WTM #1102: Mogadishu Radio Freedom Today

wReck thiS meSS ~ Radio Patapoe 88.3
Amsterdam ~ Ethno-Illogical Psycho-Radiographies
5 Juli 2010 // 16.30-18.30

LISTEN @ Wreck Mixcloud part 1 / part 2

“Nobody can tell us what to broadcast. It’s up to the Somalis. It’s up to us.”
• Farah Lamaane, Radio Bar-Kulan

Gun > John Cale [Fear / Island, 1974]
Freedom Radio Patapoe WTM ID
What’s Hardcore > K’naan
Tall King Dub Somalia > Badawi
Durga’s Belt Of Skulls (Into The Light) > Kalahari Surfers vs Lesego Rampolokeng
Freedom Broadcast > Mad Professor
Black Hawk Down > Barra Barra (Rachid Taha)
Thais {Helicopters}  > This Mortal CoilDegi Degi > Don Cherry [Don Cherry / Horizon, 1977]
Radio Freedom > Mark Stewart [ EDIT / Crippled Dick Hot Wax]
Xina Xina > De Staat vs DJ DNA
Somalia, Don’t Shame Yourself > Maryam Mursal
Pow Pow Pow > Newax
Malkauns > Don Cherry [Don Cherry / Horizon, 1977]
Aisha > Aisha Kandisha’s Jarring Effects [El Buya Barbarity / RecRec]
Soundboy Massacre > King Tubby [Crucial Dub / Delta]
Brown Rice > Don Cherry [Don Cherry / Horizon, 1977]
Hammam Jackal > Muslimgauze [the Inspirational Sounds of Muslimgauze / Universal Egg]
Freedom > Earl Sixteen vs Lee Scratch Perry [Voodooism / Pressure Sounds]
Byrika / Red Eyes > Gnwa n Joum Experience vs Black Sifichi [Gnawa / Boum Ba Clash]
Stand Up & Fight > Mei Tei Sho [Lo Ba / Tripsichord]
Warlord (Qabqable) > Waayaha Cusub
High in Heaven > Kula Shaker
Somalia > K’naan
Hortena > Point Quiet
Privatise The Air 1 > Gary Clail & the On-U Sound System
Shop Drop > Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex [Moa Abessa / Terp]
Privatise The Air 2 > Gary Clail & the On-U Sound System [End of the Century Party / On-U Sound]
The Paranoia of Power > Mark Stewart & the Maffia [Learning To Cope With Cowardice / On-U Sound]
Interview > K’naan
The Dusty Foot Philosopher > K’naan
America > K’naan ft Mos Def and Chali 2na

The young DJs on before me come straight from school to do their show. Actually having arranged it so they can leave early. They are dedicated old style DJs but only 16. The Beautiful Freaks play a lot of old rock from the 1960s but also lots from the 1990s and up to the present day. READ MORE @ JIGGERED. They like anthemic rock with big themes and a big swirling sound. In the beginning of the summer they told me about an interesting action / protest: bringing attention to the fact that fanatics / fundamentalists [by definition exclusionist and paranoid about otherness, especially other cultures that may lure away their ‘fan’ base] brought the fact that Somalia had had a ban on all musical radio imposed by the ruling fundamentalists. They mean business as offshoots of the Taliban. Disobey and pay the price [see this story of 2 young girls executed]. Almost all of the radio stations in southern and central Somalia stopped broadcasting music in May in order to comply with demands from Islamic militants. As of mid-summer, only two of 16 stations in Mogadishu, the capital, were playing music (and you can bet that none of them were playing anything critical like what I found – see above)

The call for a ban on music in Somalia was issued by Hizbul Islam on 3 April. The radical militant group is one of two main insurgent forces in the country; the other is the infamous al-Shabaab. Together the two militias control large swaths of the country and have been attempting to institute a strict form of Islamic Sharia law. Hizbul Islam gave Somalia’s radio stations ten days to comply with the ban or be shut down. And the only two stations who have defied the order are Radio Mogadishu, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers, and Radio Bar-Kulan, which is broadcast from Nairobi, Kenya.

