Nouakchott — Ewlad Leblad performs at international events and records successful albums with well-known artists, but it is unlike any other hip hop band.
Through their music, Sidi Brahim Mohamed (alias Izak Ice), Mamoudi Ould Sidi (alias Hamada), Lembrabott Youba and Sidi Mohamed Ould Mbareck (alias M.D.) aim to counter youth delinquency, reject extremist ideas, promote a culture of peace and co-existence, and strengthen the spirit of innovation and accomplishment in young people.
The four young Nouakchott rappers set out from the start to challenge tribalism, racism , regionalism and corruption.
Along with Arabic, French, and English, they use local dialects to give voice to marginalised minorities. They also perform wearing traditional Mauritanian dress, to show unity in a multi-ethnic society.
Magharebia met with the band in Nouakchott, where they were preparing their latest album, to ask about their fight against extremist ideology and terrorism.
Magharebia: How did your group come up with the idea of using rap to steer fans away from extremism?
Izak Ice: As a young band, we always seek to make ours a message of guidance, because the current conditions for youths in Maghreb and African Sahel countries are serious. They are targeted by terrorist groups. The youth movement in Arab Spring countries has deviated to violence.
We're preparing a new song: "We Want Peace." The main reason for choosing the title and lyrics of this song is our realisation that Muslim youths misunderstand Islam.
We in the band believe that this is because they weren't guided in a correct way at the beginning. When terrorist groups recruited them, they took them to an extreme corner in religion. They change their mentalities and direct them towards terrorist ideology.
Terrorist groups are clever, they go for Muslim youths who were very distant from religion, but have seed of Islam and their willingness to repent encourage the terrorists to exploit them by brainwashing them and heating up their passions.
Magharebia: Can you give us a sample from the song?
Izak Ice: Here-
We're against terrorism, corruption and rape.
Against those who defame Islam; against all types of crimes.
Against stealing public money.
What do we want? We want peace everywhere in the world.
We want peace in Palestine, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt and Sudan.
In France and in the country of Americans.
Magharebia: So you put your anti-terrorism and pro-peace message into a song. Will this kind of approach work?
Izak Ice: Art alone is not enough to confront terrorism and terrorism. The efforts of all actors in society, starting with the president, through clerics and ending with artists, need to be concerted.
When the president, scholars and artists do their jobs, the message will be conveyed. However, our responsibility as young artists is greater because our voices are heard more.
Magharebia: How did you get the idea to rap for peace?
Izak Ice: We asked ourselves, "Why don't we, as young artists confront extremism and terrorism?" We're working with scholars, sheikhs and those who interpret Islam correctly. We realised that we must speak about peace in general, condemn terrorism, sing for peace and enhance security.
We decided that at all our concerts and festivals - in Nouakchott, Morocco, Senegal, France and elsewhere - we would talk about the importance of security for all citizens, so they can progress and succeed.
We are responsible for that.
Magharebia: What role do young people have in security?
Lemrabott: Although we stress the need for young people to play their role, security personnel also need to be highly responsible so they can change the image people in the Maghreb and Africa have of policemen.
The presence of policemen on the streets must be a source of reassurance and security for all citizens, rather than a source of intimidation.
Magharebia: Some say that unemployment makes people easy targets for terrorist recruiters. Can anything be done?
Lemrabott: We encourage young people to end their indifference and laziness. At the same time, we criticise the use of 'wasta' (i.e. connections) and political bribes and favouritism in jobs and employment.
Each young man must have his own role in building his country, based on his qualifications and ability to produce. This is the only way we can make youths contribute to their country, defend it and reject all calls for violence and extremism.
Magharebia: So are things better or worse after the Arab Spring?
Hamada: We send our message through the lyrics of our songs to all the revolting youths of the world, especially in the Arab Spring countries and North Africa, so they understand their role and the purpose of the revolution. It is to change the current situation into a better one, not just a change for the sake of changing.
We realise that the reason behind those revolutions is the repressive regimes that have starved the people. Therefore, we tell them they must work to establish and build a stable country away from extremism, and that they shouldn't give terrorist groups the chance to steal their revolution.
Magharebia: You have had the chance to travel to various countries in the region. What have you discovered?
Mohamed: This enabled us to share experiences with young hip hop artists from sisterly Maghreb countries. We have the same concerns and thoughts for the future.
We've realised that in Maghreb countries, the message of art can achieve what politics failed to accomplish.
Therefore, we have to use it in guiding young people towards work and combating the enemies of civilisation, including terrorist groups, intolerance, obscurantist ideology, ignorance, illiteracy, and ethnic and tribal wars.