Chechnya gets rapped

Rappers may address various social ills, but few describe living through the destruction of war.

    Remains of a Chechen hospital, a memorial to the war's ferocity

    Yusuf Makhmudov is different. The Chechen refugee raps about the two wars he has lived through in his 25 years.
    The English version of War resonates with compatriots who have survived Moscow's invasions.

    His simple words and elegant melody relate the reality of surviving the horror to those who've never seen it.

    Yusuf heads the band Yurt-Da, the name for a village head in Chechen, and is a minor sensation in this devastated republic and with the Chechen diaspora in Russia and abroad.

         "I want you to understand because you've never seen,
          How men just disappear from sight. I did.
          I've seen crying children, gazing round,
          I've seen tall buildings come crashing down." 

    He sings in his native language as well as Russian and English, often braiding the three in a single tune.

    To a proud people etching out a bleak existence in a place devastated by war, his songs offer a welcome respite from their grim surroundings.
    "You have no idea how good it feels to hear modern music in your mother tongue amid all this," says Arbi, a friend who shot the video clip to War, pointing to a bomb-destroyed building and garbage heaps outside his apartment windows. 
    First war

    Far from being the stereotypical picture of an angry young man, many of Yusuf's songs are not about war but the stuff of rap tunes everywhere - love, life, relationships.

    However War came pouring out because "I wanted to show how angry I am that I didn't get to have a normal youth," he says. 
               "Every night in my dreams. 
                Pictures from my past, my dreams.
                Every night I see what I won't forget.
                What I won't forget, what I can't."

    Yusuf was 16 years old when Russian troops first invaded Chechnya to crush separatists who sought independence from the Kremlin after the Soviet Union fell apart.
    Moscow lost the war two years later and the republic spent the next three years with an unstable independence and bankrupt economy starved by Russian sanctions.
    Second war

    But troops poured back in October 1999, and today Chechnya is mired in a guerrilla conflict where roadside blasts and kidnappings are common and running water and working phones are scarce.
    "I didn't want to make a political statement or anything," he says. "I just wanted to show what it's like for people who've survived."
    Yurt-Da's two albums have migrated well beyond the mountainous Caucasus republic - Chechens who visit home bring them back to Moscow, Germany, Canada.
    Yusuf writes some of his songs in self-taught English because he does not hold out much hope for making it big on the Russian music scene.
    "I spoke to a major producer in Moscow once who told me that he could make a monkey into a star, but a Chechen would be nearly impossible."
    "That's what gets me most of all. They sent troops in here saying they want us to remain part of Russia, but we are not treated like everyone else. If they are not going to treat us the same as everyone else, why did they do all this?"



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