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‘We laugh, sing and play music’: the rise of Mogadishu

The surprising sounds of a late evening in Mogadishu: surf on the beach, laughs of revellers, clinking of cups and glasses, oaths of harassed waiters and the soft melodies of the oud of Aweys Kabanle.

Kabanle, a 45-year-old former dressmaker turned musician, is playing traditional Somali music at the luxury Mogadishu Beach View hotel at the city’s Lido to a smartly dressed audience in one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

“This is Mogadishu. We laugh and sing. We play music. Music is for peace so we no longer live in fear,” Kabanle says, sipping a cappuccino.

There are few cities with contrasts as stark as those of Mogadishu. Swollen by hundreds of thousands of people displaced by famine, drought and conflict in rural areas, its outlying districts resemble a vast refugee camp. Authorities are incompetent, corrupt or simply absent.

It is seven years since the Islamic militants of al-Shabaab withdrew but many streets bear the scars of more than two decades of incessant warfare.

Mogadishu’s inhabitants have long been known for their resilience, but a new wave of activists, entrepreneurs and artists are now trying to improve their city.

Two years ago, Kabanle survived an al-Shabaab gun attack and suicide car bombing close to where he now performs every evening. The attack left at least 10 dead, including three of Aweys’s friends. The oud player was forced to jump over the wall of the hotel where he was playing to escape.

“For several months following, there was no show,” he says. “People were unwilling to come back but I was committed to come here again. I started the first night by myself alone playing music and resumed hosting the show. Thanks be to God, people got confidence and now they are coming back for my show.”


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