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Peace and the power of music

8 March 2023
Reading time: 6 minutes

Music has a power that can be immensely therapeutic and cathartic because it can bring out our basic emotions – happiness, sadness, fear and anger.

No matter what culture, tradition, religion or language, everyone loves some kind of music. In fact, music has been described as an open window to one’s soul that reveals emotions and feelings we never knew were there.

In Borno State, where the insurgency has raged for years, music has been able to bind people together to stand firm, to give and receive renewed hope, to ease tension and to help restore peace.

At the height of the insurgency, which was started by the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS), better known as Boko Haram, in 2009, music was not allowed. Musicians and singers were hounded and killed because they sang about the evils of the insurgency that was engulfing their communities. They sang about resistance, the struggle and the horrors of war.

But they also sang about hope, renewal and, most importantly, about peace being restored in the beleaguered state.

This was extremely important because thousands of people in the state had lost loved ones, millions were displaced and, in the process, lost their homes and possessions, women and girls were abducted and raped, and became the victims of appalling gender-based violence, often forced to marry the insurgents who had kidnapped them. Young boys were forced to join the insurgents and to take up arms against their own people.

“The insurgency has been a dangerous time and yet an uplifting time as well,” Shettima Ahmed M Kaka, a Kanuri singer who lives in Maiduguri, told RNI reporter Aisha Jamal. “I sing because I want to contribute to my society and ensure peace is restored.

“I decided to use my music to reach people. And, thanks to technology these days, we singers have a much wider reach than before. Our songs can be heard on all platforms.

“I write and sing music for peace. My music – all in the local Kanuri language – ranges from hip hop to rap and reggae. Most of my songs are about living in peace and harmony. The message is that we need to embrace peace, we need to accept one another and we have to move forward and away from the anger, hatred and violence of the dreaded insurgency.

“Some of my songs tell of the hardships we have gone through in Borno State as a result of the insurgency. The trauma. We could not even sit down and eat peacefully; there was gunfire day in and day out. We were always on the lookout; always looking for unknown gunmen to strike.

“Now that the insurgency has died down to a certain degree, my songs are more about peace, the need to remain calm and the hope for a life that is free from pain and suffering. That’s what we all crave. My messages give people hope and call on people to work together so that peace will be restored throughout the state; throughout the country.”

Kaka said the response to his music had been positive.

“Often people tell me that they listen to my songs and they find the words and the music reassuring, calming and uplifting. I’m grateful that music has played a role during the conflict and now we can thank God for the relative peace we are enjoying.

“Thousands of insurgents have already surrendered and laid down their weapons. It is a good sign. It shows that even many insurgents are ready to move forward and give peace a chance.

“At the height of the insurgency we were not allowed to sing. We had to hide because the insurgents came after us as if we were doing something illegal. They tried to suppress our voices because they knew our voices were those of the people. But they could not silence us. And now that peace is being restored we continue our songs of love, hope and peace. Our voices are even louder now and we want all our people to regain their voices too.”

Christopher Yusuf Mtaku, associate professor and head of the fine arts department at the University of Maiduguri, told RNI that music was an important part of life and gave expression to all moods and feelings.

“Music has been a source of resistance. It is cathartic and it is a form of therapy for some. It expresses emotions that might otherwise have been buried in their subconscious.

“I believe peace and music are closely related. By using words that express love, peace and harmony, musicians and songwriters can get to the very heart of the matter. They can steer people towards peace, restore traquillity and give people hope for the future.

“People are drawn to music because the words are healing and encouraging, teaching people about peace and the need to adapt and work together.”

Mtaku said it was almost as if musicians had a “third eye” that gave them the ability to see both the positive and negative sides of life – they could bring hope or despair to their listeners. They could bring out the worst or the best in people.

“Sometimes their songs are sad, other times they are full of hope. Every song brings out different emotions. It is left to the public – the listeners – to judge and interpret the singer’s message.

“Musicians have a power that no one – not even the top politicians – can ignore. Over the years in Borno State, the epicentre of the insurgency, musicians have sung about grief, loss of life and the deep yearning for peace. Musicians have used music as a tool for and against nationalism. It has changed peoples’ mindsets.

“But musicians should always be aware of the contents of their songs, which should encourage peaceful coexistence. In this relative peace in which we now live, they need to strictly avoid songs that could promote hate speech or instigate violence. Their message should be one of peace and coexisting in harmony with one another.”


About the author

Aisha Sd Jamal