Song-Free Somalia

Song-Free Somalia

by Natasha J. Stillman

Imagine one day, you turned on your usual radio station and there was no music – no songs, no instrumentals, not even a single commercial jingle. What would you think? What would you do? Sure, we’ve heard of songs being banned from radio play over the decades (from Billie Holiday’s “Love for Sale” to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”). And, certainly we all know when lyrics have been bleeped or “altered”. However, very few of us have experienced a radio ban of almost all music.

Last month, the Islamist insurgent group, Hisbul-Islam, which is one of two in control of much of southern and central Somalia, issued an order for all music broadcasts to be banned because they believe that such broadcasts violate Islamic principles. (The other group, al-Shabaab, closed down relay stations in five of Somalia’s southern cities including the capital of Mogadishu.) Currently, the Somali people can only hear approved music on the government-controlled station and from a Kenya-based, UN-funded radio station.

Somalia hasn’t had a stable government since 1991, when dictator Siad Barre was ejected from power. Decades of infighting between clan warlords and the famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people have eroded the country to the point where the weak transitional government is at the mercy of groups like Hibul-Islam and al-Shabaab. Somali Islamic groups have attempted to ban football, movies, bras, salons, and love songs, all in the name of their radical views of Islam.

In lieu of music, some stations are broadcasting poems, spoken texts, birdsong, vehicle noise, and even gunfire. But music is sorely missed by the people, as it would be by any of us. In a country so beset by social and political unrest, one would imagine that music, at least, might soothe its souls. Music is a huge and vital component of many cultures. Somalia’s is no exception. One can only assume that harmony is not what these Islamic groups have in mind in a country that needs all it can get right now.

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