20Twenties: Eve of Destruction is a climate anthem released in October 2022. It is created by Daily Maverick, one of the largest independent news media in South Africa, and sung by Anneli Kamfer.

The song and accompanying music video are intended as a clarion call about the urgency of the climate crisis. “The force of truth must be short, sharp and unforgettable,” said Branko Brkic, Daily Maverick editor-in-chief. Branko worked with Tiara Walters, Daily Maverick’s climate journalist, to adapt the 1960s Vietnam War protest song to new lyrics. “We believe such a message can be carried by a song, so that our coming years do not become a swansong of humanity,” he said.

The song is distributed on Youtube, Spotify, iTunes and on Daily Maverick’s website.

We spoke to Branko about how the project came together, why facts and reporting are not enough, and the power of appealing to people’s emotions. Some of the answers here also draw from Daily Maverick articles detailing how the project came together.

How did the idea originate?

The idea to repurpose Eve of Destruction into a climate anthem came originally from climate journalist Tiara Winters. “This is freakin’ epic,” she texted Branko on a Sunday morning in July 2019, when she heard the original 1960s version of the song while listening to Cape Town’s golden-oldie station, Fine Music Radio, in her car.

In creating a climate anthem, Tiara wanted to “serve our unit’s maverick vision of reporting the full climate story to a range of humanity, from potato farmers to policymakers, in any medium”. From Branko’s perspective, it was an opportunity to do something different to convey the understanding and sense of urgency of the climate crisis to people.

At the time, the Daily Maverick’s Our Burning Planet climate team had already been reporting and writing articles on the climate crisis. “The problem is that we are not convincing people. We really failed to explain to people how much trouble we’re in,” Branko said. “Today, the people of our planet may gain a lot of facts, but do not have much insight.”

“When the facts are failing, let’s do some emotional stuff instead. You might wake up and say ‘I can’t forget this song’ or ‘I can’t forget this video’. You don’t wake up to ‘I can’t forget that [news] report’,” Branko added.

Tell me more about how the collaboration happened or was facilitated?

Tiara and Branko ended up taking two years to rewrite the lyrics in between other projects and responsibilities, finishing in late August 2021. Once the lyrics were done, Branko enlisted Bernard Kotze, Daily Maverick’s creative content manager who is also a professional musician. Bernard had performed with Anneli Kamfer for seven years as part of Manouche, a 1930s style jazz band with a modern twist.

Bernard recorded a demo version of the song with Anneli, replicating the simple instrumentation from the original. They soon found that the key to making this work would be finding “the emotional core of the song”.

“The original McGuire version has a fiery anger and intensity and it’s not an easy thing for a singer to tap into,” Bernard said. “Anneli had to draw from her own experiences to find the emotional place needed to embody the song. She poured her heart into it. It took us two separate sessions to arrive at a version that captured the essence of the original and during that time, Anneli dug deep. Very deep.”

Bernard stitched together the montage for the music video from more than sixty separate videos, and organised a shoot of Anneli performing the song so that shots of her could be superimposed onto the images.

The project hit a snag in February 2022 when they realized they had to recreate the backing track themselves to avoid having to pay a steep fee for using the original recording. They ended up doing so with Theo Crous from the Springbok Nude Girls band, and other famous session musicians from South Africa.

You can read more about the song and the music video’s production process here.

How was it funded?

“The Daily Maverick paid for it all. The project was funded out of our normal operational budget,” Branko said.

How long did it take to produce?

Reimagining the song took 40 months - more than three years - in total. “The pandemic threw a massive spanner into our wheels,” Branko said. “The Eve of Destruction project was shelved to make space for a new and most immediate planetary emergency. But we knew we would be back to it one day.”

What were some of the challenges?

Branko said that the biggest challenge came from trying to spread the message about the anthem and getting others to help create awareness about it. “I came to the US to try to get media support, but went home without anything,” he said.

Branko had initially hoped that non-profit organizations, other media outlets and climate activists would be enthusiastic partners, particularly when he observed executives at these organisations reacting emotionally to the music video during meetings. However, this did not translate into coverage about, or promotion of, the song. “Environmental and conservation organizations have become so much of a business that we were being treated as competition, rather than collaborators,” he said.

What was the most gratifying result?

“When you put something together, you’re not sure if you’re smoking your socks,” Branko said. The most gratifying result came when he saw how people reacted to the music video. “When it jumped out of my head and in front of people, then you see the reaction. You connect with people and you realize: ‘I’m not crazy, I actually touched a nerve.’”

“The second most gratifying thing would be if the song goes viral and we get people to admit how much trouble we are in.”

What is one lesson from this project that you would like to pass on?

“You should use and do whatever does the job” of telling the truth to readers, Branko said. “We are in such dire straits. If someone comes up with a brain implant [that makes people see the truth of the climate crisis], I would say do it.”

“We keep forgetting that journalism is about the readers and telling the truth. It’s not print, or TV, or any particular format. Use anything you can to get the truth across. Be creative. Keep going.”

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