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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
by Mark Hiew, Aug 11, 2006
Education , Health , Sports   Interviews


“Mos Def, Talib Kweli, I listen to any of the conscious rappers…”

A new universal language for our generation is rising, and its name is hip hop. What began in the ghettoes of America, and which now dominates club scenes in cities throughout the world is empowering our generation for change. And where is the center of that movement?, one might wonder. New York City? London? Shanghai?

Try Kampala, Uganda, home to one of the biggest hip hop scenes in Africa, where hip hop rhymes and HIV peer education is being fused together into a language which all young people are speaking, be they poor from the ghettoes or of the wealthy minority.

“I used to see people at school trying to educate us about HIV…and I would walk the other way,” says Watema Ronald, leading youth celebrity and co-founder of the SPIT Youth Movement, a Kampala-based NGO that combines entertainment, energy, and excitement to spread positive messages on halting the spread and leading their communities, currently under the sway of this deadliest of viruses.

Founded three years ago, SPIT Youth Movement, which stands for ‘Speak in Time,’ was founded out of something normally found outside the realm of HIV altogether: Streetball. Through their love for the game, as well as their And 1 Mixtape-inspired dribbling moves and fancy tricks, Watema—whose moniker is “Four by Four,” and fellow co-founder Acana Jasper - (“Pay Me”) – gained a mass following. Bringing out 200 to 300 spectators for some games, they decided to hold a tournament: “Street Five,” which combined their now famous basketball abilities with their other mutual love: hip hop. They had no idea what to expect.

The result? A crowd of never-before-seen sizes which was awe-struck, enthusiastic and calling for more.

“It was the largest hip hop event ever held in Uganda,” Acana noted with evident pride, his comments often flowing immediately following Watema’s, a clear sign of their close-knit rapping rapport. Media appearances have followed regularly, including being featured on a South African television program and BBC’s world website. During trips to Kenya and Nairobi, both of them were individually recognized by other youth. And, it seems, through the wonders of streetball-inflected music videos on Africa-wide television channels, throughout much of the continent.

“Just mention the word ‘streetball’ anywhere in Kampala, and they will take you to my house,” Acana said, his cadence and eloquence rimmed with the fine salt of hip hop articulacy.

But rather than exploit this fame in ways often portrayed by mainstream media--call it the “bling and bitches”—phenomenon, the two friends decided to combine the streetball and hip hop shows that they had turned into massive, crowd-drawing events with positive messages on tackling HIV/AIDS in their own communities. They’ve found that young people are more than happy to talk about the virus, when it’s done “of the mic” and in front of their peers, where the video cameras of television crews offers the chance to showcase skills and gain peer acknowledgement.

They’ve performed at churches and promotional events for Pepsi, earning enough money through their celebrity status to continue to do events. Still, being only two-people strong and with funds donors hard to come by, the going has been tough. When asked what sustains their rather visible enthusiasm, both were in close agreement.

“It’s about the love. At the end of the day, giving young people the opportunity and being the motivational force is what I really enjoy,” Watema said.



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