Doing Music

Why Use Music for HIV/AIDS Education?

Music plays a significant role in people's lives and is easily accessible in most places around the world through the radio. Music and the celebrities who make it can be highly influential in everyday life, and, therefore, both the music itself and its message as well as the model of behaviour put forth by those who perform it can have a powerful impact on the way HIV/AIDS is perceived. Moreover, it can be an incredible tool for increasing awareness and raising funds.
Helping individuals to create music around highly emotional issues such as those surrounding HIV/AIDS can allow people to tell their stories and express their feelings to the community around them and the world.


    ✓ Creative, variety of different ways to perform it
    ✓ Influential in daily lives of individuals
    ✓ Doesn’t have to be expensive to produce
    ✓ Easy to circulate


    x Can be difficult to make music about HIV/AIDS facts
    x Difficult to measure the impact because there are so many competing messages in music
    x Celebrities are not necessarily good role models on HIV/AIDS issues
    x Can be much less influential when not performed by celebrities
    x Is expensive to produce at a high level

*TIP* Getting local celebrities involved in the community to spread facts and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS is a great way to get the message across to youth.

How to Use Music for HIV/AIDS Education

Music is usually used to achieve two goals when it comes to HIV/AIDS education. The first is to increase awareness of behaviours that increase the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, about stigma, and about emotional hardships brought on by the pandemic etc. The second is often to raise funds to support research and relief for those affected by HIV/AIDS.

By far the most common method of achieving either of these two goals is a concert. This concert is usually put on by celebrities to whom youth in the area look up to and takes place in a large public venue. The benefit to this method is that having celebrities who are influential in the daily lives of youth involved in the process increases the chances that youth will listen to the message. The downside of this method is that it is expensive unless celebrities are willing to lend their time for free. Even if celebrities do volunteer their time, the costs associated with renting a venue and putting on a large scale performance are large and will generally require fundraising beforehand if the event is free of charge and a portion of the funds raised if it is not.

Another method that can be used to engage the community through music is smaller concerts. Smaller concerts put on as an informal form of street theatre (see street theatre how-to-guide for more details) can be very effective. The benefit of this method is that it is cheaper than a larger more formal concert and is closer to the people, in that it is taking place around them in their daily lives. The downside to this method is that likely performances of this nature will be put on by lesser known celebrities or by for instance an NGO or youth group. In this case the impact on youth may be lessened.

In addition, music can be brought into classrooms or community groups and individuals can be encouraged and helped through the process of making their own music (see HIP HOP how-to-guide for some tips on music creation). The benefit of this method is that the ideas and feelings behind the music come directly from the people. The downside is that the messages contained within these musical creations will not reach as far as those that are presented in a concert, for example.

Lastly, music designed either by community groups, individuals, celebrities or NGO’s can become part of regular radio programming. It in no means has to dominate what is played on the radio but a section of the programming daily or weekly could be reserved for HIV/AIDS related music and anonymous call-ins from people within the community who might want to share their thoughts or ask questions about what they hear.

Examples of Groups That Have Used Music for HIV/AIDS Education


LIFEbeat uses the power of music to reach youth. It strives to cultivate a strong sense of self-worth and self-respect in youth to help them resist negative influences that may lead to engagement in risky behaviors. Through Outreach programs, such as the “Hearts and Voices” program, LIFEbeat reaches hundreds of thousands of at-risk youth with the message of HIV prevention and education.

LIFEbeat's Hearts and Voices program brings the gift of live music to thousands of people living with AIDS at facilities throughout New York City, including hospitals, hospices, residential facilities and treatment centers. Every week, talented musicians from all musical genres volunteer their time to play shows for the most appreciative of audiences. Because most people in these facilities are not able to go out to enjoy live music and entertainment, Hearts & Voices brings the beat of the city to them.

The Thomson Foundation

The Thomson Foundation has worked with several bands/soloists from different parts of India to develop songs on issues related to HIV/AIDS. The compilation of songs produced under the project was released on CD under the name Keep the Promise by the General Secretary of INP+, K K Abraham, on Nov 30, 2006.

Music for HIV/AIDS Medicine

Bono and Alicia Keys teamed up and recorded a song for a charity providing medicine to children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. The two stars have also covered Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” to raise money for Keep a Child Alive. The song was released on iTunes.

HIV Sierra Leone

A mobile recording studio was set up in Bo, Sierra Leone, in 2007 to encourage the local musicians and HIV peer educators to create an album of anti-HIV songs called 'HIV e dae-o' (HIV is real). An expert in computer animation also taught local young people how to make music videos for the songs.

Community group in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

A community group learn about AIDS treatment through song

Mabogo Arts and Culture Productions in Botswana

An out-of-school and out-of-work youth group that concentrates on HIV & AIDS education