"We use entertainment as the card to draw the masses," says Reverend Dr. Spiwo Xapile, pastor of JL Zwane Memorial Church, Guguletu, Cape Town, South Africa. "In between, we put the message," he professes. The message is two-fold. Know your status and use prevention to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.
According to literature provided at Siyaya’s concert, performed at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis September 22, Dr. Xapile was the first minister to speak publicly about HIV/AIDS.
Siyaya, a faith-based organization, is Dr. Xapile’s drawing card. Formed early in 2004 by proficient music director, Bongani Magatyana, while working for the JL Zwane Community Center, Siyaya has reached out to audiences in both South Africa and the United States, engaging and teaching about HIV/AIDS in one breath.
"The outbreak of HIV/AIDS demanded that we talk of HIV," Dr. Xapile tells me before Siyaya’s show. "Churches have no history of talking about sexuality and you can not talk about HIV without talking about sexuality," Dr. Xapile explains.
Because Guguletu is a Black area with a high percentage of illiterate people, JL Zwane Community Center decided to employ music to spread the word about HIV/AIDS. If the population, particularly the children, in the community could become aware of the need for abstinence, understand the imperative of condoms, and value faithfulness in a relationship, the behaviors that lead to the spread of HIV could be decreased.
"Because not one parent has been unaffected by AIDS, there is a real openness to education for the children," says Dr. Xapile.
The literature provided to their audience at the show indicates that Siyaya’s musicians are grooming for careers in the entertainment field. However Lucinda Ngeyi, one of the singers and dancers for the group who has been a part of Siyaya since it’s inception insists that she, as well as the others, works with the choir to further the message of AIDS education rather than furthering her career. So far, no one has launched a solo-career in entertainment.
Ngeyi, a choir member of JL Zwane Community Church, found inspiration in the idea of teaching about HIV through music and auditioned for Siyaya. Ngeyi said that the youth become bored with lectures about AIDS, but since they already like music, this new method of delivering a serious message via amusement appealed to her. Like others in the band, Ngeyi lost a family member to AIDS.
In the year 2000, a group of volunteers from a Minneapolis-based humanitarian organization, Open Arms, traveled to Guguletu township in Cape Town, South Africa and found themselves looking at the ravages of HIV/AIDS. They faced the choice of turning their backs or lending a hand.
Six years later Open Arms collaborates with the JL Zwane Community Center providing resources to assist the Center, particularly with offering nutrition for those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Open Arms also serves as a benefactor to Siyaya choir in their efforts to tour internationally using the power of music for HIV/AIDS education and outreach.
"During Apartheid, we needed the international community to fight against AIDS," says Dr. Xapile. Now that government-sanctioned discrimination has officially ended in South Africa, there yet remains a need for outreach. "No country can respond to HIV single-handedly," maintains Dr. Xapile.
Siyaya’s Minneapolis concert review by Susan Budig available here.