Singing campaigners call on curator of Meltdown festival to speak out about Shell’s Southbank sponsorship
On the afternoon of Sunday 9th June, a flashmob of over 30 singers gathered in the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall as audience members arrived for the Shell-sponsored performance by Spira Mirabilis of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen. The singers launched into a version of Leonard Cohen’s classic song, Hallelujah, with rewritten lyrics drawing attention to Shell’s controversial human rights and environmental record. They unfurled a banner with Yoko Ono’s quotation ‘Art is a means for survival’ and handed out flyers to audience members. They gave a number of repeat performances around the Southbank which drew applause and support.
This was the third performance led by Shell Out Sounds, a group of musicians and concerned concertgoers who are challenging Shell’s sponsorship of the arts through music and song. The performance was a direct appeal to Yoko Ono, the curator of next week’s Meltdown festival at the Southbank, to speak out on the issue. Ono is an outspoken opponent of the ‘fracking’ method of gas extraction, a method that is widely used by Shell in South Africa and elsewhere. The song detailed ‘fracking’ and Shell’s other controversial activities in its lyrics: ‘It goes like this, you drill and dig; You frack the rock and you crash your rig; The tar sands are a poison, Hallelujah…’ The choir’s flyer also highlighted the irony of performing Strauss’s meditation on wartime destruction with financial support from a company who fund Nigerian Security forces and other armed groups.
Shell has sponsored the Shell Classic Concert series since 2007 and opposition to oil industry sponsorship of the arts and sciences has been steadily increasing. Shell’s directors recently faced a barrage of questions about their human rights record at their Annual General Meeting and a few weeks ago, the University of Oxford faced heavy criticism for launching a new funding partnership with Shell. The university’s student union voted to formally oppose the deal while a number of respected alumni wrote to The Guardian condemning the partnership.
Jean Adams, a member of Shell Out Sounds, said:
‘Yoko has asked people in New York to ‘Imagine there’s no fracking’, and next week we would like her to raise her concerns and ask the Southbank to imagine a future free of Shell. Our vision, which we express through singing, is something we also recognise in Yoko’s work: a space for optimism, renewal and change.’
Sam Chase, who sang in the performance, said:
‘This is the last concert in this season of Shell Classic International concerts, and while the Southbank already has the next set of concerts planned, it really should look long and hard at whether this association is sullying its otherwise terrific reputation. Shell is buying into the reputation of renowned musicians for a small price and co-opting powerful, peace-promoting music, such as Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Strauss’s Metamorphosen, as a smokescreen for its injustices elsewhere.’
Yoko Ono’s Meltdown festival runs from 14th-23rd June at the Southbank Centre. Shell is not a direct sponsor of the festival but it contributed substantially to the initial redevelopment of the Southbank Centre complex.