Democratic Republic of the Congo: Congolese Musicians Raise HIV/AIDS Awareness in the DRC (January 2007)

Fourteen well-known Congolese musicians lent their talents recently to help raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). On Dec. 14, 2006, their CD of original music, "ABCD-Rien Que La Verite," meaning "nothing but the truth," was released. "ABCD" in French conveys the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) message of abstinence, be faithful ("bonne fidelite"), condoms and testing ("depistage").

The CD is a compilation of original music about HIV/AIDS and includes songs from each musical group plus an ensemble "anthem" style song, "Ba Yaya Dodokolo!" The musicians also made a music video for "Ba Yaya Dodokolo!" and a documentary was produced about the making of the CD.

Twenty thousand CDs have been produced for free distribution throughout the Kinshasa region, predominately through mobile counseling and testing units. Five thousand cassettes also are being distributed to local bus and taxi drivers, as well as cross-border truck drivers in key areas like Lubumbashi, where the HIV infection rate is nearly twice that of the rest of the country.

"ABCD-Rien Que La Verites" immediate popularity led to a two-hour television special to present the music, music video and documentary of the CD's making on Jan. 13, 2007.

"ABCD-Rien Que La Verite" was created by partner organizations with the support of the Emergency Plan and is being used to open a much-needed dialogue about HIV/AIDS in the Congo. The DRC was once a leader in HIV/AIDS research and activities, but years of instability have resulted in HIV/AIDS rarely, if ever, being included in public dialogue by key national and local leaders. Stigma and discrimination also have stifled community discussions.

The CD's release was covered by local print and broadcast media, and a U.S. Embassy representative appeared on "Rendez-vous des Stars" and "Caribou Varietes,:" two music oriented television talk shows, to discuss the role of musicians in promoting HIV/AIDS awareness.

The CD is part of the U.S. Embassy's efforts to include information about HIV/AIDS in all appropriate programs and activities. During the launch, U.S. Ambassador to the DRC, Roger A. Meece, delivered remarks about PEPFAR and the importance of this project. "This project is significant, because it represents the cooperation of these musicians working together toward a common goal - to pass on a message that will help save lives by preventing new infections of the HIV virus. These musicians have lent their professional skills and talents to this project, for which we are profoundly grateful," Ambassador Meece said.

Before creating the CD, the musicians attended a seminar to learn about HIV/AIDS to ensure that their lyrics were accurate. The CD's recording and mixing was done in Kinshasa, and the mastering and pressing of the discs was completed in South Africa. All of the products were branded with the same graphics - a traditional African "pagne" batik fabric which also was used for set decoration and costumes and features the PEPFAR logo.

Future plans for "ABCD-Rien Que La Verite" include creating more music videos for the tracks. A television serial drama involving the musicians also is being developed. The show is based on the successful Cote d'Ivoire "soap opera" project and will capitalize on the popularity of serial dramas among Congolese viewers and radio listeners.

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