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Mission Music: Jamaican Artistes Educate Communities About Climate Change

Mission Music: Jamaican Artistes Educate Communities About Climate Change

Kemaly Simpson has two occupations: he is a hardworking, young farmer from Red Bank, St Elizabeth, and he is the aspiring reggae artiste I-Knowledge who dreams of being a star in Jamaica’s music industry!

Recently however, I-Knowledge has been able to bring his two vocations together as a member of the Voices for Climate Change Education initiative, spearheaded by Panos Caribbean. The Voices initiative has been working in Red Bank and three other Jamaican communities, thanks to support from the Improving Climate Data and Information Management project, to empower local artistes to raise awareness about climate change and its impacts among community members.

“Before people in Red Bank use to know when it is supposed to be rainy season and they would plant and there would be no rain and they used to just talk about dry weather or dry season…But now thanks to Voices we know it is not just weather. It is about climate and climate change,” I-Knowledge says.


Climate Investment Funds Supports Voices for Climate Change Education Community Initiative

The project, funded by the Climate Investment Funds’ Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR) through the World Bank, and managed by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, helped Panos expand its Voices for Climate Change Education initiative, which began in 2008 and has worked for over a decade to build the capacity of targeted Jamaican artistes to communicate about climate change through music.

In 2019 the Voices project worked with 21 artistes, most of whom were from the farming communities of Red Bank and Lionel Town and the fishing communities of Rocky Point and White River. The goal was to educate them about climate change so they could integrate climate change messages into their music.


Music In Harmony with Community Adaptation

Like the other three target communities, Red Bank is experiencing climate change impacts firsthand. In fact, all the communities had previously identified climate change impacts on local lives and livelihoods, and had successfully applied for grants from another PPCR project in Jamaica – the Adaptation Programme and Financing Mechanisms Project- to implement adaptation measures. Panos felt working with artistes from these communities would strengthen synergies between the Voices campaign and other PPCR supported initiatives in the island.

In Red Bank the hard work and commitment of local farmers is visible. Numerous small green plots of tomatoes, melon, cucumber, thyme, escallion and other crops dot the dry, red landscape. To support agriculture in the area, the community benevolent society had received PPCR grant funding to put in water storage facilities and irrigation lines for about 50 farmers. President of the Society, Mr Kernan Spencer, describes how, before the funding, farmers had to “buy water and carry it on their backs” into their fields, carefully watering the root of each plant during the long dry seasons. The grant helped relieve them of this costly, back breaking exercise.

Although he is a farmer, climate change was not a topic that I-Knowledge knew much about before Voices. A friend told him about the new Voices initiative and gave his contact information to the project coordinators. He was contacted and eventually selected to be a part of the Voices family.


“Climate Change the New Slang on the Street”

Four workshops and six concerts later, including two concerts in Red Bank, I-Knowledge is a climate change advocate and an even stronger performer. Under Voices, artistes received information about climate change and its impact on communities, visited adaptation initiatives in each target community to better understand the issues, developed songs to sensitise their communities about these issues and performed in concerts at each location. They also did outreach in local schools, including reading to primary school students on Read Across Jamaica Day.

I-Knowledge says the training provided, and the urgency of the message of climate change which he now shares, opened the eyes of people in the community and opened new doors for him as an artiste.

“Round here climate change is now almost like the new slang on the street! And for me it is important to continue with the learning process and teach the ones to protect the environment. We teach people that if you cut down a tree, you plant a tree….My music is now helping build awareness in others.…Even the children know me as ‘climate change.’

The opportunity to perform at concerts, held in all target communities and featuring all the artistes, was unforgettable for him, particularly when he took the stage in his community.

“Red Bank is my hometown so I was anxious to perform and to see what the response would be. And people loved it...That motivated me and give me more confidence. So I start to read up even more about climate change to see how I can bring more of the message into the music!”

I Knowledge says he has always loved music, but notes that being an artiste in rural Jamaica is challenging, with limited access to recording studios and little exposure to the industry. The Voices experience built his skills as a performer, and interaction with trainers (some of whom are nationally established artistes), and other artistes has helped him a lot he says.


Voices Delivers New Advocates, Creates Local Stars

Mr Spencer, who attended all the training workshops with the artistes and most of the community concerts, says he sees firsthand how the artistes work together, constantly sharing ideas for lyrics and performances, on a WhatsApp group that was set up under the Voices project.

“What I saw in Ocho Rios was just fantastic. The artistes were just coming together and in 15 minutes, working with each other, they produced lyrics! Those trainers were good. In the WhatsApp group they consult each other in the nights, talking about the training and sharing ideas.

Mr. Spencer says he has seen greater awareness in the community about environmental protection and climate change issues. He adds that those trained as messengers also now get greater respect from the community and continue the mission of Voices.

“I-Knowledge is now a star in Red Bank. People are still talking about those concerts we had here. Even now, although the project is over, he is still talking about climate change.”

I-Knowledge says the best moments for him were “when we all get together, community leaders and artistes, because it is then we see that unity is strength, and each one help one and each one teach one.”

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