Music can subliminally plant the seeds for change

Updated: Apr 26, 2020, 08:55 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

Composer AR Rahman gets together with We Are The World's Ken Kragen to create an anthem for a post COVID-19, climate-change empathetic world

Neil Morgan, Ken Kragen and AR Rahman. Pic/hands around the world
Neil Morgan, Ken Kragen and AR Rahman. Pic/hands around the world

Every great thing, balances at all times, at the razor edge of disaster," says Ken Kragen at the beginning of the trailer of the Hands Around the World Project, which launched on Earth Day. Kragen is the man who organised We Are the World—the '90s anthem, which was a coup of sorts with the presence of Michael Jackson and other legends, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel and Diana Ross. Now, Kragen and our own Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman, along with other notable musicians, visionaries and philanthropists, have joined hands for a global project titled, Hands Around The World. Also, a big part of the project will be Neil Morgan, an immersive entertainment entrepreneur, who is the brains behind a unique app that will use hologram and augmented reality technology to link one billion people holding hands around the world in a virtual reality selfie-chain for the benefit of climate change. This new project includes an anthemic song, and an album of songs showcasing different genres is also in the making. We spoke to Rahman, Kragen and Morgan about the project.

Edited excerpts from an interview.

How did the Hands Around The World project materialise?

Rahman: It's a unique project that brings together music and technology to create awareness about climate change. There's a lot spoken about climate change, but I feel this is the time for all of us to come together and take action. Ravi Velhal from Intel, who is one of the technical advisors for my Le Musk project, pitched my name to Neil and Ken, saying AR will be the right person for this project. So, they did their research, watched my show Harmony on Amazon Prime and after that, asked me to compose a song for Hands Around The World.

AR Rahman

It comes at an unfortunate, but relevant, time.

Rahman: In times like these, one is forced to think about the future, about our children's children. We don't want to mess up this planet for them. We need to understand that if we take care of nature, nature will take care of us too.

I feel we can do a lot with the power of music and I try to do whatever little I can. I'm trying to connect people and, in the process, I'm learning a lot. I think opportunities like these force us to think differently. And this gives us a chance to say something, and also subliminally plant the seeds for change in society. Music, lyrics and narrative stories can play a critical part in unifying people.

Kragen: People have come to me every month or so wanting to do a new Hands Across America, where I got over six million people to hold hands in a continuous line from New York to Los Angeles. They see it as a way to bring people together. I explain that it has already been done and, unless there was some new twist that made it unique, it would not succeed. Neil and I were in a meeting where 'Hands' kept coming up and he held up his cellphone and said, "Look, you couldn't get people to hold hands in a continuous line these days because they would be using their phone in one hand to take a selfie." We all laughed but then he said, "I have been developing the technology with a brilliant group of tech folks so we can let people take selfies on their phone with holographic celebrities and send it to us for Hands Around the World."

How did the collaborations take shape?

Rahman: We had a very kind letter from Quincy Jones supporting the project and endorsing me. And that got circulated just around the Grammys in January. A lot of artistes were, in fact, returning home from the Grammys but Natasha Bedingfield, Cody Simpson and Mary Mary, all of them were kind enough to come and record. Akon has also confirmed, and many other artistes will be joining us for the second line of sessions, which are going to take place after we emerge from the pandemic.

Morgan: Ken and I have been fortunate to travel the globe several times and have formed some amazing celebrity friendships. On the technology side, I was working with award-winning global leaders in the field of Volumetric Video and Photogrammetry. One of those key people is Velhal, who made a very powerful introduction to Rahman who he has worked closely with. This was a game changer for us. When AR told us that Michael Jackson himself had suggested AR write a new 'We are the World'-type song, we felt it was destiny. I brought in two other composers to broaden the global influence.

And what do you think of the current situation we find ourselves in?

Rahman: The whole world is locked down at the moment. There seems to be a hidden message, which is trying to cry out loud to us. And we need to find what the message is. The unique thing is that Hands Around The World is not just a song, it's not just an idea—it is a seed you're planting. We are hoping that many beautiful things will happen, when people hold hands around the world with the help of augmented reality.

Morgan: The great thing about this project is that it is all virtual reality. COVID-19 has opened a whole new way for musicians to relate to their audience, but we believe audiences will tire of seeing musicians stream just from their homes. Utilising new technologies will create interactivity with the audience like never before.

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