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Sample Track 1:
"Money for Love" from Marula's Shade
Sample Track 2:
"Let's Come Together" from Marula's Shade
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TRIAD Trust, Marula’s Shade: The ImprovED Album Bold Voices of Hope: Rural South African Musicians Harness Music to Shift the Conversation about HIV/AIDS on Marula’s Shade: The ImprovED Album

Lush South African harmony meets R&B sensibilities on new album highlighting the creative work of TRIAD Trust, a non-profit providing training to reduce HIV/AIDS incidence in low-resource communities.

“I do this job because I believe I can change the world” – Tshepo Tsabethe, Director of Education, ImprovED.

Ideas can make a big difference, even if they’re in faraway places. In the Nkomazi region, many creative activists already know that. It’s small, a rural area of South African—the nearest city is Johannesburg is more than a five-hour drive—where 40% of the adult population lives with HIV.

The album Marula’s Shade: The ImprovED Album (Special online release: September 1, 2013; retail release: September 19, 2013; available for download via wants to help bring about those changes. Music has power. Music can move people. And that’s what the songs on the album do.

Sung and co-written by the young artist-educators of the ImprovED program in the Nkomazi region, it’s music that comes directly from them, lyrics that can help educate and empower their peers and stop another generation being lost to AIDS. ImprovED is run by the Boston-based TRIAD Trust, which supports local facilitators to create and lead arts- and sports-based youth education programs designed stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. TRIAD encourages local activists—the people who know better than anyone how to engage with and work in their own communities—by providing training and support for local projects. Marula’s Shade captures the sound of these striking efforts, created by those activists, to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS among local youth.

Now supporters in the U.S. will get a chance to support TRIAD’s work, by purchasing the album and by attending celebrations of the project in New York (September 19), Los Angeles (TBA), and Boston (TBA).

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“ImprovED has been incredible,” says Marika Hughes, the New York musician who helped put together the project and worked as one of the producers, “getting kids tested and teaching how to avoid AIDS. People there don’t talk about it.” There’s such a barrier of silence that when Tshepo, who was the Director of Education for ImprovED in the Nkomazi, died of AIDS in 2011, most of his co-workers didn’t even know he was HIV+.

“The first person I knew who was HIV+ was my brother... I was 16 when he died. He didn't actually disclose his status to us. His doctor told us… If you're not infected, protect yourself and spread the message. If you are infected, protect yourself and spread the message... I think we can see the end [of HIV/AIDS] in my lifetime. If this program continues reaching kids and then can also move on to other people, then yes, we can see an HIV-free generation. I wish that will happen. I hope that will happen one day soon.” - Nomvula Nkosi (soloist on "Money For Love" and "Love Is”), now age 24

Hughes first became involved with TRIAD through a friend, and on her first trip to the area, “we wrote and performed a play. One thing that’s special about TRIAD is the creative component. I never thought we’d end up with this record. I went with just my voice, pen and paper. It was a lesson to me, to bond with just a voice. On the second trip we wrote the songs for this album [with the local staff]. I made an iMovie about my trip. I showed it to recording engineer Joel Hamilton,” who’s worked with Lou Reed, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits, among many others. “He came on the third trip and brought just enough recording equipment. We used a school building as a studio.”

They returned from the Nkomazi with the foundations of songs - the beats and the chords. And above all, the youthful voices, glorious, proud and enthusiastic. They even recorded Tshepo, who sings the title cut, which stands as his memorial. Then some of New York’s biggest musical names donated their time and skill to the project – in addition to Hughes herself, people like Jordan McLean (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Mazz Swift (Jay-Z, Moby, Common), and Joe Tamino (Matisyahu). The result is Marula’s Shade, not a world music disc, but an R&B album seen through a South African prism. “That’s the music these kids listen to,” Hughes explains.

They’re songs that say something, whether it’s something like “Money For Love,” a piece that tells of the plight of impoverished girls struggling to make even basic ends meet, or the heartfelt lyric of “Lullaby,” a powerful hope for a place where so many babies are born HIV+.

The facilitators of ImprovED take these songs into schools as a part of eight- to ten-week Department of Education-sanctioned Life Skills workshops. They also discuss how to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS and navigate other challenges such as peer pressure and goal-setting. TRIAD’s ImprovED troupe members and other local staff encourage their fellow community members to take advantage of local access to regular free, confidential HIV testing. This album can help bolster these efforts at home and also abroad, Hughes says.

“It takes the mystery away from being African and South African. These songs stand alone as R&B tunes and you can sneak the message out. Change might be slow, but it does happen. By getting the word out about what people are doing, it can inspire others. Wherever you are, you can affect change. Maybe it can inspire young Americans to engage in things and to let [youth living in HIV-ravaged areas] know the struggles there are similar to here. It can also demystify AIDS.”

“These are things that can help me in my whole life, things I can continue with. It’s amazing.” - Colani Mabaso, Nkomazi TRIAD Program Director

Making Marula’s Shade and releasing it hasn’t been an easy task. But it’s been worth every minute. “The most important thing is to sell the album made by ImprovED’s troupe members,” Hughes says. “TRIAD needs financial support to help its programs thrive. It’s difficult to make a record with performers who are so far away. It’s so hard. And I hope the record can bring attention to the other parts of the TRIAD Trust umbrella.”

“I’m happy I’ve heard my voice…maybe Obama will hear my voice.” – Tshepo Tsabethe.

<< release: 09/19/13 >>