In the late 1960s, Roger Payne found the music in whale song. He became convinced that if people could only experience the profound beauty of the whale, they just might work to protect them. He recognized that people needed to have an emotional connection to the animal, to see them as a part of themselves. Hearing the “humanness”, and more specifically the almost recognizable emotion in the whale, helped prompt numerous “save the whale” campaigns.
In 2015 Robin Perkins (El Búho) and Augustin Rivaldo’s (Barrio Lindo) label Shika Shika released the crowdfunded ‘A Guide to Birdsong of South America’, hoping to inspire the same connection to endangered birds. If we can see them in the music we love, created by people we love maybe we would be moved to save them. And we were. That album was such a success that Shika Shika are back with ‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’, released June 26th. Perkins and Rivaldo provided artists with sound files of tweets of vulnerable or near-extinct birds who then incorporated those sounds into new compositions. The album features the sounds of vulnerable bird species like the Momoto Carenado (Nicaragua), Ferminia (Cuba) and the Jamaican Blackbird (Jamaica), birds who have dwindled in numbers as a result of the environmental repercussions of climate change, deforestation and trapping for the pet trade. Through Kickstarter, they were able to raise over $15,000 from 343 backers, all of which will go to local bird conservation projects.
Though still young, Shika Shika is known for remarkable releases that always focus on the meeting between organic and electronic sounds, between folk traditions and digital production and between the past and the future. The human connection to nature is always a focal point and the call to action to save it comes as no surprise. The 10 artists chosen for ‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’ include well-known names like DJ Jigüe, Siete Catorce and The Garifuna Collective, along with emerging artists like Alex Hentze and NAOBA.
‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’ spans pulsing psychedelic chicha, glitchy folktronica and downtempo, poly-rhythmic grooves. The artists were specifically chosen to bridge connections between traditional music and modernity, or between organic and electronic sounds. Exploring these connections help remind us of our own connections to the organic and traditional, helping bridge the gap between ourselves and these birds. It is an unfortunate circumstance of our modern reality that technology and the pursuit of material gain have distanced us from our roots, from nature. And today, in this exact moment when we are now kept from each other, isolated in the structures we built to protect us from nature, this is becoming more clear. In my city, you can’t find a watering can to save your life. People are using this time to reconnect, to dig in the earth, to watch something that can nourish and delight you grow from a tiny little seed. People are taking advantage of the small joys, of butterflies and birdsong. Shika Shika has inadvertently captured the needs of the moment.
These are strange times, but the sort of calm remembering that ‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’ provides just might help you connect to yourself. If you close your eyes, especially during Alex Hentze’s Tecolote Barbudo, you can almost imagine yourself lying on a forest floor watching all the birds. The song pulses through you with faint bird calls bringing you back into yourself. And that’s the strength of this album, its ability to push and pull you along with the beat. One of the best things about nature is the tendency for your mind to wander along with your feet. That’s what this album does, it takes you there when you can’t actually go there. The only thing missing is the sun on your skin. Time Cow’s Jamaican Blackbird is another song that gives the bird its due. He lets the animal speak to your heart and the bass to your body. DJ Jigüe’s Ferminia closes out the album in the most perfect way. It’s subtle. It could easily be music to meditate to (which is true of just about any Shika Shika release really). There is a primal feeling to this whole album that makes your ancestors feel very close. And they are. In a time like this when we are forced to be alone and we really need to not be alone, because how can you get through this alone, we can turn to them. It felt like at times listening to this album that my ancestors were right there with me reminding me that I am never alone even in my most lonely because I am connected to everything around me.
There are a few stand out tracks on ‘A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean’, but the album should really be taken in as a whole to remind us of our deep connection to our ancestors, and especially to our first ancestor, nature. If we can again see that we are a part of the cycle not outside of or above it, maybe we will be moved to action too.