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 composed music previously to highlight the impact of wildfires, deforestation, and other human-caused destruction on society.
Datta’s directorial debut was made on November 2. Songs of the EarthAt the COP26 summit in GlasgowAt the, leaders from all over the world gathered to discuss issues related climate change mitigation.
This book is filled with captivating visuals. Songs of the EarthAn animated film produced by Soumik Datta Art in association with The Space, Hawkwood Centre, and Earth Day Network India. It tells the story Asha (a young girl) who is desperately trying to find her 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.
The British Council invited applications from artists around the globe to its Climate Change Commission. They wanted to show the problems of climate change through art and technology. Datta was awarded the commission in February 2021. He directed, wrote, and scored the film with Sachin Bhatt, Anjali Kamat and Anjali Kamat. Songs of the Earth. This 24-minute-long film features a variety of voices, accompanied by various instruments such as the saxophones and sarods. It highlights various environmental issues that are currently affecting our world.
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.”
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.
Datta fondly talks about his protagonist and claims that he wrote this 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”.
We see Asha disappointed by the environmental disasters that are being caused by human activity in the film. 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.”
This project will be available for schools and universities as an e-book starting January. It can also be used to educate about 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 features Ashnaa, a British-Sri Lankan singing sensation, as well as a group of talented musicians like Rosabella Gregory (Indian-Egyptian pianist), Yasmin Ogilvie (British-Tanzanian drummer), Matthew Barley (cellist), and Jake Long (drummer). Rakesh Ghosh, Aishani De perform the voices of Baba and Asha.
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 being developed at Southbank Centre in London.
Songs of the EarthIt is a powerful tale that helps to instill a sense of responsibility among citizens around the world and the idea 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 Earthwho helped me to find the right tone for the film, balancing art and call-to action. And I’m humbled and overwhelmed by the response so far.”
Vanshika sawhney is an intern The Wire.