In what could easily be compared to a mid-length concert set, National Geographic streamed a program made up of individual segments on their Youtube channel and website in honor of Earth Day Eve on April 21st. The event was also followed by an afterparty featuring more music on TikTok. One of the big purposes for this event was to draw attention to their new documentary show, debuting on Disney+ the next day, “Secrets of the Whales,” narrated by Sigourney Weaver. But the bigger message, and one that definitely shone through, was the urgency of paying attention to the needs of the planet. Passionate scientists and dedicated musicians were on hand to assure audiences that not only was this important, but it was something that every individual could support in their daily lives.
The event was hosted by Jessica Nabongo who guided viewers around the world to different locations to hear from special guests. Something that was particularly interesting about the way the event was presented was that it didn’t just feature impassioned or personal speeches from musicians, but rather performances of their chosen songs set in a natural environment or supporting the idea of Earth Day.
Aurora joined the stream from the woods outside of Bergen, Norway, a location she knew from childhood, and performed her song, “The Seed.” Also joining from Scandinavia, but this time from Sweden, Jose Gonzales escorted viewers through a wooded coastline that’s been important to his private time and composition process along with his song, “Visions.” While it may seem like a no-brainer to have prominent musicians perform to draw attention to the needs of the environment, the fact that their locations were often significant to the evening’s theme packed extra punch and really spelled out the connections between musical tradition and geographical locations, and even more subtly, between the natural world and inspiration to write and perform music.
Angelique Kidjo joined from a brightly decorated location in Paris, but her message was also about her “continent,” Africa, which she reminded was particularly feeling the “heat and pain of global change.” Her song, “Dignity” took on the fallout of a lack of harmony for humanity and for the natural world and encouraged audiences to “plant the seeds of radical beauty” for the future. A message from the eminent Primatologist, Jane Goodall, took center stage for the event, holding the longest airtime and delivering the most detailed message appropriate for all ages of viewership: that human beings can show their appreciation for the earth by choices they make in their daily lives. She spoke about the “wonder of this amazing planet” and the “tragedy of disrespecting nature,” leading to loss of species.
She called on viewers to reflect on the harm that’s been done to the planet already and quite energetically pointed out that the global pandemic which we’ve all experienced is likely the result of disrespecting animal life, leading to widespread infection for humans. Dr. Goodall proposed that further neglect of the environment and the planet could set the stage for more disease and hailed two “real threats” we face: climate change and an increasing lack of biodiversity. She encouraged viewers by saying, “Let’s get together and think of ways to heal this harm.” Her first piece of practical advice was to make a list of things that you know that you can do to make a difference, even in small ways, and look at the list every day to keep moving ahead.
Dr. Goodall’s message was followed by a focus once again on geography as well as music through Yo Yo Ma’s introduction to the human and natural history of the Berkshires and the role the Mohican tribe have played in the sacred lakeside region that formed the backdrop to his performance. He called music itself a “sacred practice” often tied to place and presented an “offering of music” on the cello, taking in a medley of compositions including an Appalachian Waltz.
One of the other big guests for the event was Jim James of My Morning Jacket debuting a new video for the song, “Feel You.” He also joined from a woodland location and any fan of the band knows the role that particular landscapes have played in their recording sessions and writing sessions. In an initial speech, he urged everyone to “send as much love as we can to Mother Earth for her continued healing and protection”. The new video featured woodlands and a sense of searching and seeking a presence as much tied to the earthy or cosmic as to human relationships.
Valerie June also made an appearance to read relevant messages from her book, Maps from the Modern World, and to present a previously recorded performance from Prospect Park, Brooklyn, which brought in many Folk traditions and Americana vibes. Her son, “Home Inside” encouraged people to think of the environment as a home with a deep connection to our inner lives.
Three big musical acts followed, all speaking with increasing directness about the role the natural world plays in their lives and what they think about climate change. Ziggy Marley performed “I Don’t Want To Live On Mars” where punchy lyrics point out the importance of respecting Earth so we can stay on it rather than having to seek a home in the stars. His message, that we “can’t let the world go boom” was particularly impactful. Rostam delivered a heartfelt message about writing his new song, “These Kids We Knew”, while he had Covid-19 and was in the hospital and explained that the experience showed him that the problems of society and the problems of the natural world are “interrelated” in big way.
Willie Nelson was a very fitting guest for the event considering his longstanding commitment to environmentalism and his personal modelling of ecofriendly behavior. He spoke and performed from LA, with montages of California coastlines accompanying his song, “Laws of Nature.” Like Ziggy Marley, Nelson’s lyrics were very direct, but very necessary, pointing out the cause and effect relationship between human sustenance and the planet’s ability to deliver, but also suggested a bigger cosmic connection in simple ways, as in the lyrics “stormy weather saves my life”. It was very much on-brand that some of the footage showed Nelson working in a garden and watering his beloved cannabis plants.
The final performance of the event came from Maggie Rogers, playing from Topanga Canyon in California, accompanied on the piano by saxophone and guitar. The leafy setting in “the golden hour” set a very specific tone of reflection to wrap things up and her song, “Love You For a Long Time”, while overtly about a relationship to a person, carried a lot of ethereal weight musically. The suggestion behind her choice was that the exuberance of nature is just as compelling and the connection between humans and the Earth is, of course, enduring. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/pages/article/earthdayeve