Singing In The Shower To Help Save Cape Town's Water

Sep 7, 2018
Originally published on September 7, 2018 6:32 pm

Around the world, people are struggling for access to drinking water. All Things Considered is examining the forces at play in separating the haves from the have-nots — from natural disasters to crumbling infrastructure and corruption.

When the drought in Cape Town, South Africa, was worsening in late 2017, one of the country's leading insurance companies, Sanlam, wanted to help get the word out that people needed to save water.

Sanlam's idea was to make a billboard telling people to cut down on water use.

But that seemed boring to copywriter Susan van Rooyen and art director Moe Kekana. They're with the King James Group, the communications firm that Sanlam pitched.

So van Rooyen and Kekana started brainstorming. Cape Town's government was asking people to save water by taking showers that lasted two minutes or less. Inspiration struck soon enough.

"What do people do in the shower?" says 30-year-old van Rooyen. "They sing."

She and Kekana, 28, came up with something of a musical challenge: the 2-Minute Shower Songs campaign. The team asked South Africa's biggest pop stars to record new, shortened versions of their most famous songs.

"I remember sending an email where somebody said, 'How many do you want?' And I said, 'I could live with four or five, but 10 would be the dream,'" Kekana says. "And we got 10."

The South African artists who contributed to the project range from pop singer Jimmy Nevis and rapper Youngsta to rock band Desmond & The Tutus.

Once everyone was on board, the songs were recorded within two weeks in November 2017. "We basically created an album in under a month," van Rooyen says.

The idea of 2-Minute Shower Songs is fairly simple: You hit play as you jump in the shower, sing along and finish by the time the song ends. The 10 songs span an array of genres — from chill house to heavy drum-and-bass — and translate the sense of urgency around the drought into the music.

In June — after the city cut down on water usage by more than half — Cape Town officials proclaimed that "Day Zero" had been averted. The term refers to the day it was predicted the city would have had to turn off its taps and distribute rationed water.

Pop stars aren't exactly superheroes. But during this water crisis, everyone had a role to play.

"Sometimes you don't know what you can do to help within a crisis," van Rooyen says, "and they were doing what they do best."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And today, we have a quick preview.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And this preview is literally quick. I went to South Africa to learn how Cape Town avoided becoming the first major city in the modern era to run out of water. And as I was reporting that piece, which we'll hear next week, I stumbled upon this - a two-minute story about two-minute songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROUGE")

ROUGE: (Rapping) Don't it feel like deja vu, de-de-deja vu? Don't it feel like deja vu...?

SHAPIRO: When Cape Town's drought was at its worst, an insurance firm decided to help get the word out that people needed to save water. The company hired a communications firm called King James.

SUSAN VAN ROOYEN: I'm Susan van Rooyen, 30 years old. And I'm a copywriter.

MOE KEKANA: And my name is Moe Kekana, 28 years old and art director.

SHAPIRO: The pitch was make a billboard telling people to save water, which seemed kind of boring.

VAN ROOYEN: But then we kind of got brainstorming. And we came up with this 2-Minute Shower Songs campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NANA")

MI CASA: (Singing) Wake up, nana.

SHAPIRO: Two-minute shower songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NANA")

MI CASA: (Singing) Take a shower, nana. Nana, nana. How do...

SHAPIRO: Cape Town's government was asking people to take showers that lasted two minutes or less to save water.

VAN ROOYEN: What do people do in the shower? You know, they sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NANA")

MI CASA: (Singing) Tell me how do...

SHAPIRO: So the team asked South Africa's biggest pop stars to record new versions of their most famous songs, versions just two minutes long.

KEKANA: I remember sending an email where somebody said, how many do you want? I was like, well, I could live with four or five, but 10 would be the dream. And we got 10.

VAN ROOYEN: So we went into studio. We recorded with 10 artists in two weeks, and we basically created an album in under a month.

SHAPIRO: The idea is you hit play as you jump in the shower, sing along and finish by the time the song ends.

VAN ROOYEN: And some of them even changed their genre.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKING IT EASY")

GOODLUCK: (Singing) We're taking it easy. We're taking it easy.

VAN ROOYEN: For instance, there's a - you know of Goodluck? They kind of went from a chilled, like, house track to a drum and bass.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKING IT EASY")

GOODLUCK: (Singing) We're taking it easy. We're taking it easy.

VAN ROOYEN: So it was a challenge for them. And what was so nice is translating the sense of urgency of the drought into the song.

KEKANA: My favorite is definitely Desmond and the Tutus.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEENAGERS")

DESMOND AND THE TUTUS: (Singing) Let's act like teenagers.

KEKANA: That was also a major shift in how they did it. And this was all done in three days, from notice to recording.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEENAGERS")

DESMOND AND THE TUTUS: (Singing) I need your face where my face is. You know the place. Let's act like teenagers.

SHAPIRO: Pop stars are not exactly superheroes. But in this crisis, everyone had a role to play.

KEKANA: One of the lines we used was the album about people singing to save a city.

VAN ROOYEN: Sometimes you don't know what you can do to help within a crisis, and they were doing what they do best.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIT RAAK BETER")

FRANCOIS VAN COKE: (Singing in Dutch).

SHAPIRO: That's Susan van Rooyen and Moe Kekana, creators of the 2-Minute Shower Songs campaign that helped Cape Town get through the worst drought in the city's history. All next week, we'll have more stories from the water front.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIT RAAK BETER")

VAN COKE: (Singing in Dutch). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.