A group of young Somali musicians in exile is challenging the hard-line al-Shabaab Islamists who control large swathes of their homeland, by recording anti-al-Shabaab songs set to hip-hop and rap.
Their songs, recorded in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, find their way into Somalia on pirated CDs, on the radio or via internet, to the anger of al-Shabaab.
“We hear these young men and girls who go around naked insulting the Mujahedin and their culture,” the spokesperson of al-Shabaab the main Islamist group, raged recently.
“Wherever they are, they cannot escape the long arm of the soldiers of Allah,” Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage threatened.
The members of the group Waayaha Cusub (New Era in the Somali language) could hardly be accused of walking around naked in Nairobi.
The two women singers, Felis Abdi (23) and 22-year-old Amal Mohamed, wear capacious black dresses that trail the floor and are careful not to show any hair when they put earphones on over their brown Islamic veils in the group’s tiny recording studio.
“We’re good Muslims. We pray five times a day. We go to the mosque, we fast. But we don’t steal and we don’t kill,” the head of the group, 27-year-old Shino Abdullahi told Agence France-Presse, referring to abuses he says the al-Shabaab are guilty of.
The al-Shabaab have imposed their own radical version of Islamic law, including dress regulations and public mutilations, on the parts of the country they control.
Exiled in Kenya since childhood, the musicians of Waayaha Cusub hope to be able to fight against the Islamist influence and get a humanist message through to the youth of their country.
The group, which counts 10 members, was set up in 2004 and quickly caused a sensation both by attacking Somalia’s warlords in its songs and by having women dance on stage in its clips.
For the past several months their attacks have centred on al-Shabaab, whom they have attacked in six songs and a DVD.
“You are supporters of Satan. You don’t know what Sharia law is, nor even the five pillars of Islam,” read the lyrics of the song Terrorists.
The group invite their fans in Somalia to copy their CDs and distribute them.
“Some people in Somalia follow our music on YouTube. Others download it onto their mobiles,” said Abdullahi.
Both activities are high risk, particularly since al-Shabaab in April banned music on all of Mogadishu’s radio stations.
“My brother sent me a CD player and two Waayaha Cusub albums from Nairobi, but I can’t use it in public. If they see you with something like that they punish you,” Udbi Hassan, a 21-year-old student in Mogadishu, said.
Shino Abdullahi was shot in the hip by an unknown gunman who broke into his home in November 2007. A former singer with the group was stabbed in the face and has since quit.
For security reasons the group make only the briefest of forays into their headquarters in Eastleigh, Nairobi’s Somali quarter.
They give appointments elsewhere in town, peeking out of a window whenever a car draws up outside.
Yet Abdullahi claims he and his friends “have a good laugh over the never-ending threats” they get on their mobiles.
“We’re proud of showing that al-Shabaab are not untouchable, that you can criticise them and still stay alive,” he said with a little smile. — Sapa-AFP