Livestock and Too Many Smoking Barrels.

April 18, 2010

As predicted in the post on Somali Victory in the World Cup, K’naan did indeed wave a couple of Juno awards.  He won both Artist Songwriter of the year 2010, his manager Sol Guy breaking the news on his Twitter page.

While K’naan fans in the diasporas will no doubt be celebrating, no one in the Al Shabaab controlled areas of Somalia will be doing any such thing. Along with the BBC and VOA music is now banned, and so is the ringing of school bells.

When I landed at Berbera airport last summer and boarded the bus to Hargeisa, the radio played the familiar sounds of Somalia, the unmistakable kaban  / Arabic al-oud/  the lute was my soundtrack to the scenery I had longed to see.  As each little town came into view and then disappeared again, the music played on. Each time the driver gave backhanders to the checkpoint officers, the music played on. As passengers on the small bus talked and complained of the heat and as they slept, the music played on.

Last night as I sat in a Somali restaurant with family members, the music still played on. Funnily enough each time customers of a different ethnicity came in, the music changed. When Somalis came in the Somali music was on. An East European couple came in and the song that was played next was none other than a certain song by Marvin Gaye. Then a group of Somali women on a night out came in and Somali music came on again. A party of five English customers came in and some R&B came on.  Although rather crudely divided into Western and non-Western music, I figured it was the hosts’ simple way of saying "Welcome" and settling each diner into the music they presumed they liked. 

The lute originated from Arabia and was introduced to Somalia via Yemen. The instrument travelled with Muslims who through trade and the expansion of the Islamic State took their music with them. It can be found in Spain’s Andalusia and even went as far as Malaysia.  The Islamic opinions on the permissibility or impermissibility of music are varied.  Most Somalis follow scholars which permitted music.  Religion is central to the lives of Somalis and this was one of the reasons for the success of the Union of Islamic Courts in 2006. The UIC even said at the time they came to power as a result of a public uprising. Very little of what is happening in Somalia now resembles the Islam that the people supported and found peace in after 20 years of bloodshed. There is a certain mindlessness that has consumed the place and the people. Nowadays Somalis are fleeing war only to find an equally harsh life as refugees. Infringements on press freedom seem unrelenting and the banning of the BBC is a blow to what was an integral part of Somali news consumption. Perhaps the internet will become popular to an older generation who have until now relied on more tradition media outlets. Whatever the future for media and music may hold, some parts of Somalia are stuck between a rock and a hard place and between livestock and too many smoking barrels.