Doin’ My Drugs

In Films by Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Director/writer Tyler Q Rosen’s revealing and inspiring documentary Doin’ My Drugs has its world premiere at the prestigious CPH:DOX* Festival in Copenhagen this weekend. The film will screen as part of the Sound and Vision 2019 program, screening alongside documentaries about artists such as New Order, PJ Harvey, and Leonard Cohen. 

Doin’ My Drugs is the story of musician Thomas Buttenschøn, who was born HIV-positive in 1985, and his crusade to use music to wipe out AIDS in his native Zambia and beyond.

As a father to two young children, Buttenschøn has kept his HIV in check and his family virus-free, by “doin’ his drugs.” However, Zambia remains trapped in an horrific and senseless AIDS crisis. In a country of 17 million people, more than 1.2 million people are HIV-positive or have the disease—and Zambia’s situation is increasingly mirrored throughout the developing world.

Fuelled by taboos, misconceptions, and fear, the virus continues to claim lives despite the fact that the anti-retroviral drug treatment program, which can keep the virus dormant, is widely available for free. A striking moment in the documentary is when Buttenschøn reveals to a group of people queuing for an HIV test that he has lived his entire life with the disease—free of illness, and without passing the virus on to anyone else. For many in Africa, the prognosis after a Positive test result is a short life and a painful death.

The theme may sound depressing but Buttenschøn’s irrepressible positivity infuses every scene. And, alongside the upbeat messages, is the music. Armed with his acoustic guitar Buttenschøn jams with local musicians, literally composing as he walks down the street, sits in his hotel room, rides in a taxi. Inspiration is everywhere and the Zambian nation clearly has music in its soul. Artists such as John Chiti, and Sister D–whose work also has a strong social conscience- may not be well known in the West, but its great to see an artist happy to share the spotlight and bring new talents to a wider audience.

Doin’ My Drugs aims to raise awareness and change attitudes—and it does so with a song in its heart. With his son in tow, Buttenschøn enlists a group of Zambian musicians to help dissolve the impression that HIV is a death sentence. But his ambitions don’t stop here. Why not perform gigantic free concerts in the company of local music stars, where the admission requirement is simply to take a free HIV test? What happens next is inspirational.

Doin’ My Drugs is powerful timely, and ultimately up-lifting documentary about a disease which is increasingly disappearing from public consciousness. 

Doin’ My Drugs’ Thomas Buttenschøn Performs with his Zambian band following the film’s CPH:DOX* World Premiere on Sunday 24th March, 8pm. A follow up Q&A with the director Tyler Q Rosen follows on Wednesday, 27th March, 21:15.

Tickets for the screening and concert screening and concert can be found at