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Musicians and Indigenous communities join to fight illegal logging in Peru

  • Artists from the United States, Scotland and Peru traveled to Amazonian communities as part of the “No More Blood Wood” campaign.
  • The campaign hopes to raise awareness about the often-illegal origins of the resources that are used to create musical instruments.

LIMA, Peru — Music creates connections, unites cultures and helps to spread great ideas. This is a vision that American, Scottish, and Peruvian musicians demonstrated in a special presentation on Dec. 4 in Lima as part of the “No More Blood Wood” campaign. The campaign, which hopes to combat illegal logging in the Amazon, was created by Reverb, an organization founded by musicians to increase awareness of environmental issues.

Artists, environmentalist, and leaders of Indigenous communities on their journey through the Peruvian jungle. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency

In a very intimate presentation that took place in an establishment in Lima’s Miraflores District, musicians such as James Valentine (Maroon 5), Stefan Lessard (Dave Matthews Band), Adam Gardner (Guster), KT Tunstall, and Nicolás Saba (Kanaku y el Tigre) came together to accompany Diana Ríos on her song “Kamarampi.” Ríos is part of the native community Alto Tamaya-Saweto, of Ucayali, Peru. The song’s title is an Asháninka word meaning “ayahuasca,” a traditional spiritual brew made in the Amazon region. 

The “No More Blood Wood” campaign took place on Dec. 4 in Miraflores, Lima, Peru. Photo by Yvette Sierra Praeli

At the event, the musicians and Amazonian community representatives discussed issues they say are happening right now. These include threats to individuals and forests and delays in justice, as welll as compromises that could be used to achieve change.

The event began when the American and European musicians arrived in Peru to learn how the illegal exploitation of wood impacts life in the Amazon’s Indigenous communities.

Compromise through art

Adam Gardner, a vocalist for Guster and co-founder of Reverb, says that when he became aware of the waste that the music industry generates while he was on tour, he decided to create an organization that would change the industry. In 2004, he founded Reverb with his wife, Lauren Sullivan. Reverb is a nonprofit organization that unites more than 50 artists, bands, companies and environmental organizations.

“We quickly became aware of the connection between musicians and fans, and how we can use the power of music and of culture so that our followers get involved in an environmental movement and take action to create change,” Gardner tols Mongabay Latam after the presentation.

The majority of Reverb’s actions take place in concerts and on tour, Gardner explained, but they first experienced community impacts while with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) during Reverb’s first trip to Guatemala two years ago. It was then that James Valentine united with the other musicians.

Nicolás Saba (Kanaku y el Tigre), Stefan Lessard (Dave Matthews Band), James Valentine (Maroon 5), KT Tunstal, and Adam Gardner (Guster) on their trip to the indigenous community of Boca Pariamanu, in Tambopata Province in Peru’s Madre de Dios Region. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency

This year, the “No More Blood Wood” campaign’s visit was to Peru, in hopes of raising awareness among musicians and consumers about the often-illegal origins of musical instruments. Many times, musical instruments and other everyday items are made from illegally-harvested wood resources.

“We feel very committed, because now we know how the communities suffer from the devastation of forests because of illegal activities, how people and families are victims of assassinations. We’ve spent a week traveling with Diana, Julia, Juan, and Segundo, who confront death every day,” Gardner said. He spoke about the trip that he took with directors from the Regional Organization for the Development of Indigenous Towns in the Alto Amazonas Province (ORDEPIA), in Loreto, Peru. Along with them on the trip were the family members of those who were murdered during an attack on Indigenous and native leaders of the Alto Tamaya-Saweto community in 2014.

The music of the Amazon

“‘Kamarampi’ is ‘ayahuasca,’ which brings you to learn reality very deeply, and connect you with other people. My song talks about the connection and in it I say: ‘I come from so far and here we meet, we are here, sharing our experiences, our wisdom’,” said Diana Ríos, the daughter of Asháninka leader Jorge Ríos, who was killed in 2014.

For Ríos, the foreign musicians’ visit has had a lot of meaning. “It’s one thing to talk, but it’s another thing to make your heart beat. Thank you to everyone who came from so far,” she said to them. She considers their visit a spiritual connection. “They told us ‘We don’t know how to help, but tell us how to start.’ When good intentions touch you, even just asking how to do something, it’s very important because it reflects what [the person] feels and that they are worried.”

Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall, Asháninka community member Diana Ríos, and Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency

Ríos believes that this concern will inspire more people to be interested in what is happening in the Peruvian Amazon, the problems that exist, the forest’s value and how to confront threats to the environment: “It will bring our voice to different countries; what we live, and how we fight every day.”

Ríos said it’s important to remember that, even now, justice has not been served in the death of her father. She added that despite the threats she receives, she will continue defending the territory.

“If we don’t realize this, we’re going to lose the forests and the cultures in these communities are going to die,” Ríos said. “We are not going to leave this territory; we’ll keep defending it. We don’t want to think about what could happen, and I don’t want to imagine it because my father has already died and I don’t want to live with that pain. I want people from cities to listen and understand that they will be even more hurt than us if the Amazon disappears.”

Hoping for change

James Valentine is also committed to the campaign. In a conversation with Mongabay Latam, he said that the first thing that can be done is press for justice in the face of the tragedy that the people in these towns have to live with. “Now that we know the story, we know that they are fighting for justice,” Valentine said. 

Peruvian and foreign musicians and environmentalists traveled to the Amazon as part of the “No More Blood Wood” campaign. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency

Another action that needs to be taken, according to Valentine, is to spread awareness among consumers so that they are conscious of where the materials that make up their guitars and other instruments come from: “[These are the things] that we use every day to relax.”

He also explains that now that the “footprint” of where the resources come from can be traced, consumers should demand that those selling instruments demonstrate that they do not come from illegal wood.

“It’s difficult because consumers can’t always distinguish when a document is false, or where wood comes from, but I hope that consumer demand can change that,” Valentine said. “People can begin to ask for information about the origin of the wood, and companies should begin to show the documents.”

In terms of how the trip will affect Valentine’s music, he says that it will definitely influence what he does. “Even though I don’t know how — the musical process is a mystery —I definitely think it will happen,” he told Mongabay Latam.

Banner image courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency

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