Zambia’s ‘weeping president’ sings to fight Aids

A haunting tune plays from a radio at a crowded flea market behind Zambia’s main business district, accompanied by a baritone voice urging Africa to rise up against Aids.

”That’s KK, it’s very nice, very moving,” a trader says of the song released by Zambia’s former president Kenneth Kaunda.

The 82-year-old Kaunda, who held power for 27 years until 1991, has co-produced an 11-track music CD to help raise awareness and money for his campaign against HIV/Aids.

Affectionately known as KK, Kaunda is an emotional figure who often breaks down in tears when he talks about death, poverty and the general suffering of Africa’s people.

He has devoted himself to fighting HIV/Aids on the world’s poorest continent since suffering a resounding electoral defeat 15 years ago.

Kaunda’s foundation raises money for a variety of projects and is one of the charities sponsoring community-based orphan care in Southern African, where millions of children have been orphaned by HIV/Aids.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for just 10% of the world’s population but has 25-million people infected with HIV, around 60% of the global total, according to World Health Organisation estimates.

Kaunda is a persuasive singer and preacher. He gained fame in Zambia’s colonial days in the 1960s by cycling around the country with a guitar singing freedom songs to mobilise locals.

Some of the songs from the anti-colonial struggle have been re-written to appear on the Aids album and feature lyrics such as: ”We shall fight and conquer, in the name of great Africa. We will fight and conquer Aids.”

The big reaper

Kaunda lost his son Masuzyo to HIV/Aids in 1986, an experience shared by many families on the continent, and uses the tragedy to drive home his message. Then president, he announced the death to the world, becoming one of the first high-profile leaders to do so on a continent where people largely talk about HIV/Aids in whispers.

He was followed by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, who announced the Aids death of his son Makgatho in 2005.

Kaunda says he will not stop lecturing fellow Africans on the grim realities of a scourge referred to as ”the big reaper”.

He teamed up with one of Zambia’s celebrated musicians to produce the moving Aids album of choral hymns and songs with a mixture of African jazz, soul, reggae and traditional pop tunes.

The songs are in English and in the local Chewa and Bemba languages. While the album is being sold in Zambia, there are plans to push it into the wider region.

Kaunda, who has also been called ”the weeping president,” almost cries out in the songs, alternating his deep voice with a strained tenor as he counsels strength in confronting the pandemic.

Kaunda’s We Shall Fight HIV/Aids compilation varies from the slow beat of Malita (Be Warned), to the lively Hot Hips, in which a lovelorn man wonders about love potions and witchcraft as he surveys a woman’s hips and ”sweet lips”.

While the album muses on the heartache that comes with young love, Kaunda also describes the risk of HIV/Aids, delivering carefully measured warnings to the accompaniment of a string of musical instruments or a lone guitar.

”We are in a war against HIV/Aids … Africa is in battle,” he says in Nkondo (This is War). ”In the name of greater Africa we shall fight and conquer Aids.”

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, health experts estimate that the virus is killing an average of 3 000 people every week and that more than 70% of hospital admissions are HIV/Aids related.

Kaunda keeps a punishing world travel schedule, making it hard to pin him down on his projects, but Rikki Llilonga, who co-produced the Aids album, says the recordings were made in various parts of the world.

The Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation estimates that more than 90% of people living with HIV/Aids do not know they are HIV-positive.

It urges leading politicians, church officials, sportsmen and musicians to be tested and to make their results public to help break the stigma surrounding HIV — although so far few have taken up the challenge.

”Today millions of innocent children are orphaned due to the HIV/Aids epidemic sweeping across our continent,” Kaunda says on the foundation’s website.

”We are committed to practical involvement … to bring relief to the suffering while offering the children what they need most — hope for a better tomorrow.” – Reuters

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