It was kind of fun watching Sarah McLachlan and Angelique Kidjo competing for Stephen Lewis's attention at a round table in advance of the Stephen Lewis Foundation's Hope Rising benefit tonight.
McLachlan explained that she became involved in the Foundation when she heard AIDS activist Lewis speak in Vancouver.
"I kind of fell in love with him," she said with a shy smile.
"You're not the only one," interjected the charismatic Kidjo.
"Take a number," she laughed. "He may be a white man, but he's damned black to me. He speaks more passionately than any of the male leaders in Africa."
Both artists are set to perform tonight at Roy Thomson Hall alongside Annie Lennox - who couldn't attend the presser - at the Foundation's most important annual benefit.
Lewis, who always appears embarrassed by public displays of affection directed at him, stayed on message, explaining that he wants to put the focus on the way women have been ignored when it comes to AIDS.
"They are the group the least well responded to," he said, "Even though women represent 50 percent of those infected worldwide. I was at a major AIDS conference in July and among the 11 keynote speakers, not one was a woman."
McLachlan is planning to unveil a new song at tonight's concert that speaks to the need to see the world as a small place where everyone has to connect. Asked artist she learned that, as an artist, she had to give back, she recalled making a trip to Thailand in the early 90s.
"With my conservative, middle-class upbringing, I'd never seen such hardship. And yes, I do think it's an artist's responsibility to step in. I'm only making a single appearance here tonight but I know I'm going to learn something, too, and that matters to me."
Kidjo spoke about the need to change the power dynamics in Africa, to end the pattern of marrying off young girls at age eight and the situation in which rich countries keep African leaders "comfortably corrupted," problems that worsen the AIDS crisis.
"If we don't make these changes, we'll all just going to disappear."
Lewis didn't mince words when talking about the Harper government.
"There were 26 Conservative MPs who voted for the bill to export generic drugs to Africa to treat children with AIDS. But to benefit the pharmaceuticals, the Harper government made sure the bill was blocked in the Senate. I mean, these were drugs for children. There are 330,000 kids a year born with HIV."
When asked by a Globe and Mail reporter what sustains him in the face of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, Lewis quipped, "I don't want to offend your publication, but I'm a democratic socialist. That what sustains me."