‘Can we save the wild salmon of Iceland ?’ : Björk releases song to fight fish farming

The Guardian, 16 octobre 2023

Singer talks about ‘lost’ song, a collaboration with Rosalía, and how artists pick up on the environmental emergency

Iceland’s fish farming industry is “a couple of wild guys who want to make money quick and sacrifice nature”, the Icelandic singer Björk has said before the release of a “lost” song to help fight the increasingly controversial practice.

She said artists were often the “canaries in the coalmine” of environmental emergencies because it was their job to be sensitive.

The song, a collaboration with the Catalan pop star Rosalía, is based on a recording Björk made two decades ago and only rediscovered in March.

The pair will donate the proceeds to activists who oppose industrial salmon farming in Iceland, currently in the spotlight after revelations of repeated escapes of thousands of fish into the wild.

Björk said the rediscovered song sounded “strange”, noting it was recorded about 20 years ago when she was in her mid-30s. “I was like, whoa, OK – the beat in it was very primitive, but I guess I was sort of slightly inspired by dancehall from Jamaica.”

Thinking she could use it to benefit the environment, “where my heart is”, she said, she asked Rosalía to help her update it for a contemporary audience, with production by the Irish-Scottish producer Sega Bodega.

“The way to reactivate the song for an environmental platform in 2023 would be to get a guest that represents the moment,” Björk said of her thinking. “Dancehall is the grandmother of reggaeton. When I heard it, I thought : Rosalía had a lot of reggaeton on her album. I know she really cares and wants to act. I think she was excited about it because she wants to do something about the environment.”

Artists often ended up as environmentalists because, Björk said, “we are the canary in the coalmine. It’s our job to have our sensors, our antennae, out all the time, and read how we feel in our environment and be aware. We pick up this emergency – and we want to act on it.”

In a statement on Instagram about the collaboration, Björk wrote : “People at the fjord Seyðisfjörður have stood up and protested against fish farming starting there. We would like to donate sales of the song to help with their legal fees and hopefully it can be an exemplary case for others.”

Björk claimed this industrial farming of salmon “has already had a devastating effect on wildlife and the farmed fish are suffering in horrid health conditions. And since a lot of them have escaped, they have started changing the DNA in the Icelandic salmon for the worse, and could eventually lead to its extinction.”

But, she emphasised to the Guardian, the song itself was not a protest. “It is not an activist song,” she said. “It’s a love song. It’s not about fish.” She paused. “Although you could write a good punk song about that.”

She added : “It is not me at my most experimental. I’m not really a pop musician. That’s sort of why it never made it on [past albums] Homogenic or Vespertine. It was kind of too much sugar. This is as poppy as I’ll ever get. That is why I wanted to give it to a good cause.”

The promotional materials for the song are also in Spanish, with the hopes that “other places could follow”, she said. “Rosalía was telling me in Argentina and Chile [fish farming] is a disaster.”

Björk said she asked herself three questions before deciding to support the movement. “Can we stop it ? Can we change it ? Can we save the wild salmon of Iceland ? The answer to all these three questions is yes, we can.”

She noted that sentiment against salmon farming in Iceland had united the left and right, and she described the industry as “a couple of wild guys who want to make money quick and sacrifice nature”.

Björk has a history of environmental activism, once shelving a gig at the Icelandic Airwaves festival to demonstrate against plans to build 50 dams and hydropower plants. David Attenborough recorded a message to explain the concept of “biophilia” for an app she released to accompany her album of that name, and in 2019 the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg recorded a message for Björk’s Cornucopia tour.

The same year, Björk and Thunberg encouraged the Icelandic prime minister to declare a climate emergency – and when Katrín Jakobsdóttir didn’t, Björk accused her in a Guardian interview last year of going back on her word, saying : “I was so pissed off because I had been planning that for months.”

In 2008, Björk released a song, Náttúra, featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, from which all proceeds went to the Náttúra campaign, an environmental group she co-founded to fight the construction of foreign-backed aluminium factories in Iceland.

The singer’s mother, Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, who died in 2018 after a long illness, also campaigned against the factories and in 2002 went on hunger strike for 23 days to protest.

“We are guardians,” Björk concluded. “We want to protect nature.”

publié dans The Guardian