Feature story

UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Toumani Diabaté continues to play against stigma and discrimination

16 November 2012

UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Diabaté and Executive Director Michel Sidibé at UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva, 16 November 2012. Credit: UNAIDS

UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Toumani Diabaté visited the UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva on 16 November where he met with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé to take stock on the current state of the AIDS epidemic.

Mr Diabaté, a worldwide-acclaimed musician from Mali and GRAMMY award winner, plays the kora, a harp-like instrument unique to West Africa, which he has brought to audiences around the world. He has used his influence as a well-respected public figure to advocate for the elimination of stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV, which is a key component of the UNAIDS vision of Getting to Zero.

“Toumani is not just a voice, not just an artist,” said Mr Sidibé. “He grew up in a place where it was not worth being a famous musician if you could not change things with your music.”

UNAIDS.org took this opportunity to interview Mr Diabaté about his role in the AIDS response.

As a well-known musician, you use your influence to back a lot of important social causes. Why did you choose to focus on AIDS in particular?

I have seen a lot in my life, especially how stigma and discrimination can affect people and societies negatively. People living with and affected by HIV are often not treated with the respect they deserve. I want to help stop AIDS-related stigma and discrimination by speaking to my audience about the facts of HIV. By knowing the facts, people can be empowered to make informed choices and help support people living with HIV.

Music connects people and builds bridges between cultures, and through it we have an opportunity to touch souls and express feelings

UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Toumani Diabaté

What would you like to contribute to the global response to AIDS?

I hope that, with my humble voice, I can help reach a greater audience and make people act as well as listen. I want them to take the AIDS issue seriously and get involved. Together we can make a difference.

Why do you think your music is such an effective tool in spreading HIV awareness messages in Mali and overseas?

Music connects people and builds bridges between cultures, and through it we have an opportunity to touch souls and express feelings. I hope that my audience will listen to and understand my message about stopping stigma and discrimination associated with AIDS.

What do you think needs to change in West Africa and globally for the UNAIDS vision of zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination to become a reality?

It is about shared responsibility: everybody needs to get involved, and I would like to see increased involvement of governments and the private sector, while remembering that people affected have to be at the center of the AIDS response and included in the decision-making processes. We can all contribute to making a difference and getting to zero.