‘Murder to Excellence’ is a song about gang violence, also referred to as “black on black murder”. ‘Sukari na pilipili’, by Solo Thang, tackles the problem of HIV/Aids epidemic. Gun bullets versus human immunodeficiency viral bullets, and both leave behind trails of painful tears and grief.
The HIV/Aids epidemic continues to be the enemy of many African states, due to several factors. Engagement in risky sexual behaviors or ngono zembe still accounts to most of the new HIV/Aids cases. Solo Thang acknowledges this fact, as he warns, “ukipenda sana ngono, bwana utakwisha”, telling the youths who are the most affected group, similarly to gang violence. Solo calls this epidemic “maafa”.
“Kuchapa sana, usidhani ndio sifa; kulamba sana, usidhani ndio sifa”. Here Solo Thang goes against the popular belief that being a playa is cool. Having multiple sex partners, being a playa, seems to be glorified, and viewed as being cool, instead of such risky behaviors be condemned. This is no different from thinking it’s cool to be in a gang, and killing each other, instead of promoting comradeship, as Jay Z says, “when you see me, see you”.
A playa will be respected among his peers (if you’re a guy, of course), same as a gang banger, who sadly confuses being respected with being feared. A playa, who may be carrying viral bullets, and a gang banger, who may be strapped with a gun, both need to re-evaluate their behaviors and their lifestyles, because their bullets can either kill others, or them.
These two crises cannot be taken with ease. For one, HIV transmission is still high, “hospitali, wengi tu wanateseka; ndugu zetu, wengi tumewazika; kwenye kumi, wengi wameathirika”. Kanye also says, “heard about at least 3 killings this afternoon”. He goes further, “41 souls murdered in 50 hours”, highlighting the seriousness of gang violence. But what are the attitudes of people? Considering that the consequences of being in a gang are known; so are the consequences of engaging in risky behaviors. Why then are statistics on gang violence murders and HIV/Aids not declining?
Kanye offers some insight on this, he says, “I-could-die-any-day-type attitude”. People seem immune since death surrounds them. Solo questions the street expression, “ajali kazini”, which tries to downgrade the seriousness of HIV/Aids, by suggesting that contracting HIV is just an accident — no one is responsible or accountable as it was bound to happen somehow. Like the Swahili proverb that says, “ajali haina kinga”, which literary means accident has no immunity or protection. This type of attitude promotes behaviors that are constantly flirting with death. And thus, those who like to bang their guns, and those who love to bang random people, continue with no fear or remorse.
In addition, Kanye sings, “the paper read murder, black on black murder”. There is openness about this problem, instead of respective neighbourhoods being in denial. What about our societies, how open are we talking about the HIV/Aids epidemic?
This culture of silence on the subject of HIV/Aids has plagued many African societies. I fear such culture is detrimental to the efforts against this epidemic. Nevertheless, I don’t blame those who hide in fear of being stigmatized and discriminated. This culture of silence is anologous to the no snitching culture. Gang/gangsters who commit violent murders, also harm or kill those who corporate (also known as snitches) with the police to solve the crimes. The street code is “snitches get stitches”. As a result, murders go unsolved and gang violence continues to terrorize communities with impunity.
Kanye asks, “is it genocide?” My answer is, yes, indeed. The same way gang violence has left many “family traumatized”, HIV/Aids epidemic has also left and continues to victimize many youths. Parents have found themselves having to burry their children, while Kanye can still hear “his momma cry, shots left holes in his face, bout piranha-size”. Parents are left orphans from gang violence, while orphans keep multiplying due to the deaths of their parents from this disease.
The question now is, where do we go from here? How can these two wars be fought and won?
Condoms could be a weapon of choice in the battle against HIV/Aids. In constrast, Solo Thang seems to question the credibility of condoms, saying, “usiamini sana mipira ingawa ni hoja”. Personally, I disagree with him on that, and on “ukimwi hauna kinga”, because condoms’ effectiveness has been proven, albeit 98% if used correctly. What if gang bangers wore bullet proof vests, will gang violence murders decline? Will bullet proof vests have the same effect as condoms? I wonder…
Race also becomes an issue. Are these black problems, since gang violence claims lives of more African American youths than any other race? Jay Z raps, “by 21 I was supposed to die”. While in Africa, HIV/Aids in more concentrated in the Sub-Saharan states. But may be the issue has more to do with poverty than race. I am curious to know the life expectancy of African Americans and that of Sub-Sahara Africans.
Lastly but not least, Solo Thang talks to “machangu wale wabishi”, sex workers. It feels like Solo is implying “machangu” help in spreading this disease, condemning them. If that’s the case, then we ought to listen to Langa on the role of drug addiction. Actually, “machangu” might be better equipped with the knowledge on how to protect themselves!
Most people may not change their behaviors, like sex workers, because of poverty and lack of better opportunities. The same way with confiscating all guns from the gangs may not stop “black on black murder”. However, improving people’s livelihood could eventually change their mentality and attitudes. Improved environment, could also lead to positive mentality, just like how cockroaches may be ‘uncomfortable’ living in a clean area.
Unfortunately, the end to gang violence is prison or death. HIV/Aids is a bit more merciful if one has access to the anti-retroviral drugs, which make living with the disease possible. But one thing is certain, being in a gang and being a playa may both be “sukari”, sweet, but the end result usually tastes like “pilipili”, sour.
“What’s up blood! What’s up youths! I love us”.