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December/January 2024

by Ravitesh Ratnam

Industry: Songwriters 4 Climate Action

by Ravitesh Ratnam

Industry: Songwriters 4 Climate Action

What better way to release some of the anxiety in these crazy times than through music? And as an artist, why not scream your message from the rooftops through songs exploring your worries and hopes for our future? Tāmaki Makaurau-based initiative Songwriters 4 Climate Action is doing just that, inviting artists to share their thoughts on our climate crises through music, and through the recording of two compilation albums, the second of which is due in early 2024. Ravi Ratnam tells the story.

The SW4CA project was born from the shared passions of Tāmaki Makaurau singer-songwriter Ema Barton (Ema I’u), the vibrant heart of Auckland’s open mic scene, and Dr. Grant Hewison, an activist and environmental lawyer. Their shared passion for music and conversations at open mic gigs got them talking about how they could do more to inspire action.

With an abundance of talent around them, they had the idea of harnessing their local musician network to make a musical project sharing our collective experience of climate crisis. They saw an opportunity to try a unique way to start community-based climate action and inspire grassroots change.

Under the umbrella of Holding Space Aotearoa Charitable Trust, SW4CA began with collaborative workshops where artists engaged in heartfelt conversations, sparked by guest speakers discussing climate action. With the goal of producing an album, conversations would inspire songwriting topics delving deep into their personal experience, often evoking nostalgia for a world that’s swiftly transforming, because they are truly universal feelings. The workshops culminated with collaboration and feedback sessions, nurturing a harmonious blend of perspectives.

Beyond workshops, SW4CA has provided opportunities to perform the songs at festivals, climate marches and showcase evenings across Auckland to artists who maybe wouldn’t have got an opportunity like that on their own, allowing them to share their thoughts around climate change in a non-aggressive way, inviting audiences to care rather than scolding them for not caring enough. After hosting over 30 workshops and performances, it was time to immortalise their poignant narratives in a compilation album, or, come early next year, two.

Ema’s friendship with Matthew Gunn (Doprah), a sound engineer at Roundhead Studios, led to him offering to record, mix and master the first compilation album released in May 2022. With funding from the Waitemata Local Board, SW4CA offered local artists the rare opportunity to record their works in a top-tier, professional environment. Working with quality studio equipment and engineers brought new life to songs written in the workshops. They could have been captured anywhere but having them recorded at Roundhead was special, and inspired everybody to bring their A-game to the albums.

The SW4CA compilations speak to the human side of climate change, and bring heart to heavy subjects; overall, however, transcending political opinions.

“We’ve certainly had some heated discussion and some very differing perspectives and personalities clash at workshops, though in general we are all there for the same reason, and that’s because we all care and want to do something about our current climate crisis. We can always find common ground,” expands Ema.

“It shouldn’t be political, as climate change and policy will affect all of us. But it’s not surprising there are certain parties who are active at the protests and advocate more for environment and mana whenua. Green, Te Pāti Māori, TOP and Labour come to mind. The others seem to want more budget cuts and climate denial suits their corporate interests. We are concerned about the proposed cuts under the incoming Government and the local boards. It’s not good enough.”

Art is a powerful tool for sharing information, opinions and emotions, bridging the gap between scientific discourse and raw emotions. The artists used their skills to connect to human feelings and empathise, inspire and help us feel seen.

The arts have a key role to play. Each artist involved lent their talents to raise funds and spotlight organisations driving positive change. The aim is to keep growing opportunities for artists in this area because we are needed.

The summer 2024 album release features original songs from artists as varied as Maggie Coco, Keb Hart, Mitchell Murray, Rayna Love, Manuela Ovalle Herrera (Big Tasty), Rupert Laffey, Britta Hamill, Shamus Crawford, Street Georges, Jean Yern and a group song written by Tony Bullen (The Dirty Tones).

Plans are to make this project a rallying call for more voices, more stories, and more creativity. Add new perspectives, spread across Aotearoa… because these problems affect all of us.