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Zimbabwe Music Festival Brings Health Message to Youth

Members of the Safeguard Young People (SYP) perform at the Harare International Festival of the Arts in Harare, Zimbabwe, May 1, 2015. Their songs aim to educate adolescents and young people on sexual reproductive health. (Sebastian Mhofu/VOA)

In Zimbabwe, the curtain has gone up on the Harare International Festival of the Arts. Since its inception in 1999, the annual HIFA brings together artists from across the continent. But it is not only entertainment that the artists are bringing to Zimbabweans.

Sexual and reproductive health took center stage in songs performed by a group called "Safeguard Young People" (SYP).

The band is composed of seven musicians from southern Africa. At the HIFA their songs were all about how to increase knowledge of sexual health by adolescents and young people in southern Africa.

One of the group’s musicians, Zusi from Botswana, says that for him it’s about responsibility.

“For me, it is about being able to use the vehicle that you are given – which is music. Which has brought me to a point where I have a bit of a following. I have influence in my community, so whatever platform we have we have to use them positively. I feel we are responsible for these young people in our countries. We owe them more than just fickle or trivia entertainment,” says Zusi.

Band members say they want youngsters to know about the problems of early marriages, they want to increase awareness of sexual reproductive health and HIV as well as increase contraceptive use by young people.

UN support

The United Nations Population Fund's southern Africa office supports this concept.

Renata Tallarico from UNFPA in southern Africa says the group will move to other musical festivals in the region.

"UNFPA believes that music is the right channel for young people. Our young artists are the good example[s] for the youths to be followed, and also they gave the voice and means to reach the young people with the right messages," says Tallarico.

But it remains to be seen if the youths listen to the message. VOA spoke to some of the teenagers at the Safeguard Young People show at HIFA, asking them what brought them to the event.

One teen, who gave his name as Zvikomborero, said he came to HIFA because of the art there. “It is creative and nice to watch,” said he.

Another, by the name of Scott, said he came to HIFA for inspiration, to see the artists, and to get information about things like agriculture.

Besides music, HIFA allows visual artists to exhibit their talent. But it is music that dominates the event which allows Zimbabweans for a week to forget about life’s challenges.

There are even artists from Europe, Latin America, Central America and Africa. One can hear music being sung in nearly every language imaginable, but the underlying effect always seems to be the same: HIFA creates happiness.