Amongst Gaia’s Guardians are special singers who will inspire revellers to keep the festival site clean. Shakti Sings is a 120-strong choir which was founded to honour the Earth through song. They aim to keep the festival clean and green by telling – or singing – it how it is. They will entertain and engage revellers politely and charmingly, asking them to Love the Farm and Do No Harm.
Gaia’s Guardians are taking over stewardship of the festival from the Green Police. Their message is the same – to protect the water and land that Glastonbury Festival stands on – but with Shakti Sings, they will take a new approach to be playful with revellers, entertaining them and appealing to their conscience and better nature.
Renowned musician Susie Ro Prater has written five songs for Shakti Sings specially to raise awareness amongst festival-goers of the importance of cleaning up after themselves. Under Susie’s directorship, the choir will sing the festival message on stage and in many performances throughout the event.
Shakti Sings’ first iconic performance is to be at the opening ceremony on Wednesday 26 June from 9pm at the Stone Circle. They are to sing together at the Green Futures Field on Thursday 5pm, Friday 6pm and Saturday 4pm and at the backstage party on Thursday. At other times, the choir is to split into smaller groups to sing out the message of protecting the farm at various places around the festival site, particularly welcoming people as they come through the festival gates.
Shakti Sings’ founder, Bernadette Vallely, was the creative manager of the hugely successful Glastonbury Green Police team at Glastonbury Festival. She is now putting her energy into using music and song to get across an environmental message in a way that is fun, creative and exciting. Bernadette says: “We reach out to everyone who loves this farm and this festival. We ask you to be aware of the land and its inhabitants and be as harmless as you can while you enjoy yourself at the highest possible level!”
Shakti Sings at Glastonbury 2013…
Wow! What a week! Shakti Sings rocked the festival with songs of love, of peace, of loving the Earth, and especially of loving the farm.
From the opening ceremony at the Stone Circle on Wednesday to their final concert at Toad Hall on Sunday, the choir encouraged people to take responsibility for their waste, and people responded with a pledge to do no harm.
Bernadette Vallely, who began the anti-littering campaign at Glastonbury with the Green Police, came up with the ingenious idea to sing to people. Song is a very strong method of communication that cuts across the “shoulds” and the “do-as-I-say’s” and appeals directly to people’s instinctive desire to connect and act in a way that is comfortable with their feelings. So Gaia’s Guardians and Shakti Sings replaced the whistle-blowing, light-shining Green Police which relied on good-humoured humiliation, to access a deeper level of belonging and feelings of personal responsibility. And boy did it pay off!
We kicked off the festival with an interview and song on Worthy FM, on Jemma Cooper’s show, Shades of Green.It was a great opportunity to spread the message, and tell festival-goers to look out for Shakti Sings.
Here is a link to the interview: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ni9iskg3rjfn7hd/Worthy%20fm%20visit.mp3
Right from the word go, people responded. By the time the choir arrived at the Stone Circle on Wednesday evening, the ground was already covered in cans and other rubbish, including a significant number of tiny glass NO2 cannisters. We moved onto the flat area and began to sang, after being smudged by a priestess, who blessed the festival. A large crowd patiently strained their ears to hear the songs as there were no mics. At the end of the concert, the choir moved into the crowd, and everyone joined in, dancing and singing together.
The litter pickers cleared the site overnight, and from then on, the King’s Field remained relatively clear of rubbish.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the choir split up into two groups, and sang to people as they arrived on site. The lyrics of specially written songs, Leave No Trace, Glastonbury Glastonbury, and Hor-Oh catching the revellers early on – this is a culture change: litter pollutes the ground, and pissing on the ground pollutes the water table. There’s no way round it. If 200,000 people come together in a few hectares, then we must each take personal responsibility for our waste or we will cause environmental disturbance.
Thursday night and the choir sang at the backstage party. Their singing quickly drew the attention of the hospitality guests, press and camera-people, and soon an eager audience surrounded the choir. After the concert, Michael Eavis stood on stage and told everyone it was the best singing he had ever heard at Glastonbury, and endorsed entirely Gaia’s Guardians’ mission.
