Music vibrates in Somali capital in 1st festival since Al-Shabaab ouster

AP and Ahram Online, Tuesday 9 Apr 2013

Audience cheers at Reconciliation Music Festival - the first music festival in Mogadishu after years of Islamist Al-Shabaab rule

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In this photo taken Wednesday, April 3, 2013, a Kenyan instrumentalist plays guitar at the first international music festival held for decades in Mogadishu, Somalia. The Reconciliation Music Festival, organized by Somali rap group Waayaha Cusub who moved overseas, has acted as another step in moving past a city soundscape once filled with gunfire and mortar shells. (Photo: AP)

Fuelled by the high-volume music and fast-talking rappers, the Somali crowd danced, shouted and sang.

Mogadishu's first music festival in decades acted as another step in moving past a city soundscape once filled with gunfire and mortar shells.

The Reconciliation Music Festival was organised by a Somali rap group who moved overseas, Waayaha Cusub. Last week's performances attracted international artists to a capital city that until recently was music-free.

Though still limited in the number of performances, the festival offered several events, among which most were broadcast live by the country’s national television.

Several concerts, held between 27 March - 3 April, were recorded, aiming to shed light on many issues that the Somali youth wishes to address. On 29 March the International Solidarity Concert played, followed by the Women’s Music Concert on 30 March, Youth Open Mic Concert on 1 April, Former Fighter Reconciliation Concert on 3 April and more.

"We want to change the world's impression toward Mogadishu as a dangerous city," rapper Shine Akhiyar told the crowd from the stage. "Mogadishu is more peaceful than many cities considered 'peaceful.' Through music, we are committed to fight extremism."

The militant group Al-Shabaab ruled Mogadishu from 2006 until the fighters were forced out in August 2011. No lyrical stanzas were allowed in Al-Shabaab-controlled areas and the Al-Qaeda-linked militants banned music as a "sin," punishable by public flogging.

Two years ago, an Al-Shabaab spokesman threatened Waayaha Cusub after it produced a song disparaging the militants' rule and what they seem to consider, in sum, as the militant's penchant for killing civilians.

For the cheering audience in this seaside capital, the winds of change were audible.

Since Al-Shabaab was ousted, Somali cultural life seems to be witnessing a resurgence. Previously closed by the ruling Islamic Courts Union, several arts studios are now reopening, among them Shik Shik Arts, which exhibits and sells art as well as provides training to local artists.

Starting mid-2011, music returned to the national radio stations and on 19 March 2012 the first concert held in Mogadishu was also the first music event to be broadcasted by local television.

While the music scene is gradually returning, Somalia still has a long way to go to regain its rich cultural past. The packed open-air venues of the 1980s have been bombed to rubble or occupied by squatters. The music has changed, too. Gone are the songs about love and romance. Instead, new tracks explore the struggle for peace.

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