Music for a cooler planet

Music for a cooler planet

Several musicians, with help from refreshing ragas, came together to highlight perils of global warming and climate change, reports Aparna M Sridhar

Chitraveena Ravikiran

The opening track of international double violinist and vocalist L Shankar’s latest album ‘Chepleeri Dream’ resounds with the rush and surge of the floods that overtook Kerala last year. Shankar was working on a chants-and-raga-based album when the floods occurred in August 2018.

Shankar describes living in Kerala at that time as ‘both heaven and hell.’ “Heaven was seeing the Shiva temple all the time, with peacocks flying around. The hell was the terrible floods with water everywhere. My violin broke, my computer broke, my microphone broke, and people were calling asking me if the album was ready.”

When not working at his Shiva Conservatory in Hosur, Shankar stays in Kattukulam, Punchapadam, 30 km from Pallakad, opposite a 4,000 year old, newly renovated temple. Peacocks visit him every day. “I have always been aware of the problems of climate change. Some countries are more aware and take steps to maintain a higher quality of life. I lived in California for many years where people are very health and environment conscious. Of course, natural disasters bring in a sense of urgency. My new album ‘Chepleeri Dream’ is a reflection of that time and aims to create awareness about rebuilding Kerala. I have many international music stars appearing on this album to be released in March,” says Shankar, who played at a concert supporting action against climate change in Bangalore recently.

‘Cooling’ musicals

Playing along with him was Carnatic instrumentalist Chitraveena N Ravikiran who has been working with Planet Symphony to bring musicians together to create awareness about climate change and global warming — a subject that received much political, social and media attention last year.

On a rainy evening, the concert got off to a delayed start with a composition by Shankar in Savitri Raga. Says Ravikiran, “we selected some ragas which were cool to listen to — like Abheri and Savitri. The planet needs that literally — it needs cooling down. Planet Symphony has been promoting this by advocating greening of roofs and surface areas. Unless cities are cooled, the temperature in urban areas is going to change rain patterns, make them unpredictable, more severe and actually destructive. Our priority has to be to proactively cool the planet.”

Both Carnatic and Hindustani music have certain ragas associated with the weather or climate. In Carnatic music, there’s Amrithavarshini, and in Hindustani, there’s Megh Malhar. Ravikiran, also a composer, has created songs in Amritavarshini as well as in another rain raga – Varunapriya. “India has always worshipped nature. Many of the compositions of Oothakadu Venkatakavi and Mutthuswamy Dikshitar are eulogies to ‘Surya’ and the sun is seen as ‘Lokajeevana’, the source of life on this planet. Ancient Indians were always close to nature and there are beautiful descriptions of nature in many compositions, whether it is of a river or a beautiful mountain.”

Environmentally smart

Ravikiran talks about the krithis of Carnatic saint composer Thyagaraja, which mention the regularity of the rains during the reign of Lord Rama’s rule as well as Andaal’s Thiruppavai pasurams, sung during the current season of Margazhi, which refer to the ideal pattern of rains. “Lord Krishna has been a symbol of nature, living in Brindavanam and protecting nature. He protected people from excessive rains by holding up a mountain. The interdependency of man and nature is beautifully brought out in Krishna’s story.”

Ravikiran was part of the Bangalore International Arts Festival in September where he, along with veena exponent Suma Sudhindra and saxophone player George Brooks, played a ‘Carnatic Crossover’ concert with Planet Symphony Orchestra for the environment. “Planet symphony is about enabling human beings to take environmentally smart decisions to save the planet rather than being reliant on electronically smart decisions that other people are taking for enabling smart homes and cities.”

Michael Jackson’s contribution

On World Environment Day, last year, Climatrix Symphony had 400 artistes from over 25 countries, including India, playing over 50 instruments in an eight-minute piece, to symbolise climate change. Bangalore-based music composer and environmentalist, Grammy winner Ricky Kej, says that big icons from the music world have in the past helped highlight issues related to the environment.

“Michael Jackson was one of the first musician environmentalists in the world. He made the Earth Song, which became so popular that it reached the masses in a way in which even a love song or a pop song does not reach.” Kej released his song ‘Born From the Land’, the UNCCD land anthem, on World Soil Day on December 5, 2019. He says India has been very reverent to forest and wildlife for the longest period of time. Shankar says, “Music can be instrumental in educating the world about health, spirituality, culture, immigration, the environment, justice, respect...just about everything.”

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