The news about the Australian wildfires is absolutely devastating. As I write, they continue to wreak devastation. They began in July 2019 but made international news headlines in late 2019 as their impact grew. 28 people have died, more than 3,000 homes have been lost, and something in the range of 1 billion animals (including mammals, reptiles, birds, and insets) have died and even those who survive the fires may die due to the loss of their habitat and food sources. Given that the wildfires have destroyed the habitats of more than 100 endangered species, there are real worries that some animals will go extinct.
Whereas most of the disasters featured in my research are “sudden onset” disasters — they start and typically stop very suddenly — wildfires are a little different. They develop and evolve. Wildfires are not normally newsworthy and only become so once they’re recognized to be inflicting significant and perhaps record-breaking damage, usually on humans. Sudden onset disasters inspire songs in part because of the shock experienced by songwriters — songwriters are struck by the news and feel compelled to respond. There’s no one moment in the Australian wildfires that can be said to be more shocking than any of the others. Instead, there’s a constant, or perhaps increasing, sense of horror. But the shock is still there, and so I am not surprised to see several songs emerging about the wildfires (below). I’m sure that more are still to come.
The music industry as a whole has been affected too, as numerous festivals and concerts have had to be cancelled due to the poor air quality resulting from wildfire smoke. Some radio stations are choosing not to play songs that refer to fire, concerned that they would be insensitive. At the same time, many artists are also organizing fundraising concerts in response to the wildfires, and a number of high-profile artists, including Elton John and Mettalica, are pledging large sums of money in aid of wildlife affected by the fires.
Please let me know if you hear of other songs!
[Note Apr 29, 2020: I’m grateful to Daniel Kelly who shared his YouTube playlist featuring more than 40 songs about the Australian wildfires.]
Zack Sympson, “Pray for Rain”
Amelia Nell, “Stride of the Phoenix”
Declan Colgan, “Covered in Fire”