Bands the world over complain about how tough it was in the early years: no money, no gigs, money-grabbing producers. But such annoyances pale alongside the travails of Libya’s FB 17.
Try cutting your first CD in Misrata, with the city under siege and missiles crashing down around you, in a studio that is no more than a bombproof room and a laptop which only works between long power cuts.
That was how FB 17 – named for 17 February, the day rebellion broke out in Libya – recorded No More Lies, an album of five tracks which has become a hit across this besieged city.
The English lyrics and Arabic rap of the album’s title song blare out of car stereos, shopfronts and crackly radios on the frontline trenches: “No more silence, no more fear, no more lies, no more tears, no more violence, no more screams.”
The album was recorded between late March and late April, while rebel fighters were battling with Muammar Gaddafi’s tanks to push government forces out of the city.
“When there was electricity we took the chance,” said Mohammed Derrija, 22, nicknamed Modee, who worked as a translator before the war. “The problem was we all lived far from each other so some guy would get a car and collected everyone. Then we would start immediately, and save [each track] immediately in case the electricity was cut.”
The seed for the band was sown by Abdullah Elwafi, a 24-year-old singer-songwriter who wrote the first song, We Have a Dream, with his 19-year-old brother, Hakim on 17 February.
“Before we could do nothing, just write nothing,” he explains. “We had ideas but because of Gaddafi, he said you write about his family or his legion and that’s it.”
When Gaddafi responded to the February protests by sending in the tanks, Abdo and other band members joined the rebels.
Guitarist Mohamed Jibril – nickname Haq – was operating a rocket- propelled grenade launcher on Tripoli Street.
“I was fighting, but now it’s about the music,” he says. “We are writing new songs all the time. We have many ideas. ”
Once the front stabilised and the immediate crisis passed, the five friends decided to cut the album.
“After the revolution a lot of bands came out,” says Nidal Hassen, a journalist at Radio Misrata. “In Benghazi there are hundreds of them, but in Misrata there is one band. Their songs, they are not only words. They capture everything we feel.”
On a recent evening the band were in their new recording studio, which has a sound booth the size of a phone box, cutting a new album, this time to remember the dead.
The sun had gone down and the nightly rumble of Grad rockets slamming into the city to the east was echoing through the streets. Modee said that the work was very different from conventional songwriting: “Just writing lyrics imagining something, thinking about it, and writing about it? No, we’re not doing this any more,” he said. “We’re just writing what we see in front of our eyes.”
The band see themselves as plugged into a system in which all citizens do their bit – whether fighting, patching up the wounded, or organising food supplies.
Initially, they were surprised by their popularity but now see themselves as on a mission. “People are fighting with their guns, we are fighting with our voices,” said Modee. “We are inspiring them, giving them the courage to fight.”
Source: The Guardian