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Sunday, March 24, 2013

A New Week—Battling Cultural Famine with Music

Rap musicians in Mogadishu bring messages of peace to Somali youth

baby elephant at Disney World

Do you remember what you were doing in 2009?  If you were in Somalia, you were living under the brutal control of the Al Shabab, a terrorist regime linked to Al Queda that was so threatened by the freedom of music and dance that both activities were deemed un-Islamic and banned.

Think about it.  A population of 9 million (in 2009) with a culture is so deeply rooted in folklore and so renowned for its poetic fluency that scholars refer to it as a "Nation of Poets," and no one was allowed to sing.  Pretty incredible.  It was in keeping with the more than 20 years of devastating conflict and suffering triggered by the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre's ruling dictatorship to extremist Islamic insurgents in 1991.

But today, things are changing.  Although Al Shabab is still trying to recruit young Somalis into violence, it was driven out of the capitol city of Mogadishu by African Union forces in 2011.  Terrorism's influence over Somali youth has lessened, which in the country of Somalia represents 45% of the population between the ages of zero and fourteen.  The message of peace is making inroads through rap music.

Lihle Muhdin, a member of the Somali rap group, Waayaha Cusub (English translation, "New Era" or "New Dawn"), was 11 years old when he was forced into combat by the controlling militia.  15 years later, he is part of the group whose members reflect the amalgamation of the Somali people and their long tradition of interaction between the neighboring countries of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda.

In the words of 25-year old Sudanese rapper, Ahmed Mahmoud, "The spirit of hip-hop is to speak up when everyone is silent."

Remember, we are talking about children and music here, two things that most Americans do not associate with cruelty and oppression.  But, the Somali Reconciliation Festival which happens this week is bringing hope for those who live in countries like Somalia where the average life expectancy is 50 years old.  Mogadishu's first major music festival in over two decades will take place at different venues at different times over six days.

The purpose of the festival is to help stabilize the community, to give song to the peacemakers, and to reach a generation of kids who have never known a world without violence.  Perhaps, it's time to listen to rap a little more in this country.

The message is simple:  End the culture of violence.

To read more about the positive effects of Hip Hop music, click HERE 

An article about the Somali Reconciliation Festival from the Los Angeles Times, 30 March 2013