How do you view this coming together of the underground music community and climate activism?
Henry: I think the underground music community can
have a big part to play in climate activism, raising awareness and
leading the way in innovative solutions for event management. Global
music can really help educate listeners about different cultures, the
history of different groups and how music played a role in shaping
today’s world through activism and protest. The climate crisis can, and
should, play a part in the music industry created today, detailing the
impacts faced by people, listeners, and consumers around the world, and
help to change perceptions and connect the dots between what people
listen to and the story behind where and how that music has been made.
TJ: Music has the power to change perceptions and
connect dots, which I think is fundamental in the climate movement
because for the past 20 years we’ve had mostly numbers, alarming
headlines, and people at the top playing ball with our future. Sometimes
it is hard to digest these numbers, to put it in context or to really
comprehend the severity, resulting in climate anxiety, or even worse
climate denial. But what the underground music community can provide is
unity, a community, a safe zone where you’re empowered to stand up and
do what is right for what you believe in. Music moves us and just like
climate change it doesn't abide by any borders or languages, it’s
universal and to fight some of the biggest challenges that face
humanity, music is the key which connects humanity.
What are your goals, with this particular show and other
current collaborations you'd like to mention? I ask this with particular
regard to how music can highlight the human aspect of the climate
struggle. For instance the disadvantage of the global south, and poorer
communities on the front line of the climate fight?
Henry: In Esa’s AWEH-NESS Radio show, we wanted to
highlight our global approach to the work we do, supporting governments
with their climate action. We touched on the disparity and challenges
we’ve experienced, but also the diversity and inspiration we’ve faced
from working and interacting with people in the climate sector across
the world. We will continue to hold those accountable for their
commitments and lack of progress, and ultimately push government and
business leaders to make the systemic changes that are required to truly
meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Through this opportunity and
platform, we wanted to combine passions of ours to show how music can
act as an inspiration to fight the injustices facing the world today. We
want to give a voice to those that are most disadvantaged and on the
frontline of the crisis and to those leading from the front to tackle
TJ: During my studies, I used to work with Esa on a
part-time basis and although we were friends before, working with him
really gave me a deeper insight into some of the motivations behind his
work. I very quickly learned that being South African is intrinsically
linked to both our pursuits but just in different outputs. Growing up so
far from home, sometimes I would experience a disconnect with my land,
my culture and identity but meeting Esa changed that.
His advocation for working with artists from home and exploration of
music from around the world gave me an opportunity to reconnect with the
energy, the abundant cultures and especially the voices from home. I
think some of the issues in the music industry are significant with some
of the issues experienced in the climate space. Whether it is those at
the top, taking advantage and exploiting artists, or the uncomfortable
term of world music which got tossed around, to chuck any music from any
other region than the UK or USA in a bucket, to sell a generalisation -
which only adds to a narrative of separation, an othering through a
Westernised lens. These unfair means and narratives pull us away from
the most important thing which is working together, truly understanding
the needs of everyone and ensuring that the voices of those who are
already being impacted, are being heard. We need diversity of voices,
cultures and identities being included in the conversations, awareness
of those who are most vulnerable and be wary of grouped terms such as
Global South being thrown around, with no true connection to how and why
that matters. The best opportunity for a Just Transition, inclusivity
will be key.
How can music highlight and unite communities in a globalised struggle?
TJ: Music has always played such a vital role in
uniting communities, whether it’s been the blues, created at a time
where racial segregation and slave trade was prevalent in the United
States, to electronic and house music taking a whole new form in the 80s
and 90’s within the LGTBQ+ communities or in my hometown Cape Town.
Music from over the water, such as Bob Marley or Rodriguez uniting
communities during the period of Apartheid - in all these periods of
heartbreakingly oppressive forms of governance, music was a safe space,
where you can’t express the fear, pain or struggles in words. Music was
the outlet and the adhesion between you and the rest of the world.
Henry: I think what is fascinating about listening
to music from around the world is how it can have such a connection with
the people. Music can break boundaries and cultures and you can hear
different sounds that mean something of real importance to the
communities where it originated. But then equally, through our
globalised world and the history of trade, slave routes, and migration,
you can hear how these sounds have travelled and are interpreted by
others in faraway places, bringing new people together to dance,
celebrate, and remember.
What work needs to be done within the music industry to bolster the effectiveness of music as activism?
Henry: There is no difference from the work we do
with governments from key players in the music industry. Long term
commitments and insufficient changes are not enough to save the world
from catastrophic climate change. We need leaders across the world to
stand up and make credible plans to make the transformational change
that is required. We highlighted on Esa’s AWEH-NESS Radio show the work
that Massive Attack have been leading with the Tyndall Centre for
Climate Change Research, to develop a roadmap for the UK music industry
to tackle the climate crisis. This is an excellent start and showcases
the complexity of the problem, yet also many of the solutions. And so,
actors from the music industry should, and need to, stand up and take
control of their actions, join the discussion, and seek help to support
the global fight.
TJ: The roadmap developed by Massive Attack &
the Tyndall Centre gives a comprehensive insight and acknowledgment to
some of the carbon intensive processes which are involved in the music
industry and practical advice of what changes can be made. Some of which
included travel; artists considering less intensive modes of transport;
encouraging better planning ahead of touring so that gigs can line up
in close proximity rather than having to zig zag across countries;
considering plug and play venues, allowing artists to travel with a
reduced volume of equipment. A Lot more is discussed, and I would urge
artists, agencies, event organisers and other actors within the industry
to read it and get involved in the discussion, and most importantly
seek help if it’s needed.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much guidance from governments, so
it’s up to the industry and artists to take charge themselves, either by
paving the way or utilising their platform to be an agency for change.
Other organisations who can support artists or event organisers in
making more informed, sustainable decisions are Julie’s Bicycle, a
non-for-profit mobilising arts and culture to take action on climate
change, offering services such as consultancy and toolkits, another
non-for-profit creating waves of change is REVERB, through partnering
with musicians, festivals and venues, they help green these high scale
events and engage fans to take action, they also provide comprehensive
programs to reduce concert and tour footprints.
What changes have you seen in recent times? I’m thinking
about initiatives like No Music On A Dead Planet, and increased
awareness towards sustainability from independent labels and festivals.
Henry: The biggest changes I’ve seen are at
festivals, taking on a few visible steps and raising awareness of some
of the impacts that these events have. This includes no selling of
plastic items on site, offering solely vegetarian food, or encouraging
public transport. It’s good, but as we’ve seen from the Massive Attack
and Tyndall Centre report, there’s more that can be done right now.
TJ: Taking a broader perspective, I think the
pandemic has served to set a pause on things, a pause to the old way of
doing things and perhaps an opportunity to reset. In this time, civilian
movements have been able to galvanise through online networks, from
organising protests remotely during Black Lives Matter, to barricading
roads in Extinction Rebellion, or whether its youths across the world
mobilising the school strikes - the biggest changes I have seen, is our
capacity to come together against all odds. The campaign No Music On A
Dead Planet, run by the grass-root collective Music Declares Emergency,
emerged from exactly that, a ripple effect of the work done by
Extinction Rebellion and saw the need for a space where those in the
music industry could come together in the fight against climate change.
They put pressure on governments and encourage people to acknowledge the
injustice in this climate emergency and have successfully had actors
from across the industry sign up and hold them to account. When we come
together, we have power, and through power we can put pressure on
governments to address what matters.