Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Maroud Bwisier & Revolutionary Songs

Maroud Bwisier strums his guitar and sings revolutionary songs, some of which he wrote himself.

Photo: Jason Koutsoukis

Maroud Bwisir, a musician and café owner, had brought along his Spanish guitar and sang with his comrades. The group broke up as an enemy aircraft appeared, banking to drop bombs on a Shabaab position to the right.

Strange days on the rebels' road to Tripoli
Jason Koutsoukis March 27, 2011

Benghazi coffee shop owner Masoud Bwisir sings a rebel song on the road 150 kilometres south-west of his home.

THE crack of a shell exploding 200 metres up the road sent the small crowd gathered on the highway racing for cover. ''Don't be worried,'' shouted rebel fighter Masoud Bwisir, the only one not running. ''It's OK.''

The blast interrupted an impromptu live performance of Mr Bwisir's latest musical composition, a song about freeing his country from the rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

A few kilometres in the distance, an infantry unit of about 200 increasingly isolated soldiers loyal to Colonel Gaddafi was continuing its efforts to ward off attempts by rebels to retake the city of Ajdabiya.

A man who was injured by a shell a short distance away. Photo: Jason Koutsoukis
''He sends us rockets, we send him music,'' said Mr Bwisir, 36, who runs a coffee shop and car wash in the city of Benghazi, about 150 kilometres to the north-east.

With a loaded rocket propelled grenade launcher slung over one shoulder, and a sub-machine gun over the other, Mr Bwisir had been happily strumming his acoustic guitar all morning. He even had a troupe of back-up singers on hand to help him through the chorus. ''It's a song about fighting to make my home free,'' he said.

A few minutes later, a truck came roaring down the highway from the area where the shell had landed, the men in the cabin gesticulating wildly to an ambulance parked behind Mr Bwisir.

When the truck stopped, a man was lying in back, screaming in pain and pointing to his right leg. The absence of blood, or any sign of damage to his clothes, led a doctor at the scene to conclude that perhaps the wounded man had a broken leg.

Whatever the injury, he was soon in the back of the ambulance and on the way to Benghazi.

''Are you leaving already?'' asked a disappointed sounding Mr Bwisir. ''Please stay, I have other songs.''

At the rebel checkpoint of Zwitina, out of firing range of Colonel Gaddafi's troops, the oscillating morale of the fighters there was at a high point.

Overnight, Western coalition aircraft had pounded the pro-Gaddafi infantry unit.

''They are running out of fuel and water and food,'' said Omar Salem, 21, a geology student at Garyounnis University in Benghazi. ''It won't be long before we have them completely surrounded.''

Early yesterday, rebel leaders claimed to have entered Ajdabiya from a desert road. ''The only part the Gaddafi forces control is the eastern gate,'' said Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, vice-president of rebels' transitional national council.

Dismissing talk of a negotiated settlement to the conflict, Mr Ghoga vowed that once rebel fighters had re-taken Ajdabiya, they would resume their earlier mission to go all the way to the capital, Tripoli.

''Gaddafi has Tripoli surrounded; the people there need our help,'' he said.


A rap song for the revolution

When Muammar Gaddafi lost control of Benghazi, three aspiring Libyan rappers found themselves in the heart of history. FRANCE 24's Leela Jacinto discovers how one rap tune captured the soul of the Libyan revolution.

The beat is pumping, the music blasting and the kids are flaying their arms and pouting in the international body-language of rap stars. As they spot my camera, they flash the ubiquitous Libyan pro-democracy “V” for victory sign. Then the song glides into its catchy refrain and they're off again:

“Hadi thawra!

Yani kamat al intisar!

El horriyah l'il ahrah!”

“This is revolution!

The height of victory!

Freedom for the free people!”

This is revolution the way the Libyan youth see it. If every history-mending youth movement were to have its own Bob Dylan vocalizing the dissent and dreams of a generation, “Hadi Thawra” is the “Times They Are a-Changin'” of the anti-Gaddafi hipster set.

Islam Barassi in Revolution Beat's one-room studio. Photo: Leela Jacinto
This catchy rap song is familiar to any Libyan who made his or her way to the Benghazi's central square in the heady days after February 21, when Libya's second-largest city fell from Muammar Gaddafi's control to become the de-facto capital of liberated Libya.
It was written, sung and produced by three Benghazi youths who bought packs of 50 CDs, copied their hit tune, and distributed the CDs to the anti-Gaddafi demonstrators in Benghazi's central courthouse.

