Monday, December 11, 2023

With a New Collaboration, Yo-Yo Ma, Quinn Christopherson, and Pattie Gonia Sound the Alarm on Climate Change


Move over, Mariah Carey. This year’s holiday hit comes from drag queen and vocalist Pattie Gonia, 2018 NPR Tiny Desk contest winner Quinn Christopherson, and famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

In a union of art and activism, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, transgender Indigenous musician Quinn Christopherson, and environmentally-minded drag artist Pattie Gonia have collaborated to create a powerful musical statement on climate action. Their new song, “Won’t Give Up,” combines their diverse talents and perspectives to create a poignant message about the urgent need for environmental preservation.

Yo-Yo Ma, a 19-time Grammy award winner, is known for his mastery of the cello. His involvement in the song is part of his broader initiative, “Our Common Nature,” which aims to foster community and planetary connections to spur climate action.

Ma’s journey led him to partner with Pattie Gonia, known offstage as Wyn Wiley, a drag performer deeply involved in environmental activism. The partnership evolved when Gonia introduced Ma to a song project about Alaskan glaciers she was already developing. Christopherson, a transgender artist of Ahtna Athabascan and Iñupiaq heritage, joined the duo, contributing both vocal and guitar accompaniment to the track.

The song, which is available on major streaming platforms, is a heartfelt plea to listeners to remain committed to solving the climate crisis. Christopherson’s engagement with the project transformed his perspective on the environmental challenges facing his native Alaska. “Making this song about glaciers started as a goodbye, but through the process we realized we couldn’t do that,” Christopherson shared with Broadway World. “Creating this work activated more of a fight in me immediately, and that feels powerful.”

Ma’s connection to the project is deeply personal, reflecting his experiences in Alaska. “I was deeply moved by my time there: I felt grief when I saw our glaciers receding and when I heard about the effects of melting permafrost — but I also left Alaska full of hope,” Ma told NPR.

Gonia’s involvement aligns with her longstanding commitment to integrating environmental activism into her drag persona. In a previous interview, Gonia emphasized her approach to “unshowered” drag, utilizing upcycled materials and sometimes literal trash, as part of her advocacy for climate justice.

While the collaborators recognize that a song alone cannot solve the climate crisis, they believe in the power of music to inspire action. Indigenous organizer Princess Daazhraii Johnson, associated with the Alaska-based Native Movement, highlighted the song’s broader implications. “The song is so much more than just about the climate crisis and our Mother Earth,” Johnson told NPR. “It is about our connection as a human species and as a family.”

Earlier this year, performer AY Young announced an album with a track for each one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. “I think music can influence and motivate people not only toward activism but toward action,” Young told Ethos. “Music is powerful. It’s a universal language and it can do anything.”

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