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Send Me - A positive song from Hugh Masekela
Tawanda Chisango
November 10, 2010

When I left Harare (the capital city of Zimbabwe the Chishona name literally means (s/he) who does not sleep) it was because I had got a new exciting job opportunity in Bulawayo (literally means where people are killed) but interestingly I found it to be one of the most peaceful and crimeless cities in the world and a beautiful city which they call the city of queens and kings because of its rich historical legacy. Once in a while you get tribal diatribes which are historically plausible and understandable. That-s not why I make this contribution to this forum I just thought I would let you know. But let me tell you a beautiful story. When I came to Bulawayo I did not like the South African music they play initially because I had got used to a music genre in Harare where the guitars and drums literally sing along the lyrics of the song. You might not understand what I mean but if you listen to the music from the sungura genre in Harare and Mashonaland you will understand this theory of 'talking- drums and guitars.

Well I learnt of the music, the customs, the traditions, the cultures and their projections in theatre and music. One genre that changed my life is Afro Jazz. The genre is rich in African consciousness, liberation, African tradition, the impact of slavery, colonial oppression, the traditional African spirituality 'untainted- by modernity , the sense that we have suffered too much, post colonialism, misgovernance, the yearning for unity and better governance, poverty and HIV and AIDS. One singer that strikes me much in this genre is Hugh Masekela. I want to talk about his contribution to HIV and AIDS activism inherent in his emotionally tense song about AIDS which is called Send Me which I initially called Thuma Mina when requesting for it, surprisingly the meaning turned out to be the same.

The song is about someone, who does not specify their racial, ethnic, and sexual identity. It-s about an advocate of hope, someone who is asking someone, who is also not known, it might be a father, a mother, SADC, UN or even God, about being send, so that they may be there when all the problems have been solved. What is striking in the song is that the person who wants to be send is worried about the eradication of poverty. The person wants to be there (which is the leit motif (recurrent theme) of the song) when people start to turn it around, when they triumph against poverty, the first thing that he wants to 'see- is triumph against poverty, one of the major drivers of HIV and AIDS in Africa, what former South African president, Mr. Thabo Mbeki has unpopularly talked about perhaps because of his predilection towards AIDS denialism if we can stand to what treatment access and literacy campaigns in South Africa and the media have (re)presented him. There is an unprecedented and great sense of urgency and optimism and gospel about volunteerism against HIV and AIDS, the need to lend a hand at an individual level which is commendable. Then he talks about the alcoholic and the drug addict (surely these are the some of the biggest drivers of HIV), then he talks about being there for the victims of violence and abuse (I imagine Hugh is talking about Gender Based Violence and child abuse) so what has he not said about the major drivers of the pandemic? Perhaps he left out multiple concurrent relationships and negative cultural practices which are also at the centre of the pandemic in Africa particularly in Southern Africa.

At the risk of misinterpreting the Nguni languages I believe he talks about sending 'me- or 'them- which is at the heart of the political and cultural identities of HIV and AIDS. He gives us solutions about where to target people with HIV and AIDS messages. He talks about being send to the whole country, even to his house that he loves so much, to the train, some place that he talks about that I do not know due to language challenges but I believe it-s a place that is public due to the flow of the lyrics, then to railways, the taxis (in Zimbabwe that would mean public transport), to the shebeens, there is somewhere I also hear about buses and the night, and the party time), but the emphasis is on being the messenger, the champion and advocate in the fight against HIV and AIDS. This is a clear song of the celebration to come, the commitment against HIV and AIDS, an interesting song, a spiritually uplifting song, an encouraging song.

This is a clear demonstration of how artists can run away from stigmatizing and discriminatory language against HIV and AIDS and still remain artistic. There has been a lot of songs produced that exacerbate stigma and discrimination, and the argument has been that art is meant to reflect society as it is, and that art cannot be used for awareness, for advocacy, that such a practice can kill talent. We cannot afford art for art-s sake against poverty and the adversities of humanity. This is an interesting example of stretching imagination, showing artistic acumen, interesting song that has rocked all over Africa. Surely this is a good song with a universal appeal that is doing something all over the world to encourage people in the fight against HIV and AIDS, violence and abuse.

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