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STORY OF THE SONG: 'Still Alive' and fighting HIV discrimination

Published:Sunday | August 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Tanya Stephens sings to the audience during the Guinness-sponsored Behind The Screen series featuring Tanya Stephens, held at Usain Bolt's Tracks and Records last Tuesday. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

An advertisement which is currently being run on free-to-air television pushes the message of a non-discrimination policy on HIV. In the advertisement, someone who is visiting a business place notices a poster speaking to the issue and engages the proprietor about it.

Tanya Stephens addresses discrimination against persons with HIV in Still Alive, a track from her free 2010 album Infallible.

Significantly, the transmission is from a wanton woman to a faithful husband, a reversal of the perspective that would constantly maintain the male as the knave of the piece.

Also, in tackling HIV within marriage, Stephens takes the lyrical path much less travelled, departing from a more accustomed route of indiscriminate sexual behaviour such as that taken by I-Wayne in Can't Satisfy Her. On that 2004 track, I-Wayne speaks to disease transmission through informal prostitution ("Say she flirt with har boyfriend bredrin/Him have money an bling so she go bed wid him").

However, the result is "ketch disease now it started spreading/she start to seek penicillin she's dying".

So the setting - both workplace and marriage - in Stephens' Still Alive are different, but she goes further to make it personal by starting a conversation between employer and employee which allows Stephens to use 'I' to very good effect.

The song starts out with an extended talk, which sets the scene of a good man betrayed:

"Johnny was a good man

Had two kids and a beautiful wife

He loved her very much

She was the pride of his life

He would never do anything to cause her pain

Unfortunately for him though

She did not see it quite the same

Johnny was busy giving her everything he had to give

And in return she gave him a test that came back positive"

She then moves the setting from the home to the workplace, the 'suss' mill getting the word around very effectively:

"The news spread like wildfire and pretty soon

Johnny would walk through the door and he would empty the room

His boss said I would like to keep you Johnny

But my hands are tied

God knows I've tried

But no one wants to work by your side"

Then, before she moves from talking to singing, Stephens changes the voice of the song to Johnny, facilitating this by the boss asking Johnny "so tell me, what would you have me do?"

Johnny replies and says a lot, asking "how can you watch me live in pain if your love could heal me, touch me every day how can you not feel me?"

In the chorus, Johnny shows his fortitude, as "after everything I gave/I can't believe you're all digging my grave":

"While I'm still alive

With every day I live

I'm alive

With every breath I give

I'm alive ...

I'm still writing pages of testimony ...

I'm alive

And I'm not ready to go

I want everyone to know

That I'm still alive"

The message is very different from nearly a quarter century earlier when King Kong did AIDS on the Firehouse label for Osbourne 'King Tubby' Ruddock. Then, King Kong sang "AIDS a go roun'/tell Aunty Mary fi tell John Brown". It was perceived as a death sentence as "when AIDS take you only the morgue can take you/when AIDS take you nobody cyaa help you".