Youth turns passion for rap into AIDS message
By Su-May Tan
IPOH, December 2007 - Among the 10 winners of the recent international MTV-UNICEF VLOGIT contest, 22-year-old Malaysian, Chow Jia Long’s entry stood out not just for its passion and zest but also because it was a rap.
Most of the contestants came up with short films and documentaries (a day in the life of a girl getting tested for HIV or interviews with students on campus) but Jia Long decided to follow the music route.
“I wanted to do something different,” says this university student-cum-aspiring rapper-slash-actor. “Something that will grab peoples’ attention, yet still fit with the theme.” It also had to be something the audience could relate to. With an infatuation for hip-hop (and Eminem) since the age of 15, rapping became the obvious answer.
Rap, a voice for the forgotten
“Rap is not just about parties and the ‘bling bling’,” explains Jia Long. “Rap can be used to give a voice for the under-privileged, for the underdogs, for the people that are forgotten. Rap can be used to tell a moving tale, a dramatic story; to inspire people, and to give people hope.”
Jia Long’s rap entry achieves all this, telling the story from the perspective of a person living with HIV who contemplates suicide, but, when approached by his mother realises that there is hope, and with the support of his family goes on with his life.
Participating in the contest gave Jia Long the chance to spread the AIDS message from the point of view of a young person. “We always hear grown-ups such as teachers, doctors or political leaders talking about AIDS,” he argues. “But we seldom hear any opinions from teenagers and young adults, so I thought this would be a good chance for the younger generation to express their feelings and thoughts on this somewhat controversial subject.”
Despite not knowing anyone who is HIV-positive, Jia Long managed to come up with a very credible piece of work. An edge he did have, however, was a very sound knowledge on the topic. “I had an interest in HIV even before the competition,” discloses this biotech student from Universiti Malaysia Sabah.
“Learning about the structure of HIV is part of the syllabus.” Slipping into the shoes of a person with HIV however, proved to be another matter. “I did my own research on how the virus spreads, the symptoms and such,” he reveals. “And I imagined what it would be like if I were the one going through this ordeal.”
In producing his rap, Jia Long wanted his audience to feel the anguish and pain of a person living with HIV. In it he says, “My whole body is in so much pain. I feel the virus running through my veins…” But he picks himself up when his mother comes along and says to him “everything will turn out fine, eventually; just be strong, keep your head up high with dignity, hand-in-hand we now face the same common enemy, cause no matter what happens, you still got a family”.
The lyrics are clearly one of the strong points of Jia Long’s entry. He realised this too and ditched previous plans to film the rap in a back alley (to imply the sex trade) and opted for the simplicity of his dining room at home. “We thought this would make the audience concentrate more on the lyrics,” he says. “Instead of having their attention diverted to the scantily-clad (lady) in the background.”
Learning from the experience
Over the course of the video blog and from previous observations, Jia Long recognises the role of leaders in HIV prevention. “Leaders need to create awareness of HIV among the people, not just through talk, but also through actions,” he stresses. “(They) need to search for the root of the problem, be it poverty, drug use, unprotected sex, the power differences between men and women or other factors, and start fighting this war from there.”
As for his message to other young people, he says, “Be aware of the situation, and be knowledgeable. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, and for a disease that has yet to find a cure, prevention is all you can count on to stay alive and healthy.”
In the words of his rap avatar, “For those of you who want to try it, don’t do it for real. It may be too late for me, but it ain’t for you.”
World AIDS Day 2007
1 December 2007
Unite against AIDS
• The Malaysian Launch