The late Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda knew that speeches were not the only way to convey messages. He was known for making statements through songs – like all 11 tracks on his 2005 album We will fight against HIV / AIDS.
In the first track, “Nkondo (This Is War)”, he half-sang, half-sung in his folkloric and unvarnished baritone, alternating between the local language Bemba and English: “The children of Africa .. Remember, prevention is better than cure Remember, abstinence is a service to God. If you can’t abstain, remember to use a condom.
The soft, dancing songs delivered a message that is still relevant today (although the idea of abstinence as the only preventive measure has been strongly criticized).
But the album apparently disappeared without a trace – until a nonprofit and a group of young musicians decided to seek it out to bring back the president’s exhortations to fight HIV / AIDS.
A man with a bicycle, a guitar and a message
Kaunda has always been a different revolutionary. In the early 1960s, while leading the Zambian liberation movement against the British, the guerrilla leader could be seen cycling through the countryside and armed with a guitar. Throughout his tenure, numerous photos show him carrying this instrument on international visits. The strong cuteness in her voice can be heard today on various YouTube posts.
“As an artist, Kenneth Kaunda was a very honest person,” Zambian singer Victoria Wezi Mhone said. “He wasn’t singing for commercial appeal, it sounded like a prayer. That’s what I love about him.”
Music has remained one of the reasons Kaunda was revered by many in Zambia, which he ruled from his independence in 1964 until he was relieved of his post in 1991. He continued to sing until ‘shortly before his death on June 17 at the age of 97.
Katy Weinberg, co-founder of the organization UkaniManje (“Wake Up Now” in Nyanja), read the article 15 years later and thought Kaunda’s music could be of great help in her mission. NGOs use music to raise awareness of the disease, especially given Kaunda’s reputation for her unbridled emotional manifestations.
“We found this Reuters article [from 2007] it was about how Kenneth Kaunda recorded this album and was known as the President Who Cried and Singed, “Weinberg said.” It was the only information I could find about it on the internet. I asked across the country and when I asked the musicians everyone kind of remembered the songs but no one had the album or knew if [copies] existed. “
The album was personal for Kaunda. His son Masuzgo died of AIDS in 1986 and soon after, the president became one of the first African leaders to publicly recognize the epidemic, despite its rapid spread across the continent. His open-mindedness won him admiration for years after serving in public office. Emmanuel Masaka, a doctor who advises UkaniManje, says Kaunda’s honesty was his strength.
“HIV was associated with shame, a shameful disease that was stigmatized, patients didn’t want to talk about it,” Masaka said. “Someone in Kenneth Kaunda’s own house has died from it. It encourages others to come out. Talk openly about sex, [the] having sex is taboo, we don’t talk about it openly but the disease was transmitted because of what was happening. You have to describe the whole sexual act and it took courage. Kenneth Kaunda helped with that. “
About three years before Kaunda recorded We will fight, The New York Times portrays him as a wise elder. Not wanting to re-enter the political arena, he said he “runs a foundation now, fighting HIV / AIDS to the best of my ability. In my free time, I play the piano. I sing hymns.
This character and his music was what another UkaniManje co-founder, singer Ephraim Mutalange [a.k.a. Ephraim Son of Africa], recalls when he met Kaunda before his wife’s death in 2012. “I had the privilege of being one of the singers who honored him on his wedding anniversary before his wife Betty died,” said Mutalange. “He was holding a white handkerchief and using it to bless people and saying, ‘You will be an old man and you will have influence.’ We loved going there to get his blessing. He was getting his guitar and playing for his wife and I learned to sing a love song from him. “
The lost album is found
UkaniManje wanted to present that spirit when they heard about the album last spring. Through research and online conversations, Weinberg and his team found a rare copy of a CD from a collector who lived a 10-hour drive from Zambia’s capital, Lusaska. They had hoped to interview Kaunda and her family, but her death from pneumonia curtailed that part of the project.
Now, the organization hopes to remaster the original album and is also asking current artists to record the songs, the beats of which would be familiar to South African pop fans. Kaunda recorded it in collaboration with producer Rikki Ililonga, who had become known for his pioneering role in 1970s Zambian rock (aka Zamrock) and also composed most of the material on the record.
When asked about Kaunda’s reference to abstinence, Weinberg noted that he also referred to the use of condoms: “We encourage people to make choices about their sexual activity without saying that abstinence is the way to go. to follow.”
Ethnomusicologist Jason Winikoff describes the songs as straightforward lyrical – and also representative of the linguistic and stylistic mixes of a country where more than 70 languages are spoken. This inclusive approach was Kaunda’s dream. As Wezi said, “We have 72 tribes, 10 provinces, different people with different dialects, different beliefs, cultures, different traditions, but he made this Zambia a model for our nation. he who said, “No tribalism. He was the unifier.”
As for the sound of the album, “some songs are strongly influenced by reggae, others are a little more rock, or Zamrock,” says Winikoff. “Some are more pop, gospel. There isn’t really a lot of traditional stuff, but it’s an intrinsic influence. The album is a microcosm of some of the sounds you hear in the Zambian music scene. It has a lot. influences and if it could spread, it can be really effective. And it’s catchy. “
The album’s message also remains relevant. Globally, 1.5 million people were infected with HIV in 2020. While Zambia has made progress in reducing the number of annual infections, there were 51,000 new cases in 2019. About 12 % of Zambian adults are infected with HIV, the eighth highest rate. in the world.
Zambia is also a young nation with a median age of 17. So part of UkiManje’s mission is to invite popular young Zambian singers to send a message about HIV prevention in musical styles that evoke their experience of contemporary gospel and R&B.
Many of these artists also have a reputation for using their music to raise awareness of social issues. Wezi, who sang about gender-based violence before his collaborations with UkaniManje, is working on a new song for the organization, “Moyo Nimukwatu”, in the Nyanja language, calling on Zambians to reject superstition and take advantage of modern medicine.
“I’m fine with the idea of borrowing from the past,” Wezi said. “What I’m looking to do with Kenneth Kaunda’s music is pay homage to his artistry, stay true to it, honor it using my sounds. I don’t know if I can call it cross-pollination, that’s what I love about him. working and mixing it with what I do. “
Mutulange and singer Abel Chungu are also contributing new songs and selecting Kaunda compositions to perform for the album’s remake. Chungu mentioned that he lost some of his family to AIDS and how moved he was when he sang at a wedding for a couple who got married – the groom was HIV negative and the bride was HIV positive.
“We all chose specific topics and directions that we wanted to share as artists,” Chungu said of his participation in the project. “I wanted to share that this is the most important and the most powerful when you choose love over everything. The message Kenneth Kaunda shared was, ‘Let’s not stigmatize people who have [HIV], anyone can have it, so we have to show love to everyone. ‘ We are all united on this issue, we are all speaking with one voice – that this must end and that we can do something. “
Aaron Cohen is the author of Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power (University of Chicago Press) and amazing Grace (Bloomsbury). He teaches humanities and English composition at Chicago City Colleges and writes regularly on the arts for publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader and DownBeat.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.
San Diego News; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, the environment, the border, and more. New episodes are ready on weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and Imperial County Station NPR and PBS.
To view PDF documents, download Acrobat Reader.