Mohamed Dadah is a young street artist in the Democratic Republic of Algeria. Mohamed plays a guitar for pennies: happy music, to bestow joy and smiles on the passersby. He calls himself Moh Waist Boy, a name that reveals his desire for play and evasion. He loves to convey this desire through fast drums that make his glossy guitar vibrate.
A guitar and a baseball cap are all he carries around with him before he gets arrested: it was an afternoon like many others when the police led him away from his square meter of the road, his stage. He was charged with “professional begging” and locked up in prison.
Moh Waist Boy was seized under the eyes of his audience, passers-by in Audin, in the old town. The news spread like a virus. Thousands of journalists and young people crowd the streets to point the finger at the local political system. They bring their guitars, sing, and take possession of the city’s streets shouting “streets belong to us”. The Revolution has started, no blood, nor crying, nor despair, only as a street theater, a great desire for freedom and to see Mohammed back there in his place, as always, with his guitar and smile. A slap in the face of those who think that violence is necessary to change society.
Everything moves to a different level, crowds become critical and challenges the Government’s repressive methods. “The police would be more inspired if it pursued the barons of the black market,” says a retired physician who participates in the non-violent Web revolution.
The “guitar revolution” reached its goal: the young man has not only been released, but the mayor of the city has even awarded him as the best street artist. Everything goes back to normal and Mohammed is again in the center of Algiers with his theater.
“Yesterday something changed in Algeria, the walls of fear that protect the fortress of the official culture have been brought down by those young people: freedom of expression triumphed” – says Ammar Kessab, a member of an independent group committed to politics and culture.
Young Algerians are not the only ones who have denounced the cultural repression through music: Egyptian played a part in the Arab Spring, publishing songs to express anger against the regime.
Seemingly, music festivals reopen today in northern Mali, where Islamist extremists had taken power in 2012, imposing the sharia law and banning some artistic expressions they considered subversive. “From that moment on, young musicians have run the risk of losing their lives for playing traditional music,” Toumani Daiabaté writes on The Guardian. Stages and festivals are flourishing again only now, after years of obscurantism whose victims were young artists. “Now that the threat of terrorism is near, we, musicians, are able to talk to people about reconciliation and peace”, Daiabaté continues.
Young musicians have provided the soundtrack also for the Tunisian revolution against the dictator Ben Ali. They fought against repression and censorship and were arrested, excluded from transmissions, sometimes even exiled or forced to join the Islamic State.
These young people disobeyed with the force of those who are right, like their peers who were looking for respect and for rights during the Arab Spring. Those are steps in the direction of a freedom that is still often trampled down by the leaders of local power; but this time guitars managed to do more than thousands of political programs against extreme Islam, which sees music as haram, that is, as the forbidden path towards sin. Go on like this.