03 Jun 2019 Story Air

“We are walking on”, a World Environment Day song inspired by childhood memories of a Japanese town fighting pollution

Before moving to Los Angeles and initiating a successful career in music production with Shania Twain, Wyclef Jean, Shakira and many other artists, Sadaharu Yagi grew up in the Japanese town of Kitakyushu. In the 1960s, the city faced huge environmental problems—and the highest levels of air pollution in the country.

It did, however, turn what seemed to be a desperate situation around, and in 1990 Kitakyushu received the Global 500 Award from UN Environment, to honour its dedication to improving the city’s air quality. Thanks to a collaborative effort by the government, private companies and citizens,  Kitakyushu has the some of the lowest air pollution levels in Japan today.

“Growing up, I realized how important it was to protect the environment and how this can only occur when there is a collective effort to turn things around. I know if Kitakyushu was able to enact such a transformation, it can be done everywhere,” said Sadaharu.

So as a Grammy Award-winning recording engineer, mixer and producer, he, too, put his talent to work for the environment. “As a person, I can alter my own day-to-day behaviour, but professionally I also have a platform that enables me to spread the message. I see this as a duty and a privilege. Writing a song for UN Environment was something I was thrilled to do.

“The song, titled ‘We are walking on’, is about having a more caring dialogue and a closer relationship with the world we inhabit”, added the producer. It is also an example of generous teamwork.

Italian-Canadian lyricist and playwright Clea Scala wrote the verses inspired by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, “showing a beautiful, glorious idea of the world we need”, and Sadaharu wrote the chorus that gives its title to the song, “we are walking on”, because “we’re taking action now to make a change”.

It wasn’t difficult to get Federico Ferrandina and Azzurra on board, he said, as they share his commitment to the environment and to the goals of the United Nations. Federico Ferrandina is an Italian music artist, based in Rome. Born into a family of classical musicians, he combines the classical heritage with an irrepressible appetite for non-classical musical galaxies and for non-musical disciplines. Many of his works are currently part of some of major movies and tv show soundtracks, such as the multi-Oscar winner Dallas Buyers Club or Netflix and HBO series.

“I could say that I care about the future of humanity as a species, which is linked to the future of our planet. But it's not just being concerned about the future, it's a present-day issue,” said Federico. “Things are getting worse and worse before our eyes,” he added, reflecting on air pollution. He believes a radical change is needed, “because the present model is only bringing conflicts, it's not creating jobs, it's not creating wealth, it's just making environmental and social conditions worse.”

Berlin-based Italian singer Azzurra combines edgy, dark electronic sounds and playful beats with her light and intimate voice. Her first record, “Where Are We Going”, produced in 2016, creates a dreamy atmosphere with a melting pot of electro, dream pop and trip hop blended with soul and blues. Her voice has also featured in soundtrack compositions. 

“Music, as a form of artistic expression, has the advantage of being very loud: it gets attentions and influences opinion. It can help healing, breaking down barriers and borders, reconciling, educating, promoting and protecting human rights. Music could do more!”

And so can visual art, which is why the team reached out to film writer and director Puja Maewal, Her work has been showcased in many United States and international festivals, and her scripts and films have received dozens of awards and recognitions.

“We featured dancers from all over the world to express their love for the environment and their optimism for a better future. We also included people in different countries showing their enthusiasm for the Sustainable Development Goals,” said the film director. The video showcases “the beauty of nature through landscape and wildlife shots”, she explained, adding that “ultimately, we hope it raises awareness on preserving the planet’s natural beauty.“


Air pollution is the theme for World Environment Day on 5 June 2019. The quality of the air we breathe depends on the lifestyle choices we make every day. Learn more about how air pollution affects you, and what is being done to clean the air. What are you doing to reduce your emissions footprint and #BeatAirPollution?


The 2019 World Environment Day is hosted by China.