(Originally published in Asian World News, United Kingdom, April 2014. By Aneesa Malik. Full interview featured below.)
What are you hoping to achieve with the Live Below the Line campaign?
From a personal perspective, it is always important for my faith and focus to avoid ever becoming too “comfortable”. There are so many in the world who live uncomfortably all the time, either due to their difficult environments or the limited choices they may have. That reality always pokes me uncomfortably during times when my own lifestyle and routine become predictable, easy, or “safe”. The Live Below The Line Challenge is an opportunity for me to re-examine my own routines and reflect on how aspects of my lifestyle may be directly or indirectly contributing to the discomfort of others or fostering deeper disconnect between them and myself. The hope is that Live Below The Line will help inspire me to make even more lasting changes in how I live… strengthen my commitment to alleviating hunger in the world. If friends and others see my effort and are inspired to also reassess their own lifestyles, wastefulness or needs/wants and take steps to live in better balance with others through personal life choices and social action ~ all the better.
There are many charities out there. What was your inspiration for getting involved with this particular campaign?
To me, charity is not about sympathetically or even empathetically giving to others in hardship or “need”, from some collected “excess” I may feel self-righteously justified to have acquired. In fact, I believe many people are in need because of my excess! So, to me, charity is not a virtuous act of any sort…it is an act of justice and responsibility. The Live Below the Campaign is particularly compelling because it moves beyond the idea of simple monetary commitment and actually spurs us to re-examine our life-style choices and make changes. Many of us see and feel for others who struggle in the world, yet we continue to live imbalanced lives, believing that the money we donate will help alleviate the imbalance our earth faces socially, economically, and environmentally. But this does not seem like a logical puzzle to me. Money may help as a bandage solution, but truly shifting one’s paradigm of how to live life, and working to establish balance seems like a more lasting strategy in my mind. Working with MADE in Europe and the Live Below The Line Challenge is appealing to me because it means doing something to change my own life, in hopes that the lives of others will be changed for the better as well. That is more meaningful than just remembering those who struggle with hunger or malnutrition as I donate money with one hand and pay $5.00 dollars for a latte with the other hand.
With 50% of the food that the world produces possibly being wasted, what measures do you propose to help combat hunger?
As many say, “Act locally but think globally”. One action which has worked positively for my family is simply trying not to waste anything. We even try to avoid bringing things into the home that may end up in the trash or recycling bin. Even buying peanut butter each month, I ask myself “How will I reuse this jar when it’s empty?” We buy or make only what we know we will consume, with only about 5% of our purchased groceries being packaged/pre-made food and even then, they are usually as organic as possible. We compost in our back yard and use that compost to grow some of our own vegetables, make our own jams and share what we have with neighbours. We’ve started keeping bees to have our own honey and whenever possible buy produce from local farms. These steps create a constant awareness in our family about where food comes from, how valuable it is and how important it is to share it. We spend several months of each year in a semi-rural environment of Pakistan, where we are friends with people who struggle for their food and we try to assist them however we are able. When you know your friends back in Pakistan struggle for simple things such as flour or lentils, you remember them when you are back in Canada or the UK and choose live differently. Personal efforts at living simply and frugally are very important to me ~ whenever possible I mend my own clothes, buy re-cycled clothing, do not purchase items I do not absloutly need, am cautious with household expenses (have one vehicle, no mobile phone, television/cable tv) and what my family and I save, we try to be generous with through donations to others who struggle to make ends meet ~ both in our local community and in our international communities. On a grand scale, I believe families and small grass roots organizations must lobby their governments to make changes in how food production and distribution is handled domestically and abroad. We talk of a global village when it comes to technology and the ease of communications between nations, thanks to the internet and things like Skype or Twitter….but all that virtual communication is not being equaled when it comes to how we LIVE regarding communal distribution of food around the world. I can Skype for free with a hungry friend in Pakistan, but what would be better would be to share a meal with him or her from the other side of the earth! That can be possible, but we must make it as easy as text-messaging.
How important is it that the youth get involved in initiatives such a these?
Imperative. Our children will soon have the capabilities to make the positive changes our world needs ~ if they choose to do so. But those choices will depend upon how they learn through what they see growing up, and what we choose to teach them now during their formative years. Our generation has made steps toward a more balanced world, but often we’re so tangled up in our own fears of poverty or desires for wealth and comfort, that we lack the wisdom and integrity needed to make the lifestyle choices necessary to facilitate the positive changes others need. If we can teach our children that money will not buy them security, that food is a more important necessity than the latest handheld device, that water is more valuable than oil or Pepsi, that the manufacturing of bombs and weaponry is archaically asinine, that more tax money should be put into making travel for families and transport of humanitarian aid easier and more economical, and that farming is more important than engineering degrees used to design buildings in Dubai or clock-towers in Makka. If we can teach our children through example that the world, as a whole, is more important than nationalism and that our equality as humankind is more important than our respective scriptural interpretations which often divide us in spiritual pride….maybe youth will see positive changes happen in this world in their life-time. If we do it fast enough, maybe we can all benefit from the changes made!
Having read your blog, you speak highly of Freedom, Faith and Family. How has that impacted your work ethic?
Freedom, faith and family make up the foundation of my work ethic. They get me out of bed each morning, see me through each day and they go through my mind as I lay to sleep at night. In my opinion, without freedom of thought, study and observation there can be no faith. With no faith, there can be no strong family and with no strong family there can be no future for our world. Maintaining this view of life is my primary “career” in life.
You have influenced the lives of many. What message did you want to convey through your music?
Over the years, my music and poetry have always been written and composed as a means of therapy for myself. It has never been my aim to write for others as a means of specifically propagating an ideology, imparting a message, or achieving an agenda. For that reason, I do not market myself or my work as commercially as other writers and musicians do. I do not solicit for shows but simply just accept invitations when asked. I do not make PR videos, do formal photo shoots or work exclusively with any corporate music label. I manage my own web-blog, calendar, production and correspondence and I never turn away requests for me to share my songs based on financial reasons. Purely and simply ~ when I observe things in the world that impact me, cause me to reflect, question or empassion me to be joyful, angry or sad ~ I write to help me sort out those feelings. The reason I began sharing my work with others because I recognized early on in life that if I feel a certain way or am impacted by a specific scenario, others too may be just as impacted but not know what to do with those feelings or emotions. I share my work in the hope that others too might find solidarity with me. Together we may make great changes ~ one song at a time.