‘My earth songs’: It’s got the kids to listen

A special album by a trio hopes that children will become environmentally conscious. The songs are available for download free of cost on myearthsongs.com

Dominic D’cruz

Sustainable development is a difficult principle for most adults to wrap their brain around. What then of little children? How do we sensitise them to the need for development that is conducted without depletion of natural resources? Stemming the rot has become imperative.

Three world-class musicians have hit upon the novel idea of reaching out to the future generation in an area that they can understand and relate to – music.

This translates into a foot tappin’, finger-snappin’, hummable sing-along album of 27 songs inspired by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nation. Recognising its potential, UNICEF has associated with the project ‘My Earth Songs’. It is a matter of great pride that two of the musicians are homegrown.

Grammy Award-winner Ricky Kej needs no introduction. His award-winning ‘Winds of Samsara’ (in collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman) is a slice of heaven. This Indo-American composer and music producer, who has his studio in Bengaluru, has dedicated his life and music to elevating environmental consciousness.

Dominic D’cruz is a familiar and much-loved name on the Bengaluru musical circuit. He has brought out several independent albums and has worked extensively with Ricky over the past 15 years.

Lonnie Park is a USA-based Grammy nominee who “produces music every day with artistes from around the world.”

This project was special to him, he explains, because “our goal was to literally impact an entire generation of people. So many of us talk about changing the world and making it a better place through music, but this was a rare and unprecedented opportunity to do it.”

“Music is a powerful medium as it has the power to retain a message deep in the consciousness of the listener,” says Ricky. “One of the main reasons that I decided to bring out an album specifically for children is because I realised that, to create an environmentally conscious society, we definitely need to start with children because they hold the key to the future.”

The challenge

An ideal that was easier said than done. With the overload of stimulation available to children and the simultaneous decrease of attention span, the trick was to ensure that “these songs were catchy and fun while retaining the heart of the message.”

The bigger challenge was to simplify into words and thought process SDGs such as climate action and reduced inequality. “But any challenge can be overcome by creativity,” believes Ricky.

Not underestimating their target audience was yet another smart move on the part of the trio. The musicians realised that children today are well-informed. “I did get a lot of pointers through my interactions (with children) and incorporated them into the production,” admits Ricky.

Since this is aimed at a global audience, what of cultural nuances in lyrical content? Sample this from the song ‘The Plastic War’: ‘Back to eating off the leaf – we got to keep this planet clean.’

Dominic has an original take on this: I look at them as little lessons in social studies for children from other cultural backgrounds. As kids, we learned of “crisp apple strudels” and “schnitzel with noodles” through songs from another part of the globe; so lessons work their way around.”

The process

On one point all three agree, and that was “putting the plan into action was exciting!” What worked for Lonnie was “picturing the kids listening and singing along as I wrote and recorded.”

Says Dominic, “Songwriting is not just about picking up pen and paper, sitting down with a guitar or keyboard, and rolling out melody after melody. Yes, a certain flow does happen when you have ‘that tune in your head’, but here we had to write songs that would not just enunciate each SDG, but suggest a solution or a call to action as well. The fun element was essential, so we had to think (sometimes act!) and proceed as a child would.” All of this, while contending with writer’s block and deadline pressure.

As a music school teacher of more than 15 years, Dominic “has developed an antenna… So I did pick up and incorporate a lot of inputs from the kids… things that were said in class: some of them humorous, some really deep and thoughtful, phrases, expressions, situations - they’re all in there.”

While Ricky, Lonnie and Dominic collaborated on the compositions, Lonnie was fulsome in his praise for the music school teacher: “The addition of Dominic was brilliant as he is entrenched in music and children’s education. His personality and background made this creative process even more incredible.”

Moving forward

According to Ricky, MacMillan Publishers in India will be printing the English versions of ‘My Earth Songs’ in over one million schoolbooks, in the 2019 academic year. The purpose is to engage students from all sections of society. Ricky will also be translating these songs into several other widely spoken Indian languages (Kannada is done, Hindi is on the anvil).

He is working with the education departments of several state governments to integrate the translated versions of these songs into their education curriculum.

The songs are available for download free of cost on myearthsongs.com

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‘My earth songs’: It’s got the kids to listen

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