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Writing Music About Climate Change, Oakland Artist Reclaims Feminine Power
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Writing Music About Climate Change, Oakland Artist Reclaims Feminine Power

Woman wearing a red and gold shirt throws back her head; her dark golden hair flies up behind her and around her face.


LAURA KLIVANS: When was your climate awakening?

MADDY CLIFFORD: That day that we all woke up in 2020 and the sky was like this apocalyptic ashen color for the whole entire day.

I think that was a really big moment for a lot of people, especially on the West Coast. And it really cemented in my mind how dire the situation is and has been.

I felt a lot of despair.

How’d you relate to climate action before?

I’m from Seattle, born and raised in the city of Seattle and in the northwest. Environmentalism is a really big topic that we talked about.

I remember when I was in elementary school, they even had us in different “orca pods,” but [environmentalism] was still largely seen as a white, hippie, upper-middle-class issue, and it wasn’t really talked about in the Black community in particular or the community that I was in.

I just didn’t really see myself reflected in a lot of the environmental movements until more recently.

Where did you start when it came to taking action?

I started to research and learn a bit about Indigenous stewardship around fires — how that related to colonization and the ways in which we’ve lost a lot of really vital information about how to protect the planet because of racism and colonization.

Then last year, I was lucky enough to find this really cool project called Creative Wildfire, and it’s a collective action involving different artists from across the country.

Their purpose was to educate artists on how to really amplify issues around the climate emergency and push back against this idea of returning to normal. I really liked that concept because I was just experiencing such profound change over 2020 and 2021, and I was like, I really don’t want to go back to some of the things that were problematic, especially as it relates to pollution and the destruction of our climate.

We had to attend classes. We learned about all types of different things, from solidarity economies [economies prioritizing people and the planet over endless growth and profit] to different grassroots organizing that was going on in different parts of the country around climate.

I started to feel really excited about how to draw connections in my arts practice. I was able to reach out to one of my colleagues and friends, Charles Burchell, and he created these instrumentals and I wrote songs to the instrumentals, and we put out this project called “downCHANTS.”

Tell me a bit about “downCHANTS.”

It’s inspired by the Bob Marley and the Wailers song “Chant Down Babylon.” [Chanting down] is a spiritual pushing back against all this negativity.

Going through a lot of these different workshops as part of the Creative Wildfire cohort, I realized everything is connected to the climate emergency. Women are going to be more disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. Immigrants, Indigenous folks, all the people that are actually the ones that can make a difference. I really got inspired by that and invigorated by that.

What are some of your favorite songs [on the album]? 

Black Imagination” is one song where I bring up the fact that the Black imagination is so rich, even though there is a serious racial wealth gap in our country.

I begin the song with, “The end is near, but also the beginning.”

That has to do with this balance between pessimism and optimism that I see a lot of Black writers and Black intellectuals bring up. It’s this balance between being really clear and aware of the obstacles that we’re facing, but at the same time having a healthy dose of joy and excitement about the future.

With “Femme Future,” I thought a lot about the way the Earth is gendered feminine, and how this degradation of anything that’s non-male really contributes to people not caring about the climate crisis, or thinking that it’s inevitable.

Woman wearing a red and gold shirt throws back her head; her dark golden hair flies up behind her and around her face.
Maddy Clifford was surprised when writing songs about climate change: It was actually fun. (Courtesy Jenn Wong)

I wanted to reclaim femininity as something that was powerful. In a lot of ways, I felt almost a sense of pride in the fact that the Earth is seen as feminine.

I do love “Bike Life.” I love riding a bike: It gives me the ability to exercise, it’s really fun, and biking culture is a huge part of the culture in East Oakland.


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