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Express Your Thoughts About Climate Change in the Anthems for the Anthropocene Contest

March 18, 2024

2021 launch workshop, with Mumu Fresh

Mumu Fresh at the 2021 launch event. Photo by Jen Britton.

Students at Drexel University can lift their voices — and musical compositions — in the conversation about the environment and climate in the third annual Anthems for the Anthropocene contest. It’s a chance to come together with fellow students and music-makers and create a song about facing climate change that inspires and empowers listeners.

Now in its third year, the Climate & Sustainability team’s contest invites students to respond to a creative prompt to write and record a song in just a couple weeks. This year, registration is open until March 27; the contest launches on April 1, with songs due by April 12. The final celebration will be on April 19 in the Mandell Theater on the University City Campus. Songwriting workshop leader, climate activist and R&B musician Mumu Fresh (Maimouna Youssef) will also host a concert at 7 p.m. on April 18 in the Mandell Theater on the University City Campus. 

Bands or solo artists can join, and participants don’t need any musical background — only a willingness to “take the leap,” as James McKinney, contest organizer and Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design assistant professor of music and music industry, said.

“This competition isn't just about crafting songs; it's about empowering each of you to contribute meaningfully to a cause that affects us all,” McKinney said. “We've witnessed remarkable submissions from first-time songwriters in the past, proving that with the right guidance and support, anyone can create something truly impactful. So, whether you're just starting out or you've been composing for years, this contest offers a unique opportunity to make your voice heard in the fight against climate change.”

When students enter the competition, they’ll learn the year’s theme (last year’s was “biodiversity”) at the launch event: a songwriting workshop on April 1. They can also attend a technical skills workshop on April 4, which will be led by Westphal Associate Professor Cyrille Taillandier.

The songwriting workshop will be led by Mumu Fresh, who also led the workshop in the contest’s first year. The artist said she enjoyed watching the students’ creative processes emerge and seeing how everyone brought their own “flavor” to communicating about environmental justice.

“It wasn't just about airing grievances or echoing despair; it was about channeling hope, humor and raw emotion into melodies and lyrics ... Coming back, I'm most excited about going deeper. We accomplished a lot with the hours given, but now we have more time to dedicate to expanding our creative minds and reimagining what is possible in the way we address environmental change,” Fresh said.

There’s nothing to lose and a lot of fun to gain, the artist said, and the contest offers a chance to be part of something bigger. It's a way to make climate change and activism more relatable and accessible for the younger generation.

"A contest like this is like a bridge. It brings the conversation right to where people are, in a language we all speak — music ... It's a call to action, wrapped in a melody, inviting everyone to play their part,” Fresh said. “The fun and creativity involved in songwriting can help demystify the complexities around climate change, drawing in young minds and encouraging them to think, learn, and express their concerns and hopes through music.”

Even for students nervous about writing and recording a song, first-time songwriter and 2023 participant Vaidehi Andhare, nature integrated design ’23, said it’s a good opportunity to step outside your comfort zone. When the Pennoni Honors College Custom-Designed Major alumna has written about climate change in the past, it’s been in a more formal, research- or scientific-based way, so she enjoyed writing about it through a different medium during the contest. For her song, she focused on the lyrics and telling a story that rhymed and flowed.

“The thing about this compared to other opportunities is that it doesn’t have to be perfect,” Andhare said. “The point of it is just trying to rally together with people who are passionate about the environment and climate change and make an engaging song.”

Mac Chen, who was part of the 2022 winning band Terra Vivet, performing their winning entry at the 2023 awards celebration
Mac Chen, of 2022's contest winner Terra Vivet, performs the band's winning entry at the 2023 awards celebration. Photo credit Christian Hunold.

Once students turn in their songs, a panel of judges will determine the winners (top three win Visa gift cards!), though there is also a People’s Choice winner. Judge David Yang, artistic director of the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, offers a good perspective on musical composition when judging the entries. He said he’s been amazed by the range of musicians at Drexel and encouraged students to use their unique voice when writing. Rather than trying to write a winning song, just write from the heart, he said.

Judge John Wiggins, senior director of Library Services & Operations in Drexel University Libraries, doesn’t have a background in music, but as a linguist, he said he likes to see where students go with the lyrics of their songs. He said that a song can be like a painting with good imagery, or like a beautiful poem. If the students embrace the theme of the contest — to make some music and make it about climate change — they’re golden, Wiggins said. His advice for students is to not filter themselves.

“It’s a gift for them and for those of us who get to experience this song,” Wiggins said. “I think that songs encourage us to keep working and keep trying, to not just say, ‘Oh, there’s no way that this huge thing will change.’ We still have to try really hard and we have to do it because we care about the people who will suffer if we don’t, and the people who come after us. We have to do it because we believe in the future.”