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Prompting Climate Action Through The Power of Music

Photo by Jodi O Photography

From June to October 2022, Pakistan was hit by devastating floods. Heavier monsoon rains and melting glaciers that followed a severe heat wave caused immeasurable loss of life and displaced millions. Extreme weather events like this are linked to climate change.

Sufi singer-songwriter and acousmatic composer Shumaila Hemani, combined traditional storytelling with poetry and sculpted with environmental sounds to create a music project that brings awareness and climate action forward. The album, Mannat, brings forth Sufi poetry learned from two Master musicians in Pakistan with a team of musicians across Edmonton, Canada, the US, and Sindh, Pakistan.

The Mannat is a South Asian Muslim practice of prayer and offering brought to a Sufi shrine. The prayer is one for fulfilling a wish. Hemani applied that concept to climate justice, looking to inspire action after floods decimated her country of origin. 

“It was a very devastating thing the country is still recovering from. We don’t know what the future takes us. The poetry in this album is based on Sufi Poetry, a kind of prayer. It’s a prayer for people who have been displaced, and the album itself is dedicated to the victims of the flood, and all proceeds from the album go to the victims.”

Hemani collected the soundscapes in her city of birth, Karachi, back in 2020 when the city was going through disastrous floods. From this, Hemani began composing “Perils of Heavy Rainfall,” the foremost composition that led to the album. 

The most vulnerable within our societies will experience the most significant impacts of these climate disasters. As the severity of climate events increases, more will become displaced and become refugees. In refugee camps, women and girls are the most vulnerable. According to Hemani, “The Great Calamity” and “Displacement” are powerful pieces that encapsulate this. 

“It sheds visibility on the girls and women who are being impacted by climate catastrophe as an increased insecurity as a result of homelessness.”

Although it often portrays that developing nations will be most affected, disaster does not discriminate. Places like Canada will not be immune, as we already see the effects of higher temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, extreme weather events and rising sea levels. Looking at, we can see how climate change will affect the health of individuals and the groups most affected. These populations include:

  • seniors
  • youth and children
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • racialized populations
  • people with disabilities

Our Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples will face the most significant challenges related to climate change due to disparities, including:

  • shorter lifespans
  • higher rates of chronic diseases
  • greater food and water insecurity in many communities

Other increased risks of climate change include:

  • high food costs 
  • harsher climates 
  • remoteness and isolation
  • vast distances between communities
  • historical and ongoing burdens of colonialism
  • close cultural connection and dependence on the natural environment

Reducing the effects of human-caused climate change will take a global united effort. A lot of damage has already been done, and it will take significant resources and effort to help the most vulnerable weather the storm. However, change is still possible. Policy changes, new technologies, and dedicated individuals such as Hemani and all who helped create Mannat motivate others to take action. 

Hemani has received significant acknowledgement and accolades for her work. Hemani has received The Women in Music Honors Roll award in Emerging Voices 2023. She spoke at the First Music Climate Summit in Toronto, an audio-video installation on climate change in Pakistan based on her acousmatic composition “Displacement.” She was part of the Climate Change exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in partnership with Music Declares Emergency. “Perils of Heavy Rainfall” won Second Prize During the COVID contest curated by the Canadian Association of Sound Ecology, was published in the Goose, the Journal of Environment, Arts, and Culture, and was interviewed at the What on Earth podcast on CBC.

Learn more about Mannat and Shumaila Hemani:

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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