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Bushfire: Music Helps Fight HIV

When I first started my fellowship in Swaziland I didn’t have an understanding of the challenges and complexities that existed in the fight against the spread of HIV.  However, over the past six months I have been fortunate to work alongside my knowledgeable country director who has gained much of his experience working in both Africa and Asia for several years.  Over the past few weeks we have worked many events which provided opportunities for us to creatively reach the populations most at risk, specifically the youth, through social marketing.  A good example of this was our most recent success at Bush Fire.

Bush Fire is an annual music festival that draws some of Africa’s best artists to Swazilands premier music venue, House on Fire.  This year, the festival attracted artists and groups such as Johnny Clegg, Acoustic Africa, and Swaziland’s own, Bholoja.  An estimated 15,000 fans from sixty different countries attended the three-day festival.  It was a perfect opportunity to provide a social marketing message for HIV prevention.

During that weekend I had three main responsibilities.  First, I had to create a thirty second advertisement for a condom brand which would broadcast on the screens next to the main stage throughout the duration of the festival.  Second, I worked with one of our communication experts, in coaching the musicians backstage before their performances.  Since many of the musicians are role models in Africa, we discussed the importance of providing an HIV message to their audience while they were on stage.  Third, I had to create a short documentary to capture a behind-the-scenes look at the event to share with the youth.  My goal was give a musician’s perspective on the “cool factor” of HIV prevention.

Onstage, several of the performers discussed the importance of abstinence, having only one sexual partner, the importance of condom use and HIV testing.  Bholoja, Swaziland’s most popular musician and one of my personal favorites, communicated the points to his fans perfectly.  I couldn’t help but smile as the captive audience listened intently and cheered in response to his message.  Although the event was physically and mentally exhausting, I couldn’t help but feel the satisfaction of knowing we made an enormous impact on the people we had worked tirelessly to reach.

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