Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Friday, 18 May 2007 10:37 UK

Somali pop stars take on tradition

By Daud Aweis
BBC News website, Nairobi

Deep in the heart of Little Mogadishu, a suburb in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, a pop group called Waayah Cusub (New Era) is causing a storm.

Jamila Jamma
We are not happy with what is happening back home
Jamila Jamma
Waayah Cusub member

Frustrated with the traditional norms of living within the Somali community, which to a large extent restricts open expression; this group of young men and women are now using music to break the barriers.

Most of them are in their early twenties and have been living as refugees in Kenya for more than a decade.

They have stepped out of the old poetic tradition and introduced more creative and modern lyrics to the Somali music industry.

"We do not copy songs from old musicians, we come up with our own ideas and sing about what is happening by the day, something that rarely happens," says group member Jamila Jamma.

The group, which has been enjoying a lot of airtime on Somali radio stations and music programmes on Kenyan television channels, has been pushing for reconciliation in their country.

"We are not happy with what is happening back home, in fact we have recorded a thought-provoking song that we hope will bring our leaders back to their senses," Ms Jamma says.

The song, entitled Somalia, rebukes the country's leadership and warlords for causing the pain and destruction as they fight for power and challenges them to outline what they will do to restore order to the country.

'Bold step'

Apart from singing about the war and destruction in their homeland, Waayah Cusub is equally convinced that there are current social issues which are being ignored to the danger of the Somali community.

Waayah Cusub members
The band members have grown up as refugees

For instance, they say Aids is a reality among Somalis but no-one talks about it or if the disease is discussed, it is a low-key affair.

Most Somalis are Muslims and according to Islamic teaching, the disease is mainly associated with adulterers and people with HIV are often ostracised.

"Most Somalis are not educated and they do not know what causes Aids, so we decided to take the bold step and tell them what this is and its dangers," explains Ms Jamma, who is one of the female members of the group.

Shino Abdullahi Ali, who features in the song Ka digtoonow Aids Ka, says they decided to be blunt in their message that Aids is dangerous and has no cure.

Apart from breaking from tradition and talking about the disease, Waayah Cusub has been careful not to cause a furore by suggesting ways of prevention like the use of condoms and simply advocate abstinence.

Diaspora appeal

Having lived in Kenya for the better part of their teenage life, the group members have also drawn fans from their host country by singing in Kiswahili, a language widely spoken in East Africa.

It's an open secret that if you do not come from a noble clan, no matter how much you love a girl, she will never be your wife
Abdimalik Awil Isaac
Film producer

"Swahili has become a major mode of communication among us and our peers, we cannot match Kenyan musicians but singing in the language in Somali style has been appealing to our fans," says Shino Abdullahi Ali, who raps on the popular track Sina Mwingine - Kiswahili for I Do Not Have Another Lover.

The group also has a big fan base among Somalis elsewhere in the diaspora.

They performed in the Somali movie Ali and Awrala about the caste system of marriage within Somalia communities.

The producer of the film, Abdimalik Awil Isaac, who lives in Denmark, says his intention was to show Somalis that the taboo of marrying across the castes has caused much pain.

"It's an open secret among our people that if you do not come from a noble clan, no matter how much you love a girl from that kind of family, she will never be your wife.

"These guys conveyed the message pretty well," he said of group members who had leading roles in the movie, which has been screened widely in Europe and the United States.

And what are Waayah Cusub's future plans?

"Just like everyone says, the sky is the limit. But our mission is to put Somalia on focus in every area and we will be bold in our music," says Ms Jamma.

video and audio news
Ka digtoonow Aids Ka by Waayah Cusub


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