New York/Banff, 12 June 2002 - Calling him one of the most vital figures in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, the United Nations Children's Fund today officially introduced internationally renowned musician Femi Anikulapo-Kuti as its newest Special Representative, at the 2002 BANFF Television Festival in Canada.
"It is a natural partnership between one of the world's most prominent activist entertainers and the most influential organization working on behalf of the world's children," said Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director. "Femi Kuti is more than a talented and inspiring musician, he is a model for anyone who wants to make a difference in the world today. UNICEF is honoured that he is joining us and together we will not only make a difference for children, we will be able to save lives."
The appointment of Mr. Kuti promises to further broaden UNICEF's outreach to young people world-wide. The Nigerian musician has used his popularity as one of the stars of Afro-beat music, founded by his late father Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, to send clear and strong messages on preventing HIV/AIDS to young people in Nigeria and around the world. It is a message shared by UNICEF, which has made HIV/AIDS one of its core organizational priorities.
"Ever since I wrote an essay called 'My Song Against AIDS' in a UNICEF publication two years ago, I have seen how powerful my cooperation with UNICEF could be. We have the same goals and they give me the opportunity for even more ways to help young people, especially regarding the HIV/AIDS emergency," said Mr. Kuti who resides in Lagos. "One of the most important actions for people in influential positions is to raise the alarm around AIDS loudly and clearly. Information is a powerful tool in the struggle to tame the pandemic's rampant spread."
The announcement came at the 2002 Banff Television Festival. UNICEF recently struck a partnership with the Festival to bring a strong child rights dimension to the annual gathering of international broadcasters. This year it is showcasing a special series of programs called "Focus on Africa," which examine some of the major issues affecting the continent. In his first official role as UNICEF Special Representative, Mr. Kuti will present a special award to "STEPS for the Future," an innovative international TV series on HIV/AIDS produced entirely by Africans.
An Advocate Borne out of Tragedy
Mr. Kuti has been a vocal advocate on HIV/AIDS prevention since 1997, when his world famous father died at age 58. The next day, Mr. Kuti and other family members announced AIDS was the cause. In revealing this, they helped to break the silence that existed around the devastating disease - a silence which still remains in many places today.
"My father denied the existence of AIDS until the very end. Why? He was not provided the right information, neither before he was infected with HIV, nor after he contracted AIDS," said Mr. Kuti. "And he was an educated man, famous artist and humanist. Imagine how difficult it remains to get this life-saving message on prevention out to people who don't have the education and opportunities he did."
Mr. Kuti continued, "I am devoting even more time to HIV/AIDS because, despite our efforts in recent years, the epidemic is getting worse - a sure sign of our failure to break the silence. We need to get this information out to everyone. Failing to educated people about this disease is like signing their death sentence. This conspiracy of silence is criminal, and only encourages ignorance, stokes denial and perpetuates misinformation during the monumental catastrophe."
A Rich Tradition of Working with Celebrities
UNICEF has a long tradition of working with internationally known personalities, starting with American entertainer Danny Kaye in the 1950s. They have raised awareness of the many pressing issues concerning children through their media interviews, personal connections and participation in high-profile campaigns. UNICEF works with 17 international and more than 100 national and regional ambassadors.
Mr. Kuti intends to be active on many levels, from spreading his messages to young people through his concerts to lobbying his fellow artists to join him. Even before the official announcement, Mr. Kuti has already done important work with UNICEF, including publishing "My Song Against AIDS" in the 2000 edition of a publication called Progress of Nations and recording a series of television spots broadcast in Nigeria about preventing HIV/AIDS.
Femi Anikulapo-Kuti was born in London in 1962 and spent most of his childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. He started playing with his father's 40-piece orchestra, Egypt '80, when he was 16. Both a saxophonist and singer, he quickly became a star of Afro-beat music, which combines African rhythms with jazz, hip-hop and funk. In 1987 he formed his own band, Positive Force, and has toured with them around the world. His latest album is "Fight to Win," released last year. He is married to Funke Kuti and has one child, Made.
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