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#Exclusive: On Earth Day, A.R. Rahman Combines Forces With Global Music Icons for Climate Change

The celebrated composer collaborates with legendary ‘We Are The World’ creator Ken Kragen and tech entrepreneur Neil Morgan to link the planet

Jessica Xalxo Apr 22, 2020

A.R. Rahman with the 'Hands Around the World' team. Photo: Hands Around the World

On the 50th annual Earth Day, the globe grapples with the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic; the future uncertain. It’s now that A.R. Rahman joins hands with legendary music manager and activist Ken Kragen and immersive entertainment entrepreneur Neil Morgan to appeal to humanity to stand by each other. “Thinking about future challenges is very important because when they do arise, they freeze the whole world into nothing,” says the Grammy and Oscar-winning composer. 

Intending to unite the world to combat climate change–even the people who ‘don’t believe in global warming’–the trio along with musicians, visionaries and philanthropists from all over the planet are launching ‘Hands Around The World,’ a global fundraising and technology initiative. The project hopes to help people actively engage with the environmental emergency, raising funds and awareness to curb the irreversible effects of unchecked climate degradation.

Kragen, the force behind the historic collaboration “We Are the World” and Hands Across America, tells Rolling Stone India that back in the Eighties too, the world faced much of the same situation it does today with “a powerful group of world leaders, corporations and individuals denying the issues of hunger and homelessness.” Kragen sought to change things as they stood, first banding major artists together for a global anthem and then millions of people to hold hands at one moment in time from New York to Los Angeles. Strife and solidarity rallied people together for change, forcing authorities (the then President Ronald Reagen too notably joined the U.S.-wide human chain) to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. “‘Hands Around the World’ is constructed to do the same for all the environmental issues that make up climate change,” says the 1985 UN Peace Medal awardee.

(From left to right) Daniel Caesar, Ken Kragen, Kevin Doucette, A.R. Rahman, Julia Zuzanna Sokolowska and Neil Morgan. Photo: Hands Around the World

‘Hands Around the World’ kickstarts with an eponymous anthemic song which came together thanks to a “kind letter from legendary music producer Quincy Jones which got circulated earlier this year,” informs Rahman. One by one, musicians from across the world volunteered to lend their support. Comprising producer and AI music creator Kevin Doucette, award-winning Polish composer Julia Zuzanna Sokolowska and noted K-pop songwriter Daniel Caesar, Rahman assembled a music team for the year-long project. The lyrics were penned by musical theatre lyricist Stephen Schwartz and the ‘Hands Around the World’ team had its first recording session in February, at film and television composer Nathan Barr’s Bandrika Studios in Los Angeles.

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Joining Rahman and team on the anthem are pop stars Natasha Bedingfield, Cody Simpson, soul musician MAJOR, opera icon Jonathan Cilia Faro, gospel singer Erica Atkins-Campbell of Mary Mary and more. Beatles and Pink Floyd sound engineer Alan Parsons and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra too along with NASA and astronauts from the International Space Station lend their support to the project with the “One Note Symphony” composition. An album of powerful songs representing music from different genres is also in the making with artists such as Akon and more confirmed for a second line of sessions, once the pandemic is past.

(Clockwise from left to right) Neil Morgan, Ken Kragen and A.R. Rahman, Natasha Bedingfield and Cody Simpson. Photo: Hands Around the World

Music, lyrics and narrative stories can play a critical part in unifying people. I think opportunities like these (the COVID-19 lockdown) force us to think differently. And this gives us a chance to say something, and also subliminally plant the seeds for change in society,” says Rahman about the significance of the ‘Hands Around the World’ movement. The idea was to go beyond the words ‘global warming’ and tap into the depth of human healing. “By joining together, we unify the souls together and then there is a sense of understanding between cultures and common problems, common challenges which we all face, and how we can overcome that,” says the composer.

A.R. Rahman with MAJOR during the recording session. Photo: Hands Around the World

‘Hands Around the World’ doesn’t just aim to make the globe sing together, it quite literally wants people to join hands for change. Augmented Reality (AR) expert Morgan is at the forefront of making this happen. The entertainment entrepreneur is the brains behind a unique app that allows users to choose from a selection of hundreds of celebrities and influencers around the world, representing all walks of life, to appear right beside you–from your favorite footballers and musicians to anthropologist Jane Goodall, NASA’s Thorsten Markus, climate specialist Professor Todd Crowley (who also endorse the project) and more. AR allows the photo-real figures to join users and a simple selfie or a photo clicked by a helping hand will culminate in a visual that links your hands to people who resonate the most with you. ‘Hands Around the World’ will then link the photo to the next until billions across the world are connected, forming a human chain that encircles the Earth. But the initiative is not about global virality. The idea is to actually give back and engage while creating massive change through a fun and uplifting experience. “Much like the Ice Bucket Challenge–it was fun to do but had a serious message underneath. This is the same with our project, it is fun to have a selfie with your favorite celebrity but ultimately all the money that is raised goes to the benefit of supporting climate change projects to help save our planet,” says Morgan.

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To this end, ‘Hands Around the World’ is also working on offering a blockchain donation platform that will allow people to choose from a range of climate charities around the world and direct money to their efforts, with full transparency for all donations. Users will be able to see the money actually go to organizations on the ground–this could be for a local cleanup of a water project, helping plant trees in a rainforest, taking plastic out of the oceans and more. “It will create trust for the charities and for as little as a dollar, you now have a photo that you will treasure for a lifetime. We also allocate you a position in the line with a latitude and longitude coordinate so you can see where you are standing in the line and see who you are standing beside. It will be truly an incredible image when we are seeing people from all races and religions standing together, forming circles around our Earth, giving it a giant hug,” says Morgan.

‘Hands Around the World’ melds music, activism and technology together for meaningful engagement. “I have always said ‘It is easier to accomplish the impossible than it is to do the ordinary.’ The reason is that people don’t pay attention to the ordinary and you must get people’s attention first if you want them to take any action,” says Kragen who believes that the selfie chain is only the first step towards educating people and prodding them to come forward, to personally make a difference in their communities, nations and by extension, the world. “That’s the game-changer I have sought with everything I have done over this long wonderful life,” says Kragen.

Rahman, Kragen and Morgan hope that everyone on Earth that has access to a mobile phone will participate, especially the silent majority of the globe. “It’s an incredible way to connect people like never before and stand together as one human family. I always say ‘who doesn’t love being here,’ and this is a way to show our love for one another and importantly, the love for the planet we live on. We don’t have another one so we must protect it now,” says Morgan. The project will officially be introduced by Rahman via an Instagram Live from his handle @arrahman at 7 pm (IST) this evening.