Monday, July 19, 2010

Somali artists use words to fight extremism

By Guled Mohamed

Nairobi, Feb 23 2010 - The unceasing violence in Somalia and the relatively new culture of suicide bombings by extremist elements has forced a rare psychological war-of-words against them via music and poetry targeting the same youths they seek to recruit.

The renowned youthful Wayaaha cusub musical band and a Somali poet-cum-singer known as Abdirashid "Ina Cowsgurow" or the son of the grass-reaper are in the forefront of this important battle against the spread of extremism in Somalia and beyond through rich poetic songs that warn youths against joining such groups.

Extremist groups like Al-Shabab, who are busy waging an unholy war against the internationally recognized Somali government recruit youngsters as foot soldiers and also brainwash many others to carry out suicide bombings that mainly kill innocent civilians.

A classic example is the 3rd December suicide attack which killed dozens of would-be-medical graduates, the first to successfuly graduate in Mogadishu since 1991, that also killed several professors as well as four government Ministers. The suicide bomber disguised himself as a woman only to leave a trail of blood at the graduation ceremony of Banadir university medical graduates at the Shamow hotel in Mogadishu.

"Such gruesome attacks have become a norm in Mogadishu. Young militants are often used as collateral damage. This is what we seek to change. We will use wisdom and words to bring about change and not mortars and bombs like them," said Shine, Wayaaha cusub's leader and singer, referring to the Shamow hotel suicide bombing.

Shine has been a victim of Al-Shabab's brutality himself having narrowly escaped death in Nairobi after gunmen believed to have been sent by the group tried to assasinate him few years ago.

Using rich rhythmic songs, the youthful band and poet/singer Abdirashid "Ina Cowsgurow" pass simple messages to the youth: Beware of Al-Shabab and other militant groups who are out to exploit you.

Both groups are slowly wining the hearts and minds of the youth in this important battle of wits.

The Waayacusub band is comprised of a dozen teenagers from Somalia, including two former child soldiers turned musicians. It enjoys a massive following back home in Somalia -- where they recently went to perform -- as well as in Kenya and the Diaspora.

The band has become a household name and has attracted joint collaborations with a Kenyan hip-hop group called "Ukoo Fulani" in Swahili meaning "A certain clan" to release a new song dubbed: NO TO AL-SHABAB, which includes lyrics in Swahili, English and Somali.

Shine explains why the song comes in three languages.

"We chose to collaborate with Ukoo Fulani due to their massive following. The song comes in three languages so that youths in Somalia, Kenya and the region as well as the diaspora can listen to it since Al-Shabab recruits youths from all over the world,"

Born and educated in Kenya's Somali inhabited Northeastern region, the 29 year-old Abdirashid Omar, a budding poet and singer uses his knowledge of religion and customs / traditions to compose poems and songs with a tinge of hip-hop style-dancing and street fashion to appeal to the youth.

He has authored over a dozen poems since leaving his Islamic religion teaching career in 2002.

In his newly released album dubbed DELMATO, a song called FATWA or verdict in English, launched at a packed hall in central Nairobi on 15th May 2010, Abdirashid sought to tell the story of inhuman suffering of the Somalis in the hands of Shabab and warns the youth against associating with the "blood-letting militant group,"

Seen wearing a black and white turban associated with Shabab in the just-released DVD, Abdirashid artistically paints the gruesome picture of the 3rd December suicide attack in his arty "saar" poetic-folk song composed mainly with a solo beat of a drum and the a soft soprano voice of a beautiful female backup vocalist.

"Poetry has a special place among Somalis. It's the only medium through which sanity can be brought back among our people. We will never tire of educating our people and especially the youth against extremism. Somalia is greater than us all and we have to use our historic poetic culture to preach peace," Abdirashid said.

In the fatwa poem, Abdirashid explains the attack in black and white:

In Somali:"Fajacii Xamar ka dhacay,Fir yar jamacad bogto,Funuuntii caafimaadKu faasto qalinjabsheenFagaarihi loo qabtay iyoHalkii fayl iyo warqadoLarabay inii loogu furoAyuu maan law firjaanFaatag iyo qarax furoDad badan feeraha ku jaray.Firjan SoomaliyayFajacii Xamar ka dhacayMaxaa fool xumo ka wayn?"

In its conceptual English translation, the poetic song goes likes this:

"The calamity that befell Mogadishu in which educated youths at the tender age of their life, who were expecting to be congratulated for graduating but instead the heartless/misfits/crazy gangs marred the occasion with a suicide bombing that left many in tears and missing limbs. Ooh wrecked Somalis, what other incidence is uglier than the calamity that befell Mogadishu,"