A Climate Change Takes Center Stage In Southeast Asia’s Music Scene

Through the years, the diverse musical traditions of Southeast Asia have served as a universal language, fostering cultural exchange and knowledge. Today, this musical legacy is taking on a new purpose: musicians around the world and from the region are lending their voices to move people to action around the climate crisis. 

One initiative is the Music Declares Emergency (MDE), a movement urging the music industry to take action on climate change. Supported by artists such as Grammy-award winning singer Billie Eilish who highlighted her environmental advocacy during one of her Happier Than Ever, The World Tour concert legs in the Philippines in 2022 by strategically minimizing the environmental impact of her tour. Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres World Tour, powered by renewable energy and initiatives to reduce carbon footprint, is also expected to go live in the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand this 2024.

This goes beyond musical acts. From Thailand’s pioneering Wonderfruit Festival, with its waste reduction and renewable energy, to Malaysia’s Rainforest World Music Festival, blending musical traditions with environmental advocacy, more and more concert productions, recording studios, and festivals are implementing eco-conscious measures. Beyond the stage, the Philippines is also echoing its commitment to conservation. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of the Philippines’ “KANTALIKASAN” album celebrates winning environmental songs, while Lio Beach Fest in Palawan celebrates environmental awareness, harmonizing vibrant performances and conservation efforts.

Driven by a shared concern for the climate crisis, 13 leading Indonesian musicians also recently came together to form IKLIM ‘the Indonesian Knowledge, Climate, Arts and Music Lab’. These artists of various genres such as Endah N Rhesa, Iga Massardi, Navicula Tony Q Rastafara, and others gathered in Bali earlier this year to gain a deep understanding about the causes of climate change, what needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions and how music and art can be powerful tools for climate action. Their collaboration resulted in the ‘sonic/panic’ compilation album, released under Alarm Records, Indonesia’s first environmentally conscious record label. The album’s diverse genres unite under a common cause: the urgent call for climate action.

To celebrate the album’s release on major digital platforms, the IKLIM Fest was held in Ubud on November 4, 2023. This event marked the first climate-conscious festival in Indonesia that implemented a ‘Reuse Protocol’ by Dietplastik Indonesia to reduce the large amounts of single-use waste typically generated at music festivals.

Gede Robi, vocalist and guitarist of Navicula, and a driving force behind IKLIM, said “Until now, there was no collective movement that united Indonesian musicians around the climate crisis. We are inspired by the global Music Declares Emergency movement, and aspire to encourage musicians across the Asian region to join us in taking climate action.” 

Furthermore, Robi outlined IKLIM’s plans to broaden its reach by collaborating with more musicians and industry professionals across Indonesia and is currently actively promoting the joint movement among musicians in the Philippines, Bhutan, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and South Korea. 

“The ultimate objective,” Robi elaborated, “is to promote sustainability within the music industry. IKLIM functions as a think-tank for making music more environmentally sustainable. As we continue to engage with industry stakeholders, our knowledge and experience will grow, enabling us to develop best practices for reducing the music industry’s carbon emissions. This, in turn, will empower musicians to play a more active role in both raising awareness and mitigating the impact of the climate crisis.”

Charting a Path Forward

While challenges persist, which include limited knowledge and access to environmentally friendly solutions within the music industry, Robi believes that as more musicians and industry players join this collective effort, more solutions will emerge.

The establishment of Music Declares Emergency Indonesia, the first chapter of the global movement in Asia is an extension of the global movement that unites musicians, industry professionals and music lovers, and transcends genres and borders to take a collective stand around the climate crisis. 

As sustainable practices become integrated into Asia’s music industry, musicians in the region can set a standard for responsible entertainment. “The climate crisis has now taken center stage for our generation, and the movement’s success hinges on collaboration, especially among industry stakeholders. We envision that our current efforts will serve as a blueprint for something much bigger in the future.”

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