Playlist: Dear Earth
From June to September 2023 Hayward Gallery hosted Dear Earth, in which 15 international artists respond to the climate emergency.
To accompany the exhibition we asked a number of these artists to help us put together a playlist of music which reflected their own personal connection with the climate crisis or the natural environment. The result is this playlist of 15 pieces, featuring selections from artists Ackroyd & Harvey, Aluaiy Kaumakan, Otobong Nkanga and Imani Jacqueline Brown. Listen to it here, before reading the artists’ reasons for their inclusion below.
Ackroyd & Harvey
selected the opening four tracks on the playlist
‘Love Ssega is an artist campaigning for clean air in South London where Black, Brown and working class communities are disproportionately affected by toxic pollution. He generously collaborated with us as one of the five photosynthesis photographs we’ve grown as part of reclaiming soil, seed, air and water for Dear Earth.
‘Anohni’s ‘4 DEGREES’ is on XR’s Spotify playlist, Public Playlist Extinction Rebellion XR by Azure, which we highly recommend, and we’ve included Fia’s ‘Time of Greatness’ for a positive vibe.
‘Heather [Ackroyd] sang ‘The Lost Words Blessing’ when briefly singing with Dofrking’s Birch Tree Choir as a much needed antidote to the pandemic lockdown. The lyrical beauty of the song and sentiment of the words stayed with her. It’s inspired by the The Lost Words and The Lost Spells books by author Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris. It’s haunting and beautiful.
[Not included on the playlist, but also selected by Ackroyd and Harvey is Zena Edwards’ ‘Endangered Species’]
‘Zena performed her adapted version of this song, originally performed by Dianne Reeves, for the launch of Culture Declares Emergency. Wearing a living grass coat, Edwards walked alongside a horse into Tate’s Turbine Hall to declare, to spellbinding effect, ‘I am an endangered species, but I sing no Victims song’.’
selected three tracks by 貳行程樂團 (Two-Way Orchestra)
‘I have recently been moved by the meaning of some music, particularly songs that explore indigenous tribal stories, the natural environment and self-belief. These songs echo the work of my works in a unique way.
‘One of the songs is about the most affectionate kiss you can give to someone special, wishing they would close their eyes and savour this incomparable emotion. It conveys the idea that no matter how difficult the road may be, someone by your side will weather all the storms, that the pursuit of love will survive all the storms. Another song depicts the contrast between black and white, as we return to the beautiful love we once had as the cycle of time goes on. However, the world of black and white is not revealed until the moment we are lost.
‘These songs have prompted me to think about the work of indigenous peoples and how we find a way through difficult situations. Revitalising traditions offers a way to connect with our people who have been forced to move away from their homes. I was deeply moved by this search for self-belief. I would like to share with you the emotions and meanings conveyed in these songs, and I hope that they will touch your heart too, sparking thoughts of self-discovery and finding a way to stand.’
selected ‘Fire on the Mountain’ by Asa
‘This track resonates with me due to its depiction of the urgency and inaction surrounding the climate crisis and our environment. The lyrics convey the imminent danger of the crisis, the lack of response from society and governments, and the need for collective action. The song prompts reflection on the impact of our actions, the values we pass on, and our responsibility to advocate for a livable future. It should compel us to take proactive steps to protect the environment and create a resilient world.’
Imani Jacqueline Brown
selected a playlist of seven tracks, which complete our Dear Earth playlist
‘Marvin Gaye's ‘Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)’ is the only track I could have begun with. This song infiltrated my spirit with ecological consciousness from a young age. It reminds me of my father. It reminds me of how long we have known that human society is out of balance. It asks me when we will finally learn what the past has to teach us.
‘Chelsea Carmichael's ‘Bone and Soil’ carries us 50 years forward and hundreds of years or millennia back. It gives voice to the ancestors – human and nonhuman, enslaved and colonised, extracted and burned – whose interred bodies comprise the foundations of our earth (the soil) as well as the forces that have fractured those foundations (oil).
‘‘Ocean Tree’ by Feathered Sun is a steady, trance-like meditation on and dedication to the ecological body (comprised of oceans, trees and other beings) that stretches beyond our human flesh. This is followed by Fela Kuti’s eternal classic, ‘Water No Get Enemy’. A quickening anthem, it refers to a Yoruba proverb, reminding the powers that be – and the rest of us – that it is foolish to turn water, the most basic of necessities, into a pawn, sacrifice, or commodity.
‘We’re then moved downbeat into the heavy reality of climate change-induced drought by Massive Attack’s ‘Pray for Rain’. Then, with Okay Kaya's effortless ‘Mother Nature's Bitch’, we 'give a warm welcome to this current mood' – the simple and fabulous joy and pleasure found through a radical acceptance of our entanglement with the earth.
And finally, we’re offered a vehicle for transcendence by Pharoah Sanders' devotional ‘Love is Everywhere’. Transcendence does not imply escapism, but rather the radical courage to devote ourselves to the earth – to love, respect, and repair her, and our selves.’
Shared with us her own 26 song playlist on the theme of climate
‘I had a lot of fun late one night curating a double-album of music around the theme of climate, with two approaches; the more overtly political, primarily vocal strain, and the more meditative approach through experimental tracks that take you through a reflective time in which to digest emotional content around the climate crisis. The set starts with us staying with the trouble of the climate crisis with songs like ‘Energy Warning’, ‘Oil’, ‘Olympic Airways’ and ‘The Terror’. Then the voice of the Earth comes in and we hear ‘I’m On Fire’ by Bat for Lashes, the unsettling ‘Must I Burn?’ by Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci, ‘Home’ by Glasser and ‘I Am The Earth’ by Lower Dens.
‘I was lucky enough to get to see ‘Carbon Dioxide’ performed live by Fever Ray recently and aside from being a total banger, this song specifically calls out carbon dioxide as an addictive force, akin to the way we feel when in love, ‘holding my heart, while falling…’, a feeling I identify with when thinking of the plummeting spiral of living in this time of Joanna Macy’s 'Great Turning'. Marina’s Man’s ‘World’ calls out the toxic patriarchy that underlies the climate crisis, while the Malvina Reynold’s song ‘It Isn’t Nice’ – which I first encountered years ago in a box of records given to me by my California-based activist grandparents – gives us some concrete strategies to put our bodies on the line to fight the power.
‘Some of these songs have punctuated important moments in my life. Chad VanGaalen’s ‘Willow Tree’ provided me sad solace in difficult times in 2019, when I was working as an art coordinator for Extinction Rebellion in Chicago; ‘Høly River’ was shared with me by Mara Eve Robbins – a frontline activist I collaborate with who’s working against the Mountain Valley Pipeline – and Deee-Lite’s ‘I Had a Dream…’ remains just as relevant today as it did when I listened to it at 15.
‘The set wraps with healing tracks like ‘In Our Nature’ by José González and Juliana Barwick’s ‘Healing is a Miracle’, suggesting we seek solace and the mending of our wounds through reciprocal communion with the natural world. And then, because as artists we need to envision new ways to live, the final tracks let us imagine with ‘Rare Things Grow’, ‘On the Other Sea’ and ‘Dolphins Climb onto Shore’ by Mica Levi and Oliver Coates, reminding us that the future is still our to make, in collaboration with our wild, biodiverse planet.’