Ditty is the moniker of folk artist and urban ecologist Aditi Veena who makes music to inspire change. Already on her debut Poetry Ceylon Ditty used poetry, spoken word, and acoustic compositions to raise awareness of societal issues. She started out playing on the streets to reclaim the space that often remains inaccessible or dangerous for women, non-binary, and queer people. Ditty also created India’s first carbon-neutral tour and participated in the Midnight Bus Tour making mobility safer and more accessible.

You just released your new EP Skin and I experience the songs as meditative and groovy elegiac. The lyrics pick up important themes like self-love, appreciation for nature, and capitalism. What is your creative process like? How do you write your lyrics, compose, and record?  

Ditty: A lot of the music I make is in my bedroom as ruminations. I usually take it to my band, we arrange it and then I record it at home. For drums, I have used the studio, but I would rather do everything at home because I want to preserve the atmosphere of the environment in which the music was written.

You split your time between Germany and India. How do you manage that? Is it hard to be on the road and stage in these different worlds as a human, as a woman, and as an artist?

It’s challenging but super rewarding. I am grateful to have the privilege of access to both worlds and I feel at home in the arms of my loved ones. They are everywhere. I have learnt to feel at home within myself too – the record Skin is a lot about that. It’s definitely hard to exist in the industry as a woman. Until a few years ago, I often encountered situations in India where I was the only woman in a festival amongst all the artists and crew. In Germany, it’s a bit different on the surface, but the industry is still comprised primarily of men. I have found it hard to exist here with my brown skin. Berlin is one place that has been open and kind but it doesn’t feel like this everywhere.

“I am home
I say to myself it’s been long
I am home
I say to her I am home in my skin”
– Ditty “Home In My Skin”

Paths of Change 

You work as a musician and an ecologist. How do you reconcile these different disciplines? 

I spent a long time trying to merge the two disciplines, but now I know they are two sides of the same coin. I consider them as tools for self-realisation. They are expressions of how I think and feel about the world. They intersect in unexpected ways. Several tours I did, for example, were planned in gardens. A lot of the music I write is inspired by my experiences in the field. The sounds of the birds, oceans, and trees found their way into my music.

Photo by Menty Jamir

How would you change the music scene to make it better in terms of ecology and equity? How would you change society to be eco- and socio-sustainable?

I have been working on the ground as an urban ecologist for a decade and have experience restoring landscapes, teaching permaculture, working with indigenous communities in India to document their interrelationships with the forests, and planting forests. This is where the inspiration for my music comes from. I am constantly thinking and questioning my role as an artist. I want to make space for important conversations through this music and enable people to connect to the part of themselves that we are now losing! The part of us that feels connected to ourselves, to others, and to all life on Earth. In my culture, the water is not separate from the environment. We all inter-are. There’s water in us. We are made of the same stuff as the Earth and we are the Earth.

The ‘environment’ is a Western construct made to be able to extract and exploit what is ‘outside of us’.

Our problems today are intertwined. I am interested in speaking about society as is. My songs are just reflections of what I see. They comment on the state of the post-colonial world, cities in the Global South, water woes, climate crisis, capitalism, poverty, discrimination, migration, and racism amongst other things… and I am a hopeful being.

Moving Slowly 

You created a carbon-neutral tour and participated in the Midnight Bus Tour project in India giving safer access to ecological means of transportation. What was that experience like? 

When I travel, I travel slowly, mostly on trains and public transport. I ask people who come to my concerts to travel slowly, to bring their own cups for drinks, and they do! I also refuse to collaborate with brands that are not adhering to environmental standards. For example, a beverage company offered some coffee, but these came in aluminum cans and therefore I had to let go. And there is no plastic welcome at my shows. Sometimes I make something for the audience like hot chocolate (smiles); you can read more here, and find here the calculations from my tour which was the first carbon-neutral tour in India.

Over the years, I have had to pick my allies very carefully. There is a lot of greenwashing in the world at the moment. I have been fortunate to get to work with organisations that are doing real work on the ground like Viva Con Agua, Aranya, ClimAct, and some others. Currently, I am working on a campaign with Greenpeace to speak about green mobility in Indian cities. Here, the issue of mobility is extremely complex. It’s not just about the environment. It is also intertwined with gender and class dynamics that prevent certain sections of society from accessing it. We are advocating for a more inclusive and less carbon-intensive public transport infrastructure in the cities. I was performing feminist songs at the Midnight Bus tour where women were invited to travel in the night on buses around the city. Delhi is the rape capital of the world. So [using public transport at night for women] is usually considered an anomaly.

Ditty on her Midnight Bus Tour

What are the next projects you are working on in the near and far future? 

I am currently working on putting together a carbon-neutral EU tour in the summer, and I am recording my next release Kaali. Kaali is the name of the Indian goddess who slays demons, and it is also the name for girls with dark skin of any origin. It is inspired by my experiences with colourism growing up in North India and of being an immigrant in Germany coupled with the intertwined nature of the climate crisis and oppression of the planet. And I am writing this record in my mother tongue, Hindi.

Skin is out now via Clouds Hill. Listen to it on Bandcamp, Tidal, and Spotify.

Stay up to date with Ditty via Instagram and her newsletter and keep a look out for upcoming gigs and the new record.