Music is evil
Somalia’s Islamic groups have previously attempted to ban music in some areas under their control, but this new prohibition seems to be the most widely applied to date. Instead of songs, some stations are now broadcasting poems and other spoken texts. Even jingles have been taken off-air. In some cases they have been replaced by animal noises and even the sounds of gunfire [that’s pretty interesting conceptually – like the proverbial honk of the horn replacing curse words]. According to the militants, music and other forms of entertainment violate Islamic principles, and have a negative impact on people. But the International Crisis Group‘s Somalia analyst Rashid Abdi, says these beliefs are extreme to say the least:
“The Islamist groups… espouse an extremist theology which holds that music and other forms of entertainment… are actually a distraction from worship… [but] the majority of mainstream Muslims will see this as actually a crazy idea, that there could be a theological basis for banning music.” Perhaps mainstream Muslims will balk at the music ban but this has not stopped Somali Islamic groups from attempting to ban other things that seem quite ordinary in the Western world. Football, films, bras and even beauty salons have also fallen afoul of their highly restrictive interpretation of Islam.

A form of escape
Somalia has been in the midst of civil unrest for the past 20 years. In that time a famine killed 300,000 people and inter-clan fighting has further divided the country and Islamic extremists have gobbled up large regions with their brand of armed persuasion.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports: “Kassim Mohamed is a Somali journalist who works in neighboring Kenya. He says that music is an essential part of Somali culture and that the ban may well have a crippling effect on his homeland: ‘Considering Somalia is a war torn country, and many people living in Mogadishu are now depressed because of listening to gunfire everyday, so I think without music they are not going to survive. And it will be really very hard for people to cope with that kind of trauma.’ And according to Kassim Mohamed, it’s not just Somalia’s psychological well-being that’s stake; not having access to music may well increase social unrest within the country: ‘The youth are now busy watching films and listening to music, but when they have nothing to do they will be pouring themselves onto the streets of Mogadishu and other parts… So I think there is a reason to say there will be a kind of chaos expected in the near future.’”

All Africa.com reported in as late as mid-September that the crisis has not improved. Many of the stations complied having to choose between life or death, either broadcast and die for freedom or survive and perhaps live to broadcast again some day… Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns yesterday’s assaults by Islamist militias on two radio stations in Mogadishu. Radio HornAfrik was ransacked and looted by members of Al-Shabaab while Global Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) was taken over by Hizb-Al-Islam, which has decided to use it for broadcasting its own propaganda. For more information about yesterday’s raids, read this press release by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), the Reporters Without Borders partner in Somalia. According to the transitional government in Mogadishu, they bring to five the number of radio stations that have been attacked or forcibly taken over by Islamist rebels.

These raids have yet again highlighted the difficulties and dangers for journalists working in the war zone. They are priority targets while control of their media has become objectives for the various warring parties. Reporters Without Borders urges the international community to consider ways to protect them.

The latest evolution in the fighting in Somalia is very disturbing and suggests that Al-Shabaab and Hizb-Al-Islam are bent on putting a stop to the work of all the independent media. In their eyes, an independent press has no right to exist. In their eyes, there is only room for media that support their ideological and religious views.

After pressuring the media over their coverage, after a wave of kidnappings of journalists, the insurgents are now attacking radio stations and either confiscating or taking control of their equipment. Radio stations, Somalia’s most developed form of media, are being particularly targeted. The Islamist movements are adopting the strategy of Afghanistan’s Taliban, who have realised that the media are part of the key to winning their war. Such attacks are a complete violation of international law governing actions in wartime. Reporters Without Borders urges the belligerents to spare innocent civilians and journalists, who are particularly exposed. Al-Shabaab and Hizb-Al-Islam are both on the Reporters Without Borders list of ‘Predators of Press Freedom’.”

Ignoring death threats, Somali broadcaster lets the music play
GEOFFREY YORK / JOHANNESBURG— From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail, Nov. 16, 2010
How do you create a radio network in the world’s most dangerous country, where war is raging, journalists are killed, and Islamic extremists have banned music, sports and women’s voices on the airwaves? If you’re the organizers of Somalia’s newest radio station, you ignore the death threats and defy the bans. You broadcast plenty of music and soccer matches – and you hire female announcers, too.

The new station is Bar-Kulan (the Somali phrase for “meeting place”), which this year became the first non-partisan radio broadcaster in Somalia. Because it refuses to obey the extremists, its 50 employees must take precautions for their safety. They often use pseudonyms and voice-overs to protect their identities. And while the station has a network of correspondents across Somalia, along with an FM transmitter in Mogadishu, its main studio has been placed in neighbouring Kenya, where it can operate a little more freely. Their listeners must be equally cautious. If they live in areas of Mogadishu controlled by the extremist militias, they often secretly listen to Bar-Kulan on earphones or cellphone radios, giving the impression that they’re merely having a phone conversation.

