Entertainment shows miss the message

Zambia’s Mosi Day of Thunder Music Festival brings a positive message for HIV prevention, but the needs of LGBT+ and sex worker communities fall on deaf ears

Zambia has, for the past few years, continued to host music shows for locals and tourists. These attract a large number of people, mostly in big urban centres such as Livingstone, Lusaka, Kitwe and Ndola, among others. During these shows the revellers are treated to a wide range of music that is local as well as that which is produced by countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

While the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) and sex worker communities continue to face punitive and discriminatory laws and practices, they usually attend most of the music shows in great numbers. Sex workers are accepted and are usually not victimised or turned away during mass shows, while the LGBT+ community faces adverse reactions from fellow revellers if they are openly living their lives.

Popular music shows include Oktoberfest hosted in Lusaka in September this year, which attracted more than 1 500 music lovers over the two-day showcase. While behavioural change communication (BCC) has continued to evolve to embrace changes in sexuality, social lifestyles and communication channels, there has been a lack of understanding of the messaging impacts on the sexual and gender minorities in Zambia.

Key population health programmes have had a bumpy and sluggish start. This is evidenced by the lack of political support in the country. All the while the Ministry of Health has advanced a public health approach to respond to key population health programmes. At one point, it was reported that the National AIDS Council Board Chair, Bishop Banda, was homophobic and against condom programmes. This offers some insight into the nature of the kind of BCC messaging and interventions the masses are subjected to despite high rates of HIV/Aids infections in the country.

There has been a failure to take into account the shift from BCC to social and behavioural change communication (SBCC), as recognised by the need to intensify HIV prevention. Particularly in individual, group and social contexts that underpin positive health outcomes.

The Mosi Day of Thunder music festival, which is in its second year, attracts thousands of party-goers. This year the show took place on the 28th of April in the tourist capital of Livingstone. The line-up included the likes of Petersen Zagaze (Mukubesa Mundia) and Danny Siulapwa. It was a memorable night with electric acts from various local artists but something struck about Siulapwa’s performance.

Marimba drummers known as More Fire Band performing on main stage

Messaging for mass consumption can influence people’s attitudes towards the LGBT+ and sex worker communities. This can affect their views about HIV prevention. That said, although the messaging was relevant, it does not necessarily speak to the lived experiences of the sex worker and the LGBT+ communities. This borders on upholding a heteronormative stance on sexual intimacy and HIV prevention efforts. The language relayed a message that the LGBT+ and sex worker communities do not necessarily matter in the national HIV prevention efforts. Such messaging can even influence how healthcare providers attend to patients in the sex worker and LGBT+ communities. These patients often report being mistreated by healthcare professionals.

Artists in most African countries where same sex conduct is criminalised and social homophobia is rife are still grappling with guilt-by-association fears when it comes to meaningfully addressing issues of stigma and discrimination. This remains the case even if they know that they have peers or production team members who also identify as sexual and gender minorities.

Music could be key in spreading the correct information about marginalised groups and could help address challenges in HIV prevention through social commentary lyrics. The Zambian LGBT+ and sex worker communities have continued to be demonised in popular and gospel music and this has affected how they are perceived by the communities they belong to.

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