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Pacific and Indian Ocean Island nations unite against climate change through music and art

Feb. 10 concert at Tempe Center for the Arts uses diverse voices to address the pressing issue of climate change


Performance of Small Island Big Song LIVE at the 2023 TIFA Taiwan International Festival of the Arts in Taipei, Taiwan, on Saturday, April 15, 2023.

When BaoBao Chen and her husband, Tim Cole, heard the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, they knew they had to act fast. 

Within a month, they had quit their jobs, pulled together some money, cameras and microphones, and started a three-year journey across 16 island nations. 

The resulting touring project is coming to Tempe, addressing climate change by bringing together the voices and art of musicians from island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Chen, the co-founder and creative producer, describes Small Island Big Song as a "multimedia concert." 

As a part of their initiatives, the artists conduct a series of workshops and panels, all culminating in a concert, which will take place at the Tempe Center of the Arts on Feb. 10. Tickets cost between $10 and $25 and can be found on the venue's website. 

"We’re excited about the opportunity to host this group of musicians and the communities they represent, to share with us their culture, and stories and songs, while in the framing of this critical global issue," said Brendan Ross, the Deputy Community Director of Arts and Culture for the City of Tempe.

The workshops take place days before the concert, including a storytelling workshop at the Tempe Center for the Arts, a trash-to-music workshop at Tempe Public Library, a youth concert, a women’s panel, and a Sega dance workshop. 

"This concept of watching island art, even as a musician, is sort of foreign to anyone," Airileke Ingram, a drummer from Papua New Guinea, said. "These experiences will help lead the way for audiences to understand." 

The concert features performances with eight musicians and vocalists and art from the nations of New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, Madagascar, Solomon Islands, Mauritius, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tahiti. Their oldest performer on tour is 62, and their youngest is only 8.

Chen said an audience member approached her after one concert. The audience member, who happened to be a marine biologist brought to tears, shared grievances with Chen about students not connecting to the issue of global warming. 

"She says, 'I just feel my message doesn't come across because the (scientific) language that I use is hard for people to feel,'" Chen said. "But then she said that the concert we do transforms those numbers into facts and an art form that touches people."

Ingram and Chen both said that the issue of climate change could force a victim narrative on Islanders suffering from climate change. Chen said this show changes that.

"This concert turns it around so (Islanders) are not seen as victims anymore," Chen said. "They become activists." 

Chen said the concert tour "transcends geographical boundaries," featuring musicians of diverse ages, nationalities and cultural backgrounds.

"There were no borders on the ocean; they were borders drawn by the colonizers or politicians," Chen said. "What we're trying to do is reunite everyone because we see that the ocean doesn’t separate us but unites us."

Ingram said the project brings together musicians who share "common cultural elements" like counting systems or elements of language, despite coming from different physical locations. 

Chen emphasized finding a "common center" between the diverse musicians to unite the group during the tour, transcending differences in age or nationality. 

"Our center is our love of nature, our homeland and a sense of responsibility telling the story," she said. "Sharing that love and receiving it is how we connect." 

Edited by Sophia Braccio, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan

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