15 November 2013

Mauritania Police Arrest Rappers

Photo: Leila Moulaye
The Mauritanian performer, Leila, who was arrested for appearing in a music video with her head uncovered.

Nouakchott — Nouakchott police on Tuesday (November 13th) arrested performer Leila Moulaye, one day after they took Mauritanian rapper Hamzo Bryn into custody.

The two youths' detention came in response to their September 28th online release of a video titled "It started from Nouakchott" by Hamzo's Group "Soco Izi", which provoked a wave of protests from the more conservative fringes of society.

The video features a Mauritanian girl, Leila, who appears with her head uncovered. The video garnered more than 21,460 hits within three days of its release.

The NGO "No to pornography" strongly condemned the video, demanding that authorities take legal action against those behind it.

NGO activist Sidi Ould Hassan said, "These rappers are viruses for the youth. They set a bad example."

"Justice must condemn them to prevent other young people from imitating them. We are a Muslim country and we must be guided only by values of the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him," he added.

Reacting to the uproar caused by the video, Leila Moulaye countered the attacks: "Why not make a video in modern dress? Why do so many people see culture as a sacred box where every citizen is condemned to remain shut away? Anyone who tries to escape from it is demonised," she told Le Rénovateur.

"Look around you," she added. "In schools, universities and markets, you'll see that my passion has done nothing to infringe the culture... I'm sure you'll meet many women on a daily basis who have their heads uncovered...."

"I'm really grateful to those who have supported... The thought of a united Mauritania scares some people. I'm talking about those who have always prevented young people from realising their potential," she noted.

Meanwhile, rapper Hamzo said, "People can say what they like! That won't change the way the wind's blowing. But I'd like to say to all those who are shocked at my video: shame on them, because they've just revealed their racist side!"

The arrest was also strongly criticised on the Mauritanian hip hop scene.

Baba Ciré Kane from the band "Star du Walo et du Fouta" said, "Young people need freedom to realise their potential. Here, people are hypocritical; how can they condemn this video while watching much more daring videos at home?" he told Magharebia.

Bass player Abdallahi Fall told Magharebia: "It's not acceptable to want to prevent young people from doing what they want to do. We've already seen that people don't help them, and if they act on their own initiative, people always try to stand in their way."

"Mauritania is a multicultural country, and every person must respect that diversity. We must not allow extremists to force their law upon us," he said.

"These rappers have done nothing wrong but our society is bent on traditions. Despite television and other modern means of communication, Mauritanians still do not accept that young people become empowered," said Marième mint Snih, a student at the University of Nouakchott.

She noted that the video was proof that young Mauritanians "can do interesting things if they are encouraged. This is what the government should do instead of repressing them".

This view was shared by Hawa Ba, a student at the girls' high school of Nouakchott, "In some circles of our society, girls are not accustomed to wearing the scarf and that should be understood."

"I do not agree with the accusation of rappers... I know Leila is a good girl... Here we are all Muslims and people know what they're doing," she said.

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