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Soumik Datta’s ‘Songs of the Earth’ Views the Climate Crisis With Hope, Not Fear

Soumik Datta’s ‘Songs of the Earth’ Views the Climate Crisis With Hope, Not Fear

Soumik Datta. Photo: Souvid Datta

  • On November 2, Datta premiered his directorial debut, ‘Songs of the Earth’, at the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
  • The film contains an eight-track album, in which each song represents a specific environmental issue experienced through young Asha’s eyes.
  • Datta has previously composed music to highlight the effects of deforestation and wildfires on society.

On November 2, Datta premiered his directorial debut, Songs of the Earth, at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, where leaders from around the world have gathered to deliberate on issues related to mitigating the impact of climate change.

Filled with mesmerising visuals, Songs of the Earth is an animated film (produced by Soumik Datta Arts in association with the Earth Day Network India, Hawkwood Centre and The Space) which showcases the story of a young girl, Asha, desperately searching the world for her Baba (father). With a Walkman in hand and Baba’s voice in her ears, she continues on her quest only to become witness to and a victim of multiple environmental disasters which take place in different parts of the globe. Datta’s musical score highlights the deteriorating condition of the environment and man’s contribution to it.

The film contains an eight-track album, in which each song represents a specific environmental issue experienced through Asha’s young eyes. Songs like ‘History’, ‘Ocean Rising’, ‘Chemical Design’, ‘Baba’, ‘Fields of Hope’, ‘She will Protect You’, ‘Asha’ and ‘I am Your Sky’ create a unique narrative, covering issues from floods and eco-fashion to deforestation and industrialisation.

Datta says that he wanted to write the songs such that the musical quality wouldn’t diminish and the lyrics would appeal to all audiences. “I wanted to write the songs in a way that wouldn’t detract from their musicality but would hold hidden layers of meaning for the different kinds of listeners,” he said.

Datta has already written songs like ‘Jangal’ and ‘Tiger Tiger’ to highlight the effects of deforestation and wildfires on society. In fact, it was ‘Jangal’ which led him to the Earth Day Network, where he is now an ambassador.

Last year, the British Council invited applications for its Climate Change Commission from around the world for artists to showcase the problems posed by climate change through art and technology. In February 2021, Datta won the commission and, along with illustrators Sachin Bhatt and Anjali Kamat, he directed, wrote and scored Songs of the Earth. With a myriad of voices coming together accompanied by various instruments like the saxophone and sarod, this 24-minute-long film brings to light the various environmental issues affecting our world today.

According to Datta, “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do – use different aspects of my creativity within one project. But I’m most proud of my collaborators Sachin Bhatt and Anjali Kamat who visualised the story from page to screen and helped me manifest my lead character, Asha and the climate emergency that spirals around her.”

A still from ‘Songs of The Earth’

As Asha’s cassette tape rolls on, we hear her Baba saying, “Hope is all we have now and you have to hold on to it Asha.” These lines are uttered towards the start of the short film as Asha cycles through a lush, green forest. The film showcases Asha’s father working in remotest corners of the world, fixing solar panels and satellite dishes.

Fondly talking about his protagonist, Datta claims that he wrote this short story back in 2020. According to him, “Asha has lived with me for many months now. It feels wonderful to share her story with the world and premiere it at Downing Street and the UN climate conference COP26.”

The word asha means ‘hope’ in both Hindi and Bengali and hope is the essence of this story. Throughout the film, Asha’s Baba’s teachings offer her hope and propel her to face the dangers and calamities which lie ahead. Datta fervently believes that to face the problem that climate change poses for us, we must not be motivated by fear but instead by the “hope for a better future”.

In the film, we see how Asha is disappointed by the various environmental disasters which are being fuelled by human activity. However, instead of being afraid of the changing world, she makes sure her father’s story is heard by each and every individual. Datta says, “Music and stories have the ability to evoke this feeling, despite the overwhelming and depressing statistics surrounding the climate crisis. As an artist, this is the lens through which I choose to see the world and the emergency we face.”

A boatman ferries his passenger in this scene from ‘Songs of the Earth’

From January, this project will be available as an e-book for schools and universities and will be used an educational resource to spread awareness regarding climate change. Speaking about his work being premiered at a global platform, Datta expressed hopes that this particular project will join the “army of creative voices” from around the world which demand change from our leaders.

Datta also states that, “At the heart of the film and the album is a question: is our behaviour as a people sustainable? As consumers, many of us are part of a cycle of buying and discarding and somehow the photos of polluted oceans, landfill mountains and toxic rivers don’t always connect back to us. I’d love for young people to respond to Songs of the Earth and think about how they could make small changes to the environment around them and start valuing this behaviour as a measure of good citizenship; as a badge of humanity.”

This work also includes the voice of British-Sri Lankan singer Ashnaa Sasikaran as well as group of talented musicians, such as Indian-Egyptian pianist Rosabella Gregory, British-Tanzanian saxophonist Yasmin Ogilvie, drummer Jake Long and cellist Matthew Barley. The voices of Asha and Baba are performed by Rakesh Ghosh and Aishani De.

Talking about what inspires his work, Datta says, “As an artist, the source of my inspiration comes from real world issues like mental health, the refugee crisis and climate change. I don’t think I could ever just write a straightforward love song.”

Datta’s next work deals with the immigrant experience and the racism they have to endure, which comes at a grave mental price. It is currently in progress and is being developed at Southbank Centre, London

Songs of the Earth is a powerful story; it helps invokes a sense of responsibility among the citizens of the world and brings forth the concept of hope.

“As musicians, dancers and visual artists, we tell stories; through our bodies, our instruments and our imaginations. It’s the oldest form of communication. Tribal even! And yes, I do believe that stories can shape the future,” Datta says. “So the creative sector has the opportunity now to embrace a larger responsibility; to help shape a better future that is driven by equality and empathy, fuelled by the need to spread hope, not fear.

“I’m grateful to have had an incredible team on Songs of the Earth who helped me find the right tone for the film between art and call-to-action. And I’m humbled and overwhelmed by the response so far.”

Vanshika Sawhney is an intern at The Wire.

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