Friday, April 23, 2010

Somali Rap and Radio

From Waayaha Cusub (from Reuters Nairobi, 9 April 2010):

For centuries, Somalis used poetry and songs to pass protest messages to powerful rulers they were too afraid to confront directly. Now, some young Somalis are using rap to speak out against Islamists who they say are using religion to wage war in their country. The 11-member Waayaha Cusub band, currently in exile in neighbouring Kenya, wants its rap lyrics to encourage fellow Somalis to stand up to Islamist rebels known as al Shabaab.

They have handed out at least 7,000 free copies of their newly-released album titled "No To Al Shabaab" to residents in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighbourhood, home to many Somali migrants. "We will wipe out the fear of our people that no one can speak out against al Shabaab. We will show our people that we can challenge them," said Shine Abdullahi, the group's founder... "They are unkind, teach terrorism, and worthless lessons, they blindfold, and cause pain, inject drugs, that lead to actions, force them to kill their fathers and relatives," one of the group's raps goes.

The group's only female member, Falis Abdi Mohamud, is a rebel in her own right. In one video, the 23-year-old is not covering her head as most Somali women do, and is wearing tight jeans. "They criticise me and say 'she is not Muslim because of wearing a trouser'. I am Muslim," she said. "I want to reach my people. I will not stop my mission because of fear or other people's desires. History will tell who is right and wrong."

Mohamud was born in the southern town of Kismayu that is now an al Shabaab stronghold. The insurgents have banned music in areas that they control and allow only Arabic Koranic chanting. Waayaha Cusub toured the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland in July but Mohamud hopes to perform in her hometown one day. "The trip to Somalia was great. That is when I realised people like our music, and it really gave us confidence not to stop our campaign because a few people who dislike us." The group's youngest member is 15-year-old Suleqa Mohamed, who is a student at an Eastleigh school.

Most of them want to return to Somalia and live off their music when peace returns but currently survive on sponsorships by businessmen and Somalis in the diaspora. Their songs have angered some people. Even in the relative stability and security of Kenya they have been attacked. Gunmen shot and wounded Abdullahi in 2007. He believes the attack was because the group released a series of songs criticising Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia and suicide bombings by the insurgents. Even mobile phone text message threats from al Shabaab sympathisers in Kenya and Somalia have failed to intimidate Abdullahi.

He says he will never be cowered by what he calls "religious warlords" who present an awful image of Islam to the world. "The attack was aimed at silencing the group, but that did not work," he said, showing scars on his stomach from a bullet and the surgery that followed. "We will not allow anyone to silence us. They misread our religion and kill people. They are cursed," he said...

(Here's one of their tracks - this one is not really hip hop, but a great slice of hypnotic dance music . There's lots more stuff at their youtube channel)

Interview with K'naan (Chicago Tribune, 7 April 2010)

'Gangsta rappers have been known to boast about how mean their hometown streets are, but none of them comes from a more violent ‘hood than K'naan. Born Keinan Abdi Warsame in 1978, K’naan grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia, amid one the most brutal civil wars in history.When he was 13, K’naan and his family fled Somalia and took refuge in New York and finally Toronto, where they still live. Coming from a family of performers and poets, K’naan naturally gravitated toward the arts to make sense of his new home and to process the trauma that nearly overwhelmed him in Africa (three of his friends were killed in the conflict). A poet, spoken-word artist and rapper, he has spoken out about his home country’s plight at the United Nations and recorded two albums, the latest of which is “Troubadour” (A&M), released last year. The album blurs the boundaries between spoken word and hip-hop, and incorporates everything from heavy metal to reggae.

Q: What were your memories of growing up in Mogadishu? What about the music there? Did it have an impact on you as a child?
A: I grew up in the Mogadishu of dreams. During an idyllic and optimistic time, and music [was] almost its Siamese soundtrack. I remember realizing very early how music could so seamlessly go from being fun in one moment, to deadly serious in the other. A song would play in the record player at home, and you could sing along loudly and then another would come, and mom would turn it down swiftly, as the song might be considered what they called "anti" - usually music with subliminal poetic messages against the government' (full interview here)

Somali anger at threat to music (BBC News, 7 April 2010)

'Radio stations broadcasting out of Somalia face a dilemma this month after a powerful Islamist militant group ordered them to stop playing music. Saying that the playing of music was un-Islamic, Hizbul-Islam announced on Saturday that stations had 10 days to take it off air. The punishment for failing to comply was not specified but 11 radio stations based in the capital, Mogadishu, are thought to be directly affected. If they drop music, they stand to lose listeners. If they ignore the warning, they face the wrath of the militants.

Music-lovers in the war-torn country are indignant at the idea they will not be able to tune into their favourite pop, which is largely recorded abroad, in North America and the UK. However, there appear to be limits to Hizbul-Islam's ability to make good on any threat. Somali pop music, ranging from the plaintive songs of Abdi Shirre Jama (aka Jooqle) to the hip hop and rap of K'Naan, is widely on sale in Mogadishu.

It can be heard playing in the tea shops of the government-controlled area, which amounts to about a third of the capital, says local BBC reporter Mohammed Olad Hassan. Somalis have to be more discreet about music in non-government areas. Al-Shabab, the country's other big militant group, are known for their own strict interpretation of Islam, frowning on music and cinema.

"You can see drivers on passenger buses playing music inside the government-controlled area, then turning it off when they cross into non-government territory," our reporter says. Pop music is genuinely popular in Mogadishu and many people resent being "bullied" into what they can hear on the radio, he adds. Hizbul-Islam would have all music, right down to the jingles, taken off air, he says. "Deny a Somali his music and his poetry, and you deny him his voice," says Christophe Farah, a journalist of Somali descent in London...'

Somali stations air animal noises to protest extremists' music ban (CNN, 13 April 2010)

'Roars, growls and galloping hooves replaced music Tuesday on some of Mogadishu's radio stations in a protest of a ban on music imposed by Islamic extremists. Radio Shabelle, along with the stations Tusmo and Hornafrik, were responding to threats from Muslim militant groups that believe music is un-Islamic and want it prohibited. Mogadishu's 14 private radio stations stopped playing music Tuesday after Hizbul al-Islam, an Islamic extremist group, issued a 10-day ultimatum. The threat was backed by the main militant group al-Shabaab, which has been linked to al Qaeda. A statement from the National Union of Somali Journalists said several stations received calls, warning them that there would be consequences if they failed to comply with the ban within 10 days.

But the three stations decided to broadcast the noises instead of music. Radio Shabelle announcers could be heard speaking on air, backed by the sounds of hooves, ocean waves, gunfire - even the roars and growls of big cats'.

1 comment:

Bernard Keenan said...

great post. some good somali music coming out of london too with anti-extremist messages