Meredith Hutchison - Freelance Photographer, Writer, and Consultant
At one end of the spectrum is Al-Shabaab (translated "The Youth"), an influential extremist group with links to Al Qaeda and whose aim is to install Sharia Law in the region. Over the past several years Shabaab has controlled different areas of Somalia and employed increasingly inhumane tactics of control -- chopping of limbs, blocking aid, and organizing suicide bombings. An Alabama-raised member, Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, also known as Omar Hammami, a spokesperson for Shabaab, has released numerous tracks aimed at recruiting youth for jihad. With songs like "Make Jihad With Me" and "Blow by Blow" the young rapper glamorizes violence.
Countering Shabaab's message, with their own of peace and non-violence is the hip-hop group Waayaha Cusub (translated "New Era"). Comprised of members from Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya, the band has been releasing songs that promote peace, friendship, and collaboration, and address taboo issues of politics, sex, drugs, and AIDS since 2004. Fusing traditional hip-hop with afrobeat, their lyrics are complex and thoughtful, and directed toward young adults in Somalia who have limited options. In an interview with The Guardian, Shiine, the group's leader, described their music as a tool for education,
"These youth have bad ideology. If we give them good ideology, talk to them about life, marriage, children... If we show them these things, we can stop them. You cannot fight someone who wants to die, you can only save them."
Their popularity, music, and message has put Waayaha Cusub in the direct line of fire -- several members have been beaten, mutilated, and shot at by Shabaab. In certain areas their music has been banned, and they have been ordered to stop recording and distributing songs. Despite the threat to their lives, the group continues to perform, and in August they began a three month long international tour to rally support and encourage solidarity with their movement.
Following their stop in New York, Waayaha Cusub will conclude the tour in Somalia with a concert in the recently unified capital city of Mogadishu. It will be the first major music event in the country since 1991, a firm statement that despite everything music will continue, life should be celebrated, and that there is hope for peace in Somalia.
For video from the New York event and news on the tour visit: somalisunrise.org
Source: The Huffington