March 19, 2012
Akhyaar Abdulahi Ali, known as Shiine Akhyaar, is a Nairobi-based Somali rapper and founding leader of the Waayaha Cusub (New Era) music group. Born in Mogadishu 29 years ago, Shiine immigrated to Kenya with his parents in 1997 to escape the escalating violence in his homeland.
Living as a refugee in Eastleigh, a Nairobi neighbourhood often referred to as "Little Mogadishu" for its large Somali population, Shiine gathered some friends to start Waayaha Cusub in 2003.
Since then, the group has released more than 300 hundred singles and collaborations with other musicians from around the region covering a range of issues, with terrorism and piracy being the major themes. However, his revolutionary music has earned him friends and foes in equal measure, with Islamist militants once making an attempt on his life outside his house in Eastleigh.
In an exclusive interview with Sabahi on Thursday (March 15th), Shiine discussed his love of music and how he hopes to engage the region's youth to promote peace and fight extremism.
Sabahi: Tell us about yourself.
Shiine Akhyaar: I am the founder, member, leader and lyrics writer for the Waayaha Cusub music group that is based Nairobi, Kenya. Even before I came here in 1997, I used to listen and sometimes write Somali poetry as a boy, so my venture into music did not come as a surprise. I am also a cultural and social activist working against religious indoctrination of Somali youth by terror groups.
Sabahi: How did you choose music as a way of life?
Shiine: I had a keen interest in poetry since I was a young boy and after witnessing the appalling conditions under which Somali refugees lived [in Eastleigh], I decided to rap against it.
Most refugee youths are idle and disillusioned, and therefore easily fall pray to false doctrines. It is because of seeing this vulnerability that I hatched an idea of forming a music group which my friends bought into.
Waayaha Cusub was born in 2003. My greatest mission, and that of the group, is to save the next generation of Somali youth [from] the pain and suffering I experienced by spreading the message of peace and reconciliation.
Of the 16 members that form the group, 11 are Somalis from different clans, which is meant to send a message against inter-clan conflicts which is a bane of the Somali community. The other five members are from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to give us an East African face.
Sabahi: Why rap and not any other genre?
Shiine: Besides the message, I was also driven into the industry by a long held desire to revive Somali music, which had been fledgling during the civil war. And since rap was the "in" thing among the youth who were our main target audience, we realised it was the route to bringing our music to the forefront. This was made easier by the fact that Somali music is poetic by nature, so it is easy to rap and rhyme.
As a youth heavily influenced by regional rap genres like Genge from Kenya and Bongo from Tanzania I was determined to fuse traditional Somali music with these new genres to create something that even those who do not speak Somali could appreciate and enjoy. We wanted to create a Somali version of Genge and Bongo.
Sabahi: Why did you start rapping about al-Shabaab and terrorism in general?
Shiine: When I started Waayaha Cusub eight years ago, the biggest problem in Somalia was the issue of warlords which explains why most of our songs then were trying to discourage people from supporting the merchants of war. "Dadka yaa xasuqay?" (Who is killing the people?) was one of our first albums. We were also rapping against tribalism, a vice that the warlords were using to entrench their rule.
After the Islamic Courts defeated the Mogadishu warlords in 2006, our music became very popular among Somalis due to the anti-warlord messages we were rapping out. But the Courts proved to be a worse oppressor and soon we were singing against them too.
But things took a turn for the worse when al-Shabaab came to power in 2008, for they were more ruthless and radical, which triggered us to release "Dhalinyaro" (Youth). The song was trying to warn Somali youths against radical Islamism which al-Shabaab was using to recruit young people in and outside Somalia.
Although the first songs were done in Somali since the target audience was the youth in Somalia, in 2010, we started incorporating other languages like English, Swahili and Amharic since we realised al-Shabaab was a threat to the whole of East Africa, and not Somali alone. The album "No to al-Shabaab", recorded in conjunction with Kenyan artists Abbas Kubaf and Ukoo Flani was released during this period.
Sabahi: What do you hope to achieve by rapping about this terror group?
Shiine: If al-Shabaab can succeed in using musical messages like "Nairobi Tuta Fika" (We will reach Nairobi) to sway the minds and get converts, I also believe that we can use music to hamper and stop the terrorists' recruitment drive. Therefore, I am convinced that if we remain consistent and steady we can weaken their propaganda through music.
Sabahi: Have you been scared for your life?
Shiine: Al-Shabaab agents have been sending us numerous threats for the past four years. In November 2007, they went a step further by waylaying me at the entrance to my house in Eastleigh's Eighth Street where they shot me several times with intent of killing me. But thank God I survived, although I spent six months in hospital.
Towards the end of last year, they severely mutilated the face of a female member of Waayaha Cusub so that she will not appear in our videos again. Since then, several members of the group have left but the rest of us, though scared, are determined to push on with our campaign against terrorism and piracy through music.
Sabahi: Do you have any events coming up?
Shiine: We will be hosting the Eastleigh Peace Festival on April 28th themed "Amani Kenya, Amani Yetu" (Kenya's peace is our peace) in which we intend to demonstrate that the community is supporting Operation Linda Nchi.
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