastated by a 1976-1992 civil war that left 4 million people displaced and grim economic conditions. Despite a steady recovery, much of the population lives in villages that lack power and running water, giving rise to widespread contamination.

"I will die, and the problems will still be there," dos Santos said in an interview in Washington. "I am doing what I have to do."

His melodies also put him on a path to empowerment.

When he was 2 years old, he contracted polio from water drawn from crude village wells, feet away from latrines covered with banana leaves and branches. Such latrines are still common in Mozambique, he said, and some people fall in while using them or lose their keys and cellphones. "It's funny but sad," he said.

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