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Pop Goes Libya

A little musical rebellion among the Amazigh.

Nov 28, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 11 • By ANN MARLOWE
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Historically, four major instruments have been used by the Zuwarah Amazigh, three of them varieties of drums made of stretched animal skin, and one, the zakera, resembling a bagpipe, made from the skin of a goat. Today, Zuwarah musicians only use one of the four, the bundeer. Like other drums, it isn’t considered haram—that is, religiously forbidden by Salafi extremists—but the guitar is definitely haram. Naggiar explains that even carrying a guitar case around town used to be thought bizarre. When I asked the young musicians about playing in a café, they looked as though I’d suggested a concert on a loading dock. There is simply no local tradition of playing music in public spaces.

Under Qaddafi, the public expression of Amazigh culture was prohibited. For this reason, and because of the place of music in the Amazigh cultural revival in Algeria, Zuwarah’s music is “counted as politics,” says Naggiar. During the Qaddafi regime, even performing Tamazight songs in public outside Libya was risky: A 24-year-old Zuwarah guitarist, Bunduq Bunduq, had his passport confiscated when he returned from a trip to Morocco, where he had sung a Tamazight song in public. Bunduq, incidentally, is the only young Zuwarah man musing about giving a musical career a shot.

Zuwarah is an insular town in an insular country, and it’s hard to say how far these young guitarists will take their talents. They speak vaguely of writing songs in English to reach people outside Libya. (No one in Zuwarah is very keen on Arabic, the language of their conquerors and oppressors.) For now, the guitar music of Zuwarah remains a secret.

Ann Marlowe is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute and blogs for World Affairs.

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