“We're doing it for the country,” explains 23-year-old Mutaz el Obidy. “We don't want money – now,” he adds as a prudent afterthought.

The 'Street Beat' that never hit the streets

Before the revolution, Mutaz and his friends, Islam Barassi, 21, and Youssef Prucki, 24, used to gather in their parents' basements to sing and produce their rap songs in a mix of Arabic and English.

A committed Anglophone, Mutaz is an English literature student while Islam works in his brother's business. Youssef is a garbageman by day and a rapper by night.

In the old days, when Gaddafi's Revolutionary Committee members were keeping a close watch on the populace, the trio called themselves the “Street Beat” even though their music never hit the streets – it was too dangerous.

“We weren't allowed to talk about the system, we could not speak our thoughts. We were not allowed to perform in college or anywhere. We just did the music for ourselves,” says Mutaz.

In those days, they were carefully, deliberately tight-lipped about their passion. “I was afraid not about myself, but about my family,” says Mutaz. “They would have been killed, I'd have to watch my sister being raped. I never got into trouble because I was not stupid about it, we never published it.”

Their early songs from the underground era tackled the angst and frustration of many young, educated Libyans under Gaddafi.

“Hate that, Hate this,

The one thing I hate is living in this shit.

Hard to figure out where do I fit.

Streets of Libya make me feel sick,

I rap out loud,

No kissing ass like those hypocrites.”

Mutaz sings his song in the one-room studio-cum-office, where Benghazi's three star rappers work and hangout along with a changing number of friends and groupies.

Revolutionary entertainment for everyone

After the city fell, they changed the group's name from “Street Beat” to “Revolution Beat” and that's what they've been doing ever since – belting out the revolution. I'm somewhat surprised to find them in the backroom of the Benghazi courthouse premises.

Mutaz el Obidy flashes the ubiquitous Libyan pro-democracy “V” for victory sign. Photo: Leela Jacinto
A cluster of seaside buildings, the “courthouse” as it's commonly called, is the hub of the Libyan pro-democracy movement, where journalists gather to badger mostly clueless TNC (Transition National Council) spokespeople, fighters back from the frontline hang around, and crowds descend every evening for what could best be described as “thawra entertainment” - or “revolution entertainment” - which includes an exhilarating mix of speeches, music and much flag-waving.
The flag of course is the pre-Gaddafi tricolor under the former King Idriss, a native of these parts. These days, it's hard to spot a street that does not boast the omnipresent tricolor.

Ensconced in prime revolutionary real estate

A gigantic tricolor emblazons the wall of the studio-office, where the rapping kids are belting out their thawra tunes. How did they secure this prime revolutionary real estate?

“Well, on February 19, we came to the courthouse and found a room,” explains Mutaz. “We brought our laptops, our tunes, our mixers, our beats and so we started singing our first song, 'Thawra'.”

In a testament to the unscripted yet tolerant nature of the anti-Gaddafi revolt, TNC officials have let the kids use the space – although they did transfer them from the main courthouse building to their current space in the former lawyers offices next door.

Their revolutionary rap oeuvre so far features three songs: “Thawra”, “Saba thash fubraihu” (Arabic for Seventeenth February - the day the Libyan uprising began) and “Freedom”. Mutaz himself raps in English. “Even though I speak Arabic, I don't know how to rap in Arabic. English is easier for me,” he explains.

Islam and Youssef rap in Arabic and the group's songs typically feature a mix of English and Arabic.

For “Thawra” though, the trio decided the song must be sung in Arabic - “because all the people would not understand English,” Mutaz explains.

The next step is adding new songs to their album-in-the-making.

Are they afraid that the Gaddafi forces will overpower the rebels' shoddy military organization combined with NATO's weak, wavering aerial support?

Apparently not – or at least that's what they say. “Gaddafi is not going to win, we will, it's gonna be easy,” insists Mutaz. “I feel sad when I see Gaddafi's troops advance, but not scared. The people may die, I may die. But the revolution will never die.”

Also See: Libyan Rebal Song in Ajdabiya - no comment

Guitarists Massoud Abu Assir strums and sings for rebels

Do you Here the people sing? The Tollund Women
"Join in the fight that will make you free...music of a peop;le who won't be slaves again..." Ra Ra


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