Indigenous musicians and London orchestras coming together to save the forest

As we emerge from a challenging year into whatever comes next, it is difficult to know who to listen to amidst the noise.

The people of the Amazon have wisdom to share and stories to set straight. This year we heard speeches ringing out from Indigenous youth ringing out clear above the hubub at COP26, and Paradise Row in London hosted the first art exhibition outside of Latin America curated by an Indigenous artist. Are we finally starting to listen to our elders?

Music is the human spirit of the forest

A música é o espírito humano da floresta - ouça a voz da natureza!
Music is the human spirit of the forest - listen to the voice of nature!

In 2006, musician Alexandre came to the Amazon from the samba clubs and Afro-Brazilian drum troops of São Pãulo to preserve the voices of cultures under threat. He started collecting music from Indigenous tribes and rubber tapper communities, recording elderly keepers of traditions of the forest. Earlier in 2021, with funding from the Cube Cinema in Bristol and the RAIN network, he recorded Mestre Poa, leader of the Noke Koi Indigenous nation, singing a traditional song with his wife Rosimeire. In September, RAIN brought his voice to St. John the Evangelist, home of London Mozart Players. Trees of Music ambassadors Orchestra for the Earth added their strings to the bow with a classical arrangement by Misha Mullov-Abbado. Please enjoy it, and add your voice by sharing it with your friends and your networks.

Amplifying Indigenous voices

Poa’s voice carries the story of his people’s struggles during the rubber boom, and reminds us of the resilience of a culture living in harmony with their environment. Listening to him, and to others who know the rhythms of the forest, we can reimagine the relationship between our cultures and our kingdoms. We can learn new ways to engage with ancestral knowledge, hear the histories of our shared encounters and create partnerships for a world with space for everything that lives.

Poa and his people have begun the work of reforestation, and Indigenous groups elsewhere in Brazil are approaching RAIN with plans for sapling nurseries. They lack resources, but not the will or the skills to succeed.

The Indigenous people of Acre are preserving our forest in the small areas we have today. Where it used to be a farmland or a pasture, we're recuperating the forest, and not just for ourselves, for Indigenous people. We are preserving our forest and our biodiversity for humanity.

Other voices in harmony

The bows that give voice to the strings are made of pernambuco wood, the uniquely resonant “ironwood” species shaped by bow makers for centuries. Our world heritage owes much to this tree, and our love of its rare beauty has pushed it to the brink of extinction – but together we can ensure that the sounds of the strings keep resonating. Master bow maker Marco Raposo has partnered with RAIN to grow 50,000 saplings for farmers and ecosystem restorers, and the first 250 went in the ground last month.

Orchestra for the Earth conductor John Warner reminds us of another connection between music and nature.

Both Elgar and Beethoven were inspired by the woods, where they found the space to dream up their music. Beethoven's woodland haunt outside Vienna is sill there as a wonderful example of conservation of nature as heritage. The people came together in the 19th century and decided that these woods were a vital part of what it meant to be Viennese.

Miriam Margolyes lent her inimitable voice to the video, telling the story of the song. “Strangers are coming to take our land. Fires are coming, destroying our homes.” As we go into mid-winter in 2021, we don’t know what next spring will bring. We are like the Noke Koi a century ago, dazzled by a noisy, changing world, and like them we are starting to understand that only as a community working together can we weather the challenges we face.

It is difficult to overstate the debt that music-lovers owe to pernambuco wood, and frightening to imagine that our laziness and greed might bring about a world without music.

Miriam Margolyes
If you have been moved by the sound of the strings or the sights of the forest, now is the time to bring your voice, your creativity and your generosity to restore ecosystems and heal our suffering world.

  • £5 goes a long way in Brazil, providing a tree and training to one of 70 farmers in Espírito Santo.
  • £50 can empower locals to reforest their land with pernambuco saplings, and for £600 your family or business can reforest a spring.
Everyone can play a part in helping to save the Trees of Music and keeping the songs of the forest singing. Please donate to preserve the trees and the music for generations to come.