Coming from some of the smallest islands in the world, performers from “Small Island, Big Song” talked about climate change, indigenous cultures and island history from their homelands to students in select sociology and geography classes at Moraine Valley Community College last month.
The group performed their musical and spoken word endeavor at the college but conducted several classroom workshops beforehand to expose students to different topics, including “History from an Indigenous Perspective,” “Role of the Artist in the Climate Crisis” and “Indigenous Women Making Culture Relevant.”
“‘The Role of Artists in the Climate Crisis’ was a very effective discussion with my world geography students, so much so that one student continued the conversation from class into the hallway until it was time for my next class to start,” said Dawn Wrobel, Moraine Valley geography adjunct instructor. “Our follow-up discussion the following class was so much richer because the students could, and did, discuss the impact of climate change on individuals. It was no longer an abstract concept.”
In one sociology class, Selina Leem, a spoken word artist from the Marshall Islands; BaoBao Chen, the show’s co-creator from Taiwan; Putad, a singer and musician from the Amis tribe in Taiwan; and Emlyn and Kan, singers and musicians from Mauritius, described their journey into music, their struggles as minorities, the trouble their islands face with rising water levels due to climate change, and how they are sharing these messages through song. Emlyn sang a short tune in her language while playing a native drum with Kan. She is one of few women in Mauritius to play drums professionally.
Leem noted the health effects her family and other islanders have experienced from bombings the U.S. did on the Marshall Islands during WWII. She’s been writing about these issues and performing spoken word for years. Emlyn noted how colonization affected Mauritius and how she’s keeping traditional drums and music alive. Putad is trying to revive her tribe’s traditional, Indigenous music.
“Culture is ageist and sexist. Slowly that perspective is changing now. That’s what keeps me going is spreading the truth,” Leem said. “I don’t ever want to whisper. I want to be loud about these issues.”
“Everyone has a certain destiny. If you do it with passion, you will succeed,” Emlyn added. “If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going.”
“Small Island, Big Song” is a musical endeavor bringing together singers, musicians and spoken word artists in a multimedia concert that includes various languages, cultures and instruments. Performers from islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans, including Madagascar, Taiwan, Mauritius, Marshall Islands, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Tahiti, Papua New Guinea and Rapa Nui (Easter Island), use diverse music styles to share their culture, stories and impacts of the climate crisis with a backdrop of visuals from their homelands.
“I think their message was beautiful, and it shows us how we, as people, can make a change through song,” said Michelle Martinez-Salgado, of Burbank, a student in the sociology class.
“I think it’s interesting for students to be confronted by people affected by climate change while also being part of institutions that perpetuate it,” said Dr. Jeffrey McCully, whose sociology class was visited by the performers.
For news media inquiries, contact Maura Vizza, Moraine Valley communications specialist and sports information coordinator, at (708) 974-5742 or Vizzam@morainevalley.edu.