LONDON (AlertNet) - Anything that prevents the spread of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe is welcome, says one of the country's most influential musicians who is backing a male circumcision campaign that recently saw 44 members of parliament go under the knife.
"People should ... not joke about it. If we are to have an HIV-free generation, it has to start with this generation. We have to start with ourselves," said Oliver Mtukudzi, who wrote the song, "Tapera (We are Decimated)", after seeing what AIDS was doing to his fellow Zimbabweans.
Now 59, Mtukudzi was personally affected by the epidemic with the AIDS-related deaths in 1996 of four band members, one of them a younger brother. They all died within two months of each other.
Zimbabwe had one of the world's highest HIV prevalence rates until fear of infection - coupled with a push to encourage people to use condoms and have fewer sexual partners - slowed the epidemic. In 2009, the country's HIV prevalence rate fell to 14.3 percent from a peak of 24.6 percent in 2003.
Scientists have applauded Zimbabwe's huge decline in HIV rates, saying the southern African country's success offers important lessons for the rest of the continent.
"I'm happy to say most of the artists, churches and so on did a lot to try to make people understand that being positive doesn't mean you are dead," Mtukudzi told AlertNet in an interview ahead of a concert in London on Friday.
"You can have a life (and) be positive. People in Zimbabwe now understand that. The stigma is falling away. It's not completely out (gone) but at least people are talking about the disease now. People are not shy to be diagnosed as positive," he added.
Despite this progress, the struggle to curb the spread of the disease continues. Mtukudzi is part of a campaign to get more men circumcised.
The procedure - which can reduce a man's risk of getting HIV by up to 60 percent, according to research cited by the World Health Organization - has become a central pillar of Zimbabwe's fight against HIV/AIDS.
Affectionately known as "Tuku", the husky-voiced artist is famed for drawing on parables and Shona culture to broach sensitive subjects throughout a career spanning more than three decades.
In "Tapera", released in 2002, Mtukudzi urged men to rethink their behaviour. "I see you holding your head/ Holding your waist, wriggling in pleasure/ While you dance with those young girls/ We have been decimated, we have been decimated," the lyrics go.
Despite the seriousness of the issues raised in many of his songs, Mtukudzi's music is marked by soothing rhythms and sunny, upbeat melodies.
"Culturally as a Zimbabwean, as an African, even though we're talking about serious issues, we beautify the tune so as to defuse the tension," he said.
"We beautify to attract people to the lyrics because if you enjoy the song, you want to know what it's talking about, and by so doing you touch the heart."