“They could get into trouble for listening to us,” says Farah Lamaane, program co-ordinator at Bar-Kulan. “They are warned by the extremists not to listen to Bar-Kulan, but they still do. They know how to survive. So they are listening quietly and discreetly.” Funded by the United Nations with a $1.7-million budget this year, the station has insisted on scrupulous independence, covering all sides of the conflict and refusing to take orders from anyone – not even the African Union military forces that guard the besieged government in Mogadishu. The military asked for three hours of daily coverage of its activities, but the station refused.
“Nobody can tell us what to broadcast,” Mr. Lamaane says. “It’s up to the Somalis. It’s up to us.” In a country ravaged by war for the past 20 years, radio is the most popular medium. Somalia is still largely a rural society with an oral culture. Literacy is low, electricity is scarce, and infrastructure has been largely destroyed by decades of war. Radio has a long history in Somalia and it remains crucial to the national culture.

Yet radio in Somalia is under assault. The extremist Islamic militias have seized radio transmitters and shut down radio stations that they dislike. When they banned music this year, most radio stations obeyed. Some used the sounds of gunfire or car horns to replace music. Bar-Kulan was one of only two stations that refused to obey the anti-music edict. For journalists, Somalia is one of the most hostile countries in the world. In past two years alone, 11 journalists have been killed in Somalia. Many people refused to accept jobs at Bar-Kulan when they discovered that it required frequent travel into Somalia.

There are many radio stations in Somalia, but most are loyal to local clans or officials, and some openly engage in hate speech. The government station, Radio Mogadishu, is seen as a propaganda organ that lacks credibility. Bar-Kulan, by contrast, covers the news on all sides, even the extremists. Its only rule is that it promotes peace, tolerance and reconciliation. Launched eight months ago, Bar-Kulan now broadcasts 24 hours a day on FM, along with two hours a day on shortwave. It also offers live streaming on its website, mostly for the Somali diaspora in countries such as Canada. About a quarter of its employees are female. Its music programming is drawn from a unique archive of about 6,000 Somali songs, ranging from K’naan (the Somali-Canadian pop singer) to more traditional songs. Much of its programming is youth-oriented, since nearly half of Somalia’s population is younger than 15.
During the World Cup this year, Bar-Kulan was the only Somali radio station authorized to broadcast the matches. It was a coup that dramatically boosted its audience ratings, although its soccer announcers and analysts could not afford to travel to South Africa, where the tournament was played, broadcasting instead from the studio, where they watched the matches on television. The station also carries a regular series of religious programs by Islamic leaders, including quotations from the Koran that emphasize the themes of tolerance and harmony. The extremist militias are furious at the music, the sports and the female announcers on Bar-Kulan’s airwaves. “All of us receive threats by e-mail and telephone,” Mr. Lamaane says. “We just ignore it. Nothing has happened to us so far. It’s in the hands of God.” The founding director of Bar-Kulan is a Canadian radio consultant, David Smith, based in Johannesburg, who previously helped to create radio networks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. He jokes that the extremist militias in Somalia probably consider him “the Great Infidel.” But he believes strongly that information is a human right – and in Africa it is usually radio that supplies it.

“Radio is king on this continent,” he says. “These are oral cultures, and the infrastructure and people are poor.” Although it provides 16 newscasts a day, Bar-Kulan does not try to be too weighty. Music and sports are central to its programming. “In any war zone, people need to laugh and be entertained,” Mr. Smith says. In the future, Bar-Kulan aims to be a national public broadcaster, with transmitters across Somalia. It will use cheap cellphone communications – text messages from its listeners – to gather feedback and ensure that it is providing what Somalis want to hear. “We can provide a platform for ordinary Somalis to express their feelings,” Mr. Lamaane says. “Our ideas are purely from Somalis.”

While in the Western world we see the hegemony of capitalism ruling the air waves, pirates shut down or threatened in many countries including the Netherlands in the name of high commerce: meaning that the entire bandwith of am-fm air waves are for sale and have been sold in the service of commerce, which uses the excuse of entertainment as their platform for selling. There are very few served by commercial radio that aren’t selling something. Certainly not listeners. In any case, with this situation in Somalia – being shut down by fundamentalists, and the threat to perceived-left [well, comparatively speaking it may be] National Public Radio from the fundamentalist right in America and the squeezing out of alternative, not-for-profit, activist, indie radio and expression is under threat everywhere by the forces who rule by keeping us complacent via the entertaining us to death strategy.

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