At the end of 2006, musician Damian Montagu and filmmaker Christian Banfield took a spontaneous trip to Cape Verde. "We didn't really know what we were doing. We just both loved Caesaria Evora's music, and thought we could maybe meet up with local musicians," Damian explains.
On their first morning on the island of Mindelo, the two sat on their hotel veranda, not really believing that a spontaneous idea in a pub in London had actually got them to Cape Verde, and not really sure what to do next. As they drank their coffee and considered their options, a procession of school children and musicians danced by on the street below. It was December 1, and the procession was a World AIDS Day event.
"It was one of those moments," says Damian. "I looked at Christian, and we both realized that we should be working with those musicians, and letting them sing about HIV and AIDS." The resulting collaboration, as filmed by Christian, paints a haunting but beautiful picture of older and younger generations of Cape Verdeans realizing quite what an impact HIV and AIDS is making on their communities.
On World AIDS Day 2007, Damian returned to Cape Verde and submitted the film to the national and local media, all of whom were much taken by the high quality of the film and the strength of the message. "It involved local people who don't usually get access to decent recording and broadcast equipment," says Damian. "It was a collaboration, a real collaboration for me as a musician. But I do feel we gave something back, rather than just turning up, tuning up, playing and then disappearing back to London."
During his visit, Damian presented the film to the Mayor of Mindelo to an enthusiastic response. CVT, the Cape Verdean national television station, broadcast the film repeatedly during World AIDS Day, and also featured it in the main news show. Additionally the Cape Verdean national radio station broadcast the song and interviewed Damian about the project. The song has also now been circulated amongst the youth orientated radio stations and their DJs and is receiving strong support. And local health authorities are now integrating the film into their awareness programme for 2008. In addition a leading local doctor will now be incorporating the film into his HIV/AIDS awareness program.
The film was also presented to universities and schools across Mindelo and was shown to large groups of students. These screenings were followed by lectures from head teachers about the message of the film and the response from the children has resulted in the schools now incorporating the film into their teaching programs.
Before the December 2007 trip, Damian and Christian and DJ and music producer David Hill established World Awareness Recordings. The team is now working on an `African Sessions' project which wants to create further collaborations in other African countries including Mali, Senegal, and Ethiopia.
By his own admittance, Damian became an HIV and AIDS activist by chance.
"If you had asked me three years ago what I would be doing today, I would probably have told you I would be worrying about the music for the next Budweiser or Audi advertising campaign," says Damian. "But in Cape Verde, we started something that we want to continue. We had no idea what we were doing when we got there. But local musicians spoke to us, with their music and about their lives through that music."
World Awareness Recordings is looking for future partnerships with musicians, and anyone else interested in spreading empowering and resonant awareness about HIV and AIDS. Speaking to Damian and David, I get the distinct impression that they are a little surprised that they have ended up as HIV and AIDS activists. But this innocence and honesty gives them the space to be creative without preaching, and collaborative without being condescending – a refreshing approach which many an agency and organization would do well to take note of in their HIV and AIDS campaigns.