The Current

This Burkina Faso farmer raps to highlight climate change's effects on agriculture

Art Melody sees the impact of climate change as he works on his farm in Burkina Faso. He hopes that making music about it will help create awareness and action.

‘If I use my voice, I think people will notice these developments more,’ says Art Melody

Art Melody, whose real name is Mamadou Armel Konkobo, often raps about social and political ills — but his songs about climate change hit him closer to home. (Henry Wilkins)

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Rapper Art Melody is well-known in his home country of Burkina Faso for his musical achievements. He's produced seven albums to date, and his songs tackle social and political ills that resonate with the emotions felt by millions of people across Africa's Sahel region.

But when it comes to climate change, the musician feels a deeper, more personal connection to his lyrics. 

Konkobo says the effects of climate change have been so devastating that entire villages have been abandoned due to them. (Henry Wilkins)

"I rap by night and farm by day," he told The Current.

Art Melody, whose real name is Mamadou Armel Konkobo, isn't just a famous musician. He's also a farmer based just outside of Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou. 

"I came to agriculture because when I was little my father was a peasant, and my mother was too, and so I grew up around that," he said.

Konkobo produces a variety of goods such as maize and tomatoes, as well as animals like goats and chickens.

Unfortunately, like many other farmers in the Sahel region, he's seeing the effects of climate change first-hand.

"Because I work in agriculture ... I noticed that when I was little, the rainy season started earlier and finished later. Now it starts late and ends sooner."

In 2019, the UN's Economic and Social Council described the Sahel region as one of the most environmentally-degraded regions in the world.

Alongside an increasing number of droughts and floods, temperature averages are rising: according to the World Meteorological Organization, near-surface temperatures across Africa in 2020 averaged between 0.45 C and 0.86 C above the 1981-2010 average.

This is all having a severe effect on agriculture — so much so that Konkobo said climate change has wiped out whole villages in the region.

"Here … there was a village maybe 30 or 40 years ago with at least 200 or 300 people. But when we got here, we found nobody because really the source of life that this village had, it's been lost," he said.

Using music to spur dialogue and action

When Konkobo started rapping in 2009, he wasn't initially inspired to rap about climate change.

But after returning to his agricultural roots, Konkobo realized he could use music as a platform to bring awareness to the ills climate change has done to African farmers.

"Music can be a real tool for education," he said. "Music is a real vector for conveying information, and people will understand it and will accept it."

It's up to musicians, journalists and filmmakers to do something to talk about this with people, so people open their eyes a bit.- Mamadou Armel Konkobo, a.k.a. Art Melody

Konkobo has since released several songs that touch on various aspects of climate change, including agriculture and deforestation. He raps in Mooré, Dyula and sometimes French — all three of which are recognized as national languages of Burkina Faso.

One such song is Bayir Nooma, which Konkobo said invites young people to think more about the Earth, nature and the food we eat.

He said it's important to touch on various aspects of climate change — and humanity's role in causing it.

"Human beings cut down trees, and we don't replant them, and that causes drought," he said. "We use pesticides, for faster growth, but it poisons the seeds for our crops, and makes us sick."

As he battles warming climates as a farmer, Konkobo hopes the attention he brings to climate change through his songs will lead to action.

"If I use my voice, I think people will notice these developments more. Maybe they'll start to put their foot on the accelerator a bit more," he said.

Konkobo also hopes more celebrities use their artists to bring attention to the effects of climate change.

"It's up to musicians, journalists and filmmakers to do something, to talk about this with people, so people open their eyes a bit," he said.

Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Henry Wilkins and Alison Masemann.

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