Mogadishu, Somalia – Mogadishu has come to symbolise the epitome of the war-torn city. The Somali capital was engulfed by civil war in 1991 when President Siad Barre’s regime collapsed, leading to open conflict between competing warlords. US forces intervened in 1993, culminating in the Battle of Mogadishu, in which 18 Americans and hundreds of Somali militiamen and civilians lost their lives.
Last week, amid secrecy and last-minute preparation, 18 entertainers waged a war of a very different kind, as international artists from seven countries performed in Somalia’s first formal music event in more than 25 years.
The city once had a thriving music scene, with Somali jazz filling the night air in the 1960s and ’70s. But the hard-line al-Shabaab group outlawed music in 2009, and despite their ouster by African Union forces in 2011, the hangover from al-Shabaab’s rule has remained.
International acts from the US to Sudan supported Waayaha Cusub, a Somali hip-hop collective who formed while in exile in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. They had never before played a concert in Mogadishu. Shiine Ali, who founded the group, has spoken out strongly against al-Shabaab, which made him a target in 2007 when gunmen shot him five times and left him for dead.
Since then, his lyrics have continued to encourage Somalis to turn their back on al-Shabaab. He believes these concerts represent a major milestone in Mogadishu’s return to normality.