And so, after only two days, the choir felt like a firmly established and major part of the festival experience. We earned a nickname – “the red people” – and we were to be seen singing everywhere, from the teepee field and green fields to the busy pub and market areas around the main stages.
And then we asked people to take the pledge.
The pledge is to hold your left arm in the air, then to touch the ground and say “I pledge to love the farm and do no harm”. This simple act had a profound impact on revellers. Actually to connect with the Earth released huge amounts of awareness for people about where they were and what they were doing: that Glastonbury was not some giant pop-up themepark, but actually a farm, a tract of land, and we were in immediate contact with all that lives on the land. While Shakti Sings sang, we gave out stickers with our logo – Flora the Cow – and many people commented on how awful litter is, and how they’d make a conscious effort to behave responsibly.
And that is a huge ask at a festival where normal “rules” are suspended. For many, hedonism is the order of the day, and snapping out of that disconnected and blurred vibe to piss in a loo or put a fag-butt in a bin was simply beyond many people. But it’s about a tipping point, about developing a culture that increasingly recognises the damage that waste causes and therefore wants to put it right. This is where Gaia’s Guardians’ new approach scores where the Green Police did not. As an example, late on Friday night I stopped a drunk man from peeing in a hedge just yards from some toilets. Admittedly, they were very busy and there were queues. We spent several minutes discussing why he might decide to use a toilet instead. I told him about the water table under the farm becoming polluted, and he told me he was a keen fisherman, but it was his right to pee on the ground. I agreed – yes it was his right, but now he knows what the impact is of 200,000 people expressing their right is, he can choose not to. He told me bluntly that he would have a piss, regardless, so I said, be my guest. Then he staggered over to the hedge and suddenly had second thoughts, and queued up at the toilets instead.
To confront people with their responsiblity is a huge tool for change.
Shakti Sings continued with their tough schedule of singing. Sometimes Gaia’s Guardians’ camp was home for exhausted singers, but each day we had a briefing from the choir leader Susie Ro, where people could raise their concerns and share their experiences. Each morning the choir had a thorough practice and voice-warm-up, and the face-painters had a constant stream of choristers to their tables. Choir members took the time to practice yoga, pilates or meditate, or used the camp marquee to sit and chat over a cup of tea. Mostly, morale was very high, especially when something magical had happened, and magical things were happening all the time.
On Saturday afternoon, the choir went to the sauna in the teepee field to sing. A few choristers got in the mood and stripped off, too, to be more in line with their audience. The singing was so perfect that one sauna-goer got down on one knee and proposed to her boyfriend, and he accepted! What a beautiful moment. The newly betrothed lady, Dulcie, was in charge of litter picking down at the Pyramid Stage. She told us that she had never seen the area with so little litter. Evidence our message was having a major impact.
On Sunday, the two choirs were invited to the Tiny Tea Cafe in the Green Fields to symbolically marry after spending time apart. Such a beautiful ceremony, in the sunshine! Choir leaders Susie and Sophia were led blindfolded through a circular tunnel formed by members of the choir, who then all held on to one long, single thread of red wool, as a symbol of union. The celebrant asked Susie and Sophia to love themselves first, and to fully accept their own perceived shortcomings, in order to be able to love and accept the other fully. And this is the message of Gaia’s Guardians. We need to look at our own shortcomings – our waste problem – and accept it before we can do anything about it, and make positive and compassionate changes.
Shortly after the wedding ceremony, Shakti Sings took their position under the Toad Hall marquee for their final performance. That, too, was magical. Tears flowed and hugs and kisses came in abundance, at the end of an exhausting, exhilarating and extraordinary few days.
There are so many stories from the festival that will surface over time. But Gaia’s Guardians did their job, and protected Gaia, to the best of their ability, from the skewed mentality that it’s OK to consume and litter. It is not.