BENGHAZI (Reuters) - When the Libyan revolution began in February, Mohammed Al-Houni wasted no time in venting his anger.
The 17-year-old student had long wanted to voice his frustration about Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, but under the leader’s repressive rule speaking out was impossible.
“Before the revolution, there was no chance to speak freely, to criticise Gaddafi or to sing what I wanted to sing about: corruption, theft,” Al-Houni said while sitting in a recording studio in his hometown of Benghazi.
“Now I have sung about prisoners, the Abu Salim (prison) massacre, the liberation of Libya and the capture of Gaddafi.”
Al-Houni, who goes by the nickname ‘Dadee’, is among a booming cadre of amateur rappers whose songs capture the anger and frustration Libyans felt under Gaddafi’s rule. Just days after demonstrators took to the streets in Benghazi in February, rappers in the eastern city grabbed their microphones to call for freedom and change.
Their numbers have multiplied over the course of Libya’s eight-month war and they say their songs, usually broadcast on local rebel radio stations during the conflict, helped motivate fighters on the front line.
“Music encouraged people, it was a big motivator in the revolution,” said Al-Houni, who has recorded six songs since the uprising began. “We were fighting with our microphones.”
In his first song “Between me and myself,” Al-Houni addresses Gaddafi with lyrics like “The courage of the revolutionaries is the only thing that worries you.”
In another line, “Intimidated by the Libyan people, without thinking, Muammar instead of doing what is good in Libya he destroys it today,” he voices his anger with the former leader.
“People have tasted the freedom of being able to express themselves,” said singer Samuel Gordon, who is of Ghanaian origin but was born and raised in Libya. “So many people are rapping now.”
While Libya’s rap scene began in Benghazi, it has now spread to other cities including Tripoli. Street vendors blast the latest offerings to passers-by from makeshift stalls.
Sitting next to Al-Houni, 22-year-old Hamza Fawzi Zubi, who goes by the stage name ‘Triple Z’, said he started rapping weeks after the uprising began. Unable to continue with his medical studies during the conflict, he recorded song after song, one of which features a letter from a rebel fighter to his mother after he has been killed.
“I have friends, neighbours who died on the frontline,” Zubi said. “One of them was just 17.”
Zubi, who said he was part of a group of volunteers who guarded Ajdabiyah after rebels pushed Gaddafi forces out of the eastern town, has also recorded a song about Libyan resistance hero Omar Al-Mukhtar, who was executed by Italian colonial rulers in 1931.
With the number of songs swelling by the week, the rappers in Benghazi are organising themselves and plan to create a radio chart system that will allow listeners to rate them by popularity. There is even a music festival planned for next February.
“Music is like a drug. It’s an amazing feeling to finally be able to speak about what we want,” Zubi said. “I hope Libyan music goes beyond limits.”
Additional reporting by Taha Zargoun; Editing by Simon Robinson and Michelle Martin