Fatma Adow reaches for a remote control to amplify the volume of her music player as she engages a customer in a seemingly funny joke. They talk loudly amid the thundering music from the woofers, and finally the customer parts with a music cassette.
“Try this in Somalia, and that will be the end of you,” she said. “You’ll be lashed, stoned to death, or forever get shunned,” Fatma said.
Fatma is one of the 25 women, who on November 2008 faced the wrath of militiamen from the Islamic Courts Union for taking part in a folklore dance galore in Shabelle zone, Mogadishu, north of Somalia.
“Charges were opened against us, and we were accused of taking part in an ‘un-Islamic event,'” she told IslamOnline.net (IOL). She managed to flee the country and is now operating a music shop in Eastleigh, a Nairobi suburb inhabited by Somalis.
Such punishment, according to Fatma, has been meting out to a number of other Somalia woman musicians.
“Even our customers and spectators have also been punished for ‘wasting’ their time and corrupting morals,” she added.
Lists of edicts have been circulated to a number of media houses, warning them to trash all secular songs from their broadcasts.
Late last year, Radio Warsame, a local private, commercial FM radio station in Baidoa region in southwestern Somalia, was ordered closed indefinitely by Al-Shabab movement, an Al-Qaeda proxy in Somalia.
“This is unacceptable. We have refused to air their tenets and are now zooming in to media houses from all angles. They have lashed women and imposed ‘fatwa’ on music. This is barbaric,” Abdullah Adan, National Union of Somali Journalists told IOL.
Militants who control swathes of the Somalia have banned music in the country. Somalia musical bands are unfastened, and their careers discarded, and most of illustrious musicians and artists are now hopeless.
“For the last four years, live has been miserable for Somalia women artists. Some have managed to flee to Europe, while others are still stuck in Somalia,” said a sympathetic Fatma.
Cinema hall owners and event organizers have also lost dollars in the process, Fatma adds. When music was banned in Somalia, people resorted to video, and music halls have been attacked.
“No one can invest in a shaky business,” said Athman Musa, a businessman in Nairobi. “You don’t know when they will strike and bomb your packed hall, killing all your customers.”
In June 2008, one person was killed, and scores were injured at a cinema hall in the capital Mogadishu. As people watched Somalia music videos as grenades were hurled at the building by radical Islamist militias.
Before the collapse of the Siad Barre government and the introduction of the laws, women earned a lot from public performances and many other occasions that required entertainment.
“The general atmosphere of insecurity and extremists taking over the entire region has crippled us. No one will invite you to a wedding or any other celebration to perform,” said Fatma. “People fear to be branded sympathizers. We also lost our equipments worth thousands of dollars.”
Fatma, who has now picked up the shreds, talks of other women who saw their children drop out of school, as they could not keep in track paying their school fees as well as earning daily breads.
The dislocations of music bands lead to disintegration and disarrays.
Somalia women musicians top the list of those who have fallen victims of civil wars and anarchy, which have rendered them entirely hopeless.
The dramatic problems in Somalia are of concern to all musicians in every part of the world. Music must be freely expressed.
“Songs and dances are a fundamental part of life. Long before mankind created an alphabet or philosophized, there were women making music,” Patricia Adkins Chiti, president and founder of the Women in Music movement worldwide told IOL.
She adds that when musicians are unable to make music, they lose their reason for living, self-esteem, and livelihoods, including lack of money for the most essential basic commodities in life: homes, food, clothing, and education for themselves and for their families.
“When a society eliminates music, then everyone suffers,” she said. “The first sound a baby hears is that of its mother’s singing and that all of humanity will be poorer without the music of women.”
The Somalia music has been banned on the pretext of spreading Western propagandas in a Shari`ah-compliant state, according to Fatma.
“How can our own culture be ‘un-Islamic’?” she asks. “If it’s love songs, they are part and parcel of each and every community. They, Islamist groups, are the ones going against the grains. Islam means love and peace.”
The Somali-Speaking Centre of International PEN (a writers union) strongly condemns the attacks and censorships and calls for groups committing crimes against music to immediately stop.
“This is a gross violation of Somali artists’ rights and freedom of expression as well as Somalia community taste and choice of music,” the group told IOL.
Somalia Music vs. World Music
Apparently, as much as war has made Somalia known, so has music scooped its share. Somalia ministry of Culture and Tourism has for ages been in the frontline in promoting and exhibiting its institutions to the world.
At the 2008 World Music Day in Hargeisa, Somaliland, the authorities wanted to depict the world through music; how the country is governed from democratically established institutions. This has never been achieved.
Somalia musicians have been accused of siding with the pirates, hampering efforts by international community to cripple the clique of pirates operating.
K’Naan Warsame, a celebrated Somalia male rapper, is of the view that the pirates help Somalia in clearing the ocean. This has raised eyebrows, as the US government is currently in a standoff with Somalia, following increased pirate attacks.
Fatma said, “This is complicated, but reality stands. Those toxic chemicals and oils are dumped in our waters by the liners who carry out fishing in our own waters. This is not acceptable. The pirates are our coast guards.”
Lixle Muxuyaddin, a member of Waayaha Cusub music group told IOL that Kenya has offered a reaping market for Somalia music, and there are no laws that are prohibitive as long as you do what is right.
“Mostly, we are not after profit margins but educating the world on what is going on in Somalia. However, we pocket a lot here. The Somalia community here is receptive and feels most at home when we have shows,” he said.
Fatma lacks words to explain the market portion in Kenya though Somalia community is concentrated in a one point — Eastleigh Estate. “People are now spreading to other estates within Nairobi, taking with them the rich Somalia culture,” she said.
According to her, this has provided a bigger market.
What’s the Future of Somalia Woman Musicians?
“It’s bright,” said Noor Mohamed a Somalia elder. “All will be well very soon. The music they play is educating masses on the reality on the ground, and on time peace will prevail.”
According to Freemuse.org, a group advocating the human rights of musicians, unlike in the case of the freedom of expression, there are no legal grounds for limiting the right to participate in cultural life.
So, unless the music contains defamatory lyrics or other expressions that can legally be limited within the scope of the freedom of expression, the right to perform and enjoy music in itself can never be legally prohibited.
First published: Islam Online