How Ditty wields the weapon of song to protect Mother Nature

Songwriting environmentalist Ditty talks about her upcoming EP and nine-city tour

December 08, 2023 05:28 pm | Updated 05:28 pm IST

Musician Ditty

Musician Ditty | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I have a voice and I also see that there doesn’t exist space in the mainstream media or even in the indie music scene to speak about the topics of our times, says singer-songwriter and environmentalist Ditty over the phone in the middle of her multi-city tour. “So even though it’s difficult, I’m trying to create a space for socially engaged art in the industry.”

Ditty is currently touring India with material from her upcoming EP Skin. Musician Aditi Veena who goes by the stage name Ditty, is known for her indie material inspired by Mother Nature.

When two worlds collide

A student of architecture and urban ecology, Ditty says she was always singing, “since I was quite young,” and was writing songs “inspired by the here and now.”

“I was working in Sri Lanka as an architect when I recorded my first album, Poetry Ceylon in 2019, and the producer at that time said, “These are all earth songs”. That got me thinking. I released my music and became involved with organisations which focus on these topics and it has all come together for me.”

The self-taught musician credits her success to Artistes Unlimited, a Delhi-based choir she joined in her teens. “I was the youngest in this group of immensely talented artistes and I learnt a lot from them. There were 40 of us at the time and almost all of them have gone on to do fabulous things on the world stage,” says Ditty, adding that members included founder Annette Philip who is now a professor at Berkley School of Music; Vikrant Subramanyam, an opera singer in France; Prithwish Dev of Them Clones and Anindo Bose, one half of Shadow and Light which was nominated for a Grammy last year.

Musician Ditty

Musician Ditty | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Ditty was a part of Artistes Unlimited for close to five years, before she moved out of Delhi. “Life has been bit of a journey. First, I was in Pondicherry for a while, then I went to Sri Lanka to work for four-and-a-half years. Now, for the last two years I’ve been in Germany.”

Ditty says, “I play this and that, a little bit of everything and nothing — the guitar, keys and trumpet. I picked up these instruments along the way and taught myself how to write songs. If I need more instrumentation for my work, I ask friends for help.”

Skin to skin

“I don’t have many love songs, but this is one,” says the artiste talking about ‘Hold Me,’ the first single from her upcoming record, Skin. “I wrote this at a time when I couldn’t be with this person I loved. So, it’s a song about longing and also about holding myself through that time.”

The songs on Skin were penned during the pandemic. While a lot was happening around the world, Ditty shares how it was a time of great upheaval for her personally — being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness just before the lockdown ensued.

“It was hard time and the EP was born out of that period of introspection. I reflected on how we find it so hard to be alone with ourselves. I was learning how to sit with my pain and attend to myself, giving myself the love that I wanted someone else to give me.”

Ditty adds this rather personal side of her life ran parallel to the devastation in the world outside. “I understood how we treat ourselves is how we treat the Earth body. We find it hard to slow down and come home to ourselves; similarly, we find it hard to recognise the wonder that is the Earth and celebrate and respect it, without trying to control it.”

Musician Ditty

Musician Ditty | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“There are a lot of parallels on the record between the female body and the Earth body — how we expect so much productivity from the soil, how wilderness continues to shrink as urbanisation expands. I’ve been working in this field for so long I can’t help but have these ideas seep into my songs.”

Ditty says her choice of career as a conservation architect working with old buildings was a conscious one. “As ironic as it sounds, building is a destructive activity and the construction industry is one of the biggest polluters of the planet, accounting for about 54.8% of all greenhouse emissions.”

She adds, “Cement is the worst material we have created and it keeps killing all kinds of living matter. The biosphere is the only place where life can exist and so my record Skin is about the biosphere, the skin of the earth. We’re also made up of the same stuff. So that’s the idea behind the theme and title.”

Heal the world

“I chose to go into conservation, refitting and repurposing old buildings at university itself,” says Ditty, adding that working with Delhi-based Aishwarya Tipnis and in Sri Lanka with the Geoffrey Bawa Trust, taught her a lot about building sensitively, the use of vernacular material and ecological restoration. Later, she went on to work at the Jawaharlal Nehru University as an urban ecologist where she ran a lab researching how cities can become more regenerative and resilient in terms of ecology.

Ditty works on and off with the International Consortium for Conservation, planting forests whenever possible and documenting pastoral communities. “Our ancestors learned how to conserve water and to create water because they planted forests. When I started to tour I realised how destructive it is, so now all my tours are aimed at being carbon neutral. I’m trying my best to reduce my carbon footprint, and I offset that by planting forests,” says the artiste, who largely travels by bus and holds her concerts outdoors.

Musician Ditty

Musician Ditty | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Music is a full time project, but I also want to continue my ecological research and stay in touch with that side of me, as it fuels my artistic practice. There’s a lot I want to say with my music; I want to create an atmosphere where people feel moved. That has been the aim of my record.”

‘Hold me’ is available on all streaming platforms while Skin is scheduled for release in March 2024.

Ditty will be performing in Bengaluru at Jagriti Theatre on December 8. Tickets as well as information on other city venues are available on https://www.ditty.co.in/live

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