We as rappers are not the leaders of the revolution, we are voices. We put into rhymes what our people are afraid to say
I started rapping against Gaddafi in 2008 because that was the only medium that I had. Before the revolution you could not protest, you could not speak out. Even the few families who protested over the deaths of their loved ones in the Abu Salim prison massacres in 1996 were harassed.
The fear among Libyans pre-revolution was palpable, and I would play my music for friends in their cars with the windows rolled up and after the track ended we would sit in silence. It was unheard of to be so vocal and combative against the regime, and fear would fill the silence.
I put out my first revolutionary song one week after Ben Ali fled Tunisia; it asked whether the revolution would spread to Libya. My answer in the song, and the answer from Libyans on the ground, was yes, the revolution was coming. My next songs called on the Libyan people to take to the streets and to join the growing revolution.
The day that Mubarak’s resignation was announced, Libyans were joyous, and though I am not an emotional man, I cried. We knew that what had been accomplished in Egypt would spill over to Libya. The revolution could not be contained any longer, and we knew it would be our turn next. The Arab world shook that day, and the cheers from Tahrir were joined with the chants of those in Benghazi.
At the beginning, there was a natural scepticism among Libyans, a disbelief that Gaddafi could fall. Even the Tunisians were shocked that Ben Ali had fled. I channelled my rap to give people a reason to believe, to call them out and tell them that it could happen in Libya too.
Later on, Libyan revolutionaries would graciously tell me which of my songs was the one they would play before they risked their lives to bring down Gaddafi and to free Libya. Rap became an anthem for revolutionaries, it was fuel for them as they went into battle, and from it they drew strength.
The interest in rap in Libya was sudden. After the east side of Libya erupted and expelled the Gaddafi forces, my following grew exponentially. It became normal to hear my music on radios and in shops. Mothers and grandmothers would come up to me, and thank me for delivering my message. They would say that I was saying what they wanted to say.
We as rappers are not the leaders of the revolution, we are voices, and we are a reflection of the conversations and dialogue going on within our societies. We put into rhymes what our people are thinking, but are often too afraid to speak.
Gaddafi may have fallen but there is a need for a democratic education. Libyans need to know what the choices are for building a new system, and what the drawbacks are. The socio-economic struggle continues, and though I do not have the fuel to continue rapping, I am working to help build a new Libya in a different way.
• Ibn Thabit was one of the speakers in a discussion of rap and the Arab Spring, organised by Open Democracy at the University of East London on 29 February.
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from Ibn Thabit