It’s no real secret that I’m a fan of rap music. Not all rap music, and I’m certainly not an expert, but I do know what I like. You’ve seen it in “Public Enemy and the People Who Love Them” and “Nas – Big Damn Hero”. You may also recall an article I wrote about how important it was that music had returned to Afghanistan in “Music Matters”, and that it also gave mention to the struggle of heavy metal music in Iraq. But I’ve always had the most fun discussing rap music in my sporadic but ongoing series of “Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad” articles. Several countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia have “Vice Squads” to police the morality of their citizens; be it showing a little denim pant leg or setting up turntables. Rap music in these environments was discussed back in 2007 in “Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 2: The Rap Edition” which dealt with Iran and in 2010 with “Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 6: Rap Music Strikes Again!” which was also Iran-o-centric.
I’ve always talked about how rap music can be the voice of rebellion, a means of expressing a life that many can’t imagine, and essentially a catalyst to society as a whole. This is why I was not surprised to learn that there is a rap music movement in Libya that has been exploding since February 21, 2011. Twenty somethings in Libya had been making music in hiding, never sharing it for fear of repercussions that would include prison and possibly death. 23 year-old Mutaz el Obidy of the group Revolution Beat is quoted in a France 24 article as saying, “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. I was afraid not about myself, but about my family. They would have been killed, I’d have to watch my sister being raped. I never got in trouble because I wasn’t stupid about it, we never published it.”
However now France 24 interviewed Revolution Beat because they started distributing copies of their song “Hadi Thawra” to anti-Gaddafi demonstrators in Benghazi’s central courthouse. I’d say it’s public now. Leela Jacinto reporting for France 24 says, “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.”
An Associated Press article quotes Mutaz el Obidy of Revolution Beat as he explains that, “Rap is more popular than rock and country among the young people in Libya because it expresses anger and frustration.” If it helps Mutaz, that’s what Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were saying with “The Message”, what Public Enemy was doing with “Bring the Noise”, and certainly what N.W.A. were expressing in “F*#k the Police”.
Rap grew in America when a segment of the population felt marginalized and set up by a system that didn’t appear to care about them. It is the universality of that feeling of anger and frustration that causes rap music to ferment globally. When I reviewed the book “Sufi Rapper” I learned of the vibrant French rap community that comes from the “deprived Paris suburbs”, aka the projects. I’ve written about the rise of rap music in Iran. And now we’re looking at Libya. Perhaps large segments of the population will never see or feel the way I do about the power of rap music, but the genre has withstood the test of time and has inspired people around the world. And I dare say, these rap communities in Iran or Libya are probably more true to origins of the music than we’re seeing from many popular rap artists today. For these artists rap music is about the struggle. They realize how unlikely it is that they will ever have the lifestyles of their American counterparts, but they just don’t stop. Maybe it’s just another facet of their struggle. Maybe they’ll write a song about it.
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