MOGADISHU, Somalia — In 1991, civil war struck the East African nation of Somalia. The violence and conflict has riddled the country ever since thus plaguing any efforts of structure and stability. In lieu of a strong centralized government, the country has been ruled by warring gangs and factions using intimidation and brutality to exercise power.
In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union took control of Southern Somalia and utilized their militant wing, known as Al-Shabaab, to police the country. Since this time, the power and influence of Al-Shabaab has enhanced in unison with their rule over geographic territory. Brutal repression of women, stonings, amputations and beheadings are examples of fear tactics utilized by Al-Shabaab to terrorize the Somali people.
For these reasons, many Somalis fear for their lives and well being and in turn are afraid to speak out in opposition. Luckily, there are voices that have begun to speak out against the atrocities. Waayaha Cusub is a rap group based in Kenya composed of Somali refugees. The name “Waayaha Cusub” is Somali for, “new era” and that is precisely what they hope their music can help usher in.
“We are trying to pass the Somali people a message to stop the killing, to stop the dying, because, there is no need for all these people dying for nothing…We want to finish this war for good,” says Shiine Akhyaar Ali, lead singer and manager of Waayaha Cusub.
Initially, Waayaha Cusub garnered their in state popularity with songs about relationships, human rights and poverty. However, they have since transitioned into more treacherous subject matter. Songs such as “Yaabka al Shabaab,” or “Reject the Extremists,” have become quite popular and directly accuse, by name no less, Al-Shabaab of the crimes and atrocities they commit.
Example lyrics from the song are, “Shocked shocked/ Who is behind this trail of destruction?/ Al-Shabaab is/ They galvanize people on the street for their wicked cause/ They profess to be pious but they wield machetes.”
However, Al-Shabaab has taken notice of Waayaha Cusub’s dissention and sent threatening messages and phone calls the group’s way. Ali recalls the threats received, “They were saying, ‘you are doing propaganda for anti-Islam or anti-jihad, so we will finish you,'”
Waayaha Cusub has shown unparallelled bravery in their determination to continue making music after Ali was shot five times in 2007. The group has also been a victim to attacks twice more since then.
In reference to the attacks and threats, Ali states, “If we stop, I think these people will win, they will reach their aim…So if we continue, we are the winners because we need to tell our people that terrorism is not good, that killing people is not good, that suicide bombing is not good. So we will continue.”
In 2012, a glimmer of hope emerged as Somalia elected its first president in years. The election brought in a more stable environment for country. Looking to utilize the improved conditions to promote a good cause, Waayaha Cusub organized and headlined the Somali Reconciliation Concert in 2013. The festival was held in the nation’s capital of Mogadishu.
The lead producer of the festival, Daniel Gerstle, notes the group’s tenacity, “It’s always been Waayaha Cusub’s way to respond to violence in the community by pulling youth away from the fray and into a venue where they give them an open mic to share their feelings, and then blow their minds with Somali hip-hop about ending the war.”
Gerstle notes that many of the the audience members were former combatants and child soldiers taking part in a government rehabilitation program. Their attendance at the concert shows that people have replaced fighting with an interest in rap music and serves as a microcosm for the unifying and healing powers of music.
– Frasier Petersen