A VIP audience gathered at the Silverbird Galleria on Friday, March 16 for the screening of HIV advocacy TV series, ‘Shuga’. Shot and set in Kenya, the 6-part relationship-themed series is produced by MTV Staying Alive Foundation. According to Georgia Arnold, Executive Director of the Foundation, ‘Shuga’ was created “to prevent the spread of new HIV/Aids infections among young people.”

 

The screening was also a platform to unveil the music video for the Shuga theme-song promoting the series. Nigerian entertainers Banky W and Wizkid teamed up with fellow African acts Bon’Eye and L Tido for the song and video, which was shot by Clarence Peters.

 

The main dish of the day though was screening episodes 3 and 4 from ‘Shuga’ Season 2. The series follows the stories of Baby, Leo, Dala, Ayira, Femi, Violet and Kennedy, and other characters. In the selected episodes, Leo (Nick), Dala (Brenda Wairimu) and Femi (Ikubese Emmanuel Ifeanyichukwu) discover that they have been exposed to HIV after a lovers’ tiff characterised by jealousy, lust and revenge. The fear that they might test positive is not theirs alone.

 

Consequently, many in the audience might be influenced to be more sexually responsible and avoid having multiple sex partners. It is however open to argument whether or not the overt sexual liaisons of the Shuga cast balances with the denouement of possible HIV infections and the need for testing. The risk is there all along, but for anyone who does not bother to see the series till the final five to ten minutes, they’ll hardly be bothered to adopt positive behavioural change. Not even Femi’s mother asking him whether or not he uses condoms is jolting enough.

 

Same goes with the theme-song, where a HIV awareness message is hard to decipher. While understanding that it’s a feel-good song, the allusions to sex and the performers’ accompanying gestures also distract from the lessons of abstinence or of using a condom. The absence of a lady in the song also begs the question: Is sex all about what the man gives and how the woman takes it? This is left to the viewer’s judgement though and the series itself will no doubt evoke diverse reactions from the audience.

 

Following the screening was a discussion panel comprising Banky W, WizKid, Georgia Arnold and Emmanuel Ifeanyichukwu, who plays Femi in ‘Shuga’. According to Emmanuel, Season Two has so far had “very positive reactions,” in what he aptly tagged ‘The Power of Shuga.’ This echoed Arnold’s statement that many young viewers in Kenya opted for voluntary testing and counselling after they saw episodes of ‘Shuga’.

 

The importance of the message to be passed and the need for this was the focus for Banky W. Responding to a question about the dichotomy between an artist’s perceived irresponsibility and his message to others to be responsible, the message was to be seen as more important and noteworthy than the messenger.

 

First aired in November 2009 in over 48 countries, ‘Shuga’ already has its largest fanbase in Kenya, followed closely by a steadily growing viewership in Nigeria. The series is poised to garner more fans though as 65 countries across the world are already billed to air the series. The series will soon hit Nigerian screens but full episodes are available online at www.shuga.tv.

 

For Arnold, the aim is to get this issue of HIV/Aids out there and to get people to talk about it, she said describing ‘Shuga’ as “much more than a drama but a 360-degree media campaign” that can hopefully influence positive attitudes towards sexual health and lifestyles.

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