“Nature wiLL outlast capitalism”
Songwriter-scientist Love Ssega designs his utopia
He might have the verbal elasticity of his favourite ‘90s rappers, but as we live and breathe, Love Ssega is making a big impact when it comes to fighting toxic air
We don’t need hyperbole or destructionsLove Ssega, ‘Our World (Fight for Air)’
Give us the facts, we don’t want the factions
We have the people, we have the stories
Show us the pictures, not allegories
Born and raised in south-east London, Ssegawa-Ssekintu ‘Love Ssega’ Kiwanuka, 34, uses music and filmmaking to campaign against localised air pollution.
The British-Ugandan artist is widely-known for founding and fronting Grammy Award-winning Clean Bandit, but today he is making a big noise in the fight for breathing space – campaigning for cleaner air in London, while highlighting huge disparities in how neglected communities are being impacted by pollution. His work focuses specifically on his hometown of Catford in Lewisham and the toxic air caused by the HGVs chugging on the South Circular Road, which runs across the big smoke.
When it comes to the science, he knows what he’s talking about. The youngest-ever nominee at the global Institution of Chemical Engineers Awards, the British-Ugandan musician studied Chemical Engineering and received a PhD in Laser Spectroscopy at Cambridge University. So you could say he’s got his finger on the beats and pulse.
Also an ambassador for revered producer Brian Eno’s EarthPercent – a charity helping the music industry to support the climate emergency – in June 2022, the climate activist set up and launched Live + Breathe to raise awareness that people of colour are excessively affected by dirty air. Inspired by the fact that air pollution in London is constantly higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommended limits – and Lambeth and Southwark have some of the worst levels in the city – the free one-day event brings together musicians, community groups, athletes and activists for a day of free arts and culture workshops, a football tournament and poetry.
My World of Good is a new TOPIA series where we ask revolutionaries to to imagine better. We asked Love Ssega to take a deep breath and share his ideal world.
Love Ssega: “In My World of Good”
… everyone has read Sita Brahmachari’s When Shadows Fall
It’s a young adult’s book, but one I wish I had when I was growing up. It talks about tragedy, trauma, falling through the cracks but also modern issues of the negative cost of gentrification, perceptions of migrants and refugees and most of all healing. The world is a complex place right now, so for older readers this might shine a light into the world we are leaving for our young people. It’s such a powerful story.
Everyone should have access to books. Technology has sped up our lives too much and forced us into a form of narcism. Books on the other hand force us to pay attention to the simple words, don’t have any tabs and no email notifications to distract us. They never run out of battery either and can be passed from friend to fried or generation to generation.
… everyone has watched Everything Everywhere All At Once
It’s absurdist, but incredibly funny film about multiverses and something I will probably have to watch a number of times to catch everything. From a cultural perspective, it’s probably the first film that weaves English and a foreign language – Mandarin and Cantonese – so seamlessly and so sharply in terms of comedic dialogue.
We need new stories to reflect the world we are in. Plus I love a bit of action and everything A24 does as a production company is original and on point. It stars Michelle Yeoh and is written and directed by Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert).
… there will be no ‘bland‘
No bland food, no bland clothes, no bland attitudes. We’re not here for that. Things should be spicy! In my ideal world, there will also be no straight lines. Everything would look like anyone could make it themselves. There would be no concrete to fight against nature or segregate us from it.
… I would go swimming every day
I’m not a fast swimmer, but I can swim for a long time and that feeling of being in the sea, preferably somewhere warm, feels like an escape.
… we all get to rest
Rest is a superpower that we need. Time to be still and switch off. Nature says things need time to regenerate, whereas capitalism says things must work non-stop until they are depleted. And once depleted, find something else to exploit. Nature will outlast capitalism. It’s outlasted every other human-made system and will outlast humans ourselves too, not that we haven’t been warned.
… the soundtrack would be Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life
Although I could pick any album from his classic period through to back to his Motown days as Little Stevie Wonder. His lyricism, originality and reflection of social times is something that was trailblazing now and still is to this day. Plus you can always sing and dance along to Stevie.
… everyone gets to visit the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square
We are lucky to have free museum access in the UK. I had taken that for granted until they commissioned me alongside NESTA and King’s College London to work on a project that took their collection, my music and then the topic of home emissions in the climate crisis. So not the simplest challenge right off the bat!
The galleries are incredible and to create a performance in three of their largest rooms for Earth Day was special. The short film is coming soon!
… everyone should see Turner’s ‘Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway’ up close
I had the luxury to spend time looking at it even after the gallery had closed. You only get the sense of colours in person.
… I would be not scared of politicians
They come and they go. My only fear is the length of time some of them stick around for shamelessly doing untold damage.
… everyone has listened to Seat At The Table
It’s a great bunch of 20 minute films made around the UK in the build up to COP26. Presented by Jack Harries, the series featured British activists, Sir David Attenborough and an exclusive feature with President Barack Obama at COP26 – I am informed that President Obama himself watched this episode…
… we all breathe clean air
‘Our World (Fight For Air)’ is inspired by and dedicated to Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old girl who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham and died as a result of pollution. I want more young people to share their concerns and fears around air pollution. We can all be creative climate activists.
Live + Breathe 2022 is all about showing power brokers that Black people within Lambeth and Southwark care about climate issues. Not only that, the communities and groups involved here have come together to use art and culture to highlight an issue such as air pollution, which is shown to affect people of colour the most. People in the two areas would rather be doing sport, meeting friends, or training to be future Olympians, but if the air pollution levels are too high, then they are going to come together and make noise about it…
until the government acts to change it.
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