“After traveling through the East, I now see Libya with different eyes. It’s as if a volcano of artistic expression erupted in front of me. And I’ll tell you, it’s ripe for the most rockin’ music festival on the Mediterranean.”
Rebirth: 17 of February Music Festival is an exciting new initiative: the first annual music festival in a liberated Libya, and soon to be the most epic music event in North Africa and the Middle East. It will be held on the one year anniversary of the uprising, and will run for three days (Feb.17th, 18th, 19th, 2012). It is the brainchild of filmmaker and music lover Matthew Millan, who traveled to the East of the Libya in April and May of this year to Libya to document the uprising. Within hours of entering into the country from Egypt, he became horrified at the level of devastation and neglect wrought upon the East of Libya by the Gaddafi regime. From the forgotten ruins near Shahhat to the half-erected buildings of Bayda, the East appeared to be remnants of an abandoned civilization. Yet amidst the dust of war, he soon discovered something extraordinary being born out of the spirit of Libyan people. From the sophisticated art of Bayda to the thriving music scene in Benghazi, a nuclear explosion of the arts had occurred, covering its plume throughout the East of the North African country. And while exploring the ruins of the Katiba the sprawling fortress that dominates the center of Benghazi, it occurred to him that a music and arts festival would be the perfect foil to highlight this blast of creativity, and in one of the most beautiful regions he has ever seen.
The idea was borne not only out of a strong desire to highlight to the rest of the world the rebirthing of the Libyan cultural identity amidst the chaos, but to raise money to help rebuild the decaying infrastructures that plague Libya. In September of 2011, Matthew Millan returned to Libya to secure the location for the festival, and to take care of the local logistics. The difficult process of bringing the festival to life in a war ravaged country will then be made into a feature length documentary, a singular event that encapsulates the Libyan Phoenix rising out of the ashes of the old regime.
Yesterday started like any other day in Benghazi. The rumor mill was turning at pace. Sirte was on the verge of falling. The NTC was about to declare an end to hostilities. For days and days, however, we had heard the same, so most of us didn’t expect October 20th to unfold the way it did.
The morning was spent trying to arrange screenings of my film to various English-speaking schools in town. While at the European School, my friend Dado received a call from another friend. Halas. Sirte, the last bastion of Gaddafi, had fallen. Once again, I was a bit skeptical, because I had heard the same before. I went to speak to the Headmaster and didn’t think any more of it.
After the interview, Dado and I headed to the Libya Alhurra tv station to collect footage for the music festival. Something definitely was amiss. Horns honking and Kalashnikov fire at a greater frequency. And even the distant boom of gelatina. Hmm. Perhaps.
We pulled into the station, and joined a crowd gathered by a tv. Sirte has fallen, and some big names have been captured. Yet what of Gaddafi? We waited. Nothing. An interminable period of time passed…and then the cheers erupted. Local news claimed Gaddafi was captured, but once again I was skeptical. After all, Motassim was “captured” 10 days ago. And Saif was “detained” after the fall of Tripoli.
But then the pictures filtered through. Images of what appeared to be a lifeless Gaddafi. And soon Al Jazeera confirmed that it was indeed true. After 42 years of iron fisted rule, the self-styled god king was dead. A man who hovered over his people ominously, even within their dreams, reduced to pleading for his life in a sewage pipe. From whence he came, as some would argue.
We rushed out of the station and headed straight for the courthouse, Dado blasting Dire Straits the whole way. The road was packed. Horns honking. People chanting. Guns firing. There was a palpable energy in the air, one that I had not felt since I was here in April and May. The courthouse area was beginning to fill with people…and the noise was deafening. Walking through the crowd, it was easy to be swept away in the euphoria. For even though the war had been winding down over the last couple of months, the death toll in Sirte was rising steadily, and the specter of Gaddafi still hovered over their lives. Yet now it was over. The head separated from the shaven body.
We spent rest of the afternoon at the courthouse interviewing people, and enjoying the jubilant scenes before taking a siesta. When we returned in the evening, the downtown was absolutely packed. Gridlock everywhere, but nobody cared. We walked by a car accident, but those involved were too excited to pay much notice. Benghazinos and Benghazinas were out in full force, and enjoying a night that they will remember for the rest of their lives. VL Day.
As I walked through the downtown area, I wondered what it would be like in six months. Would the vacuum left by Gaddafi lead to a mass scramble for power? Would one tyrant be replaced by another? Or would Libya become a beacon of light to the rest of the world? Many questions are left unanswered. Yet I can still hear the faint voices of the wives and mothers of the Abu Salim victims on that fateful night in February. “Wake up, Benghazi. Wake up, Benghazi.” On this day, the 20th of October, 2011, I can assure you that Benghazi, and the whole of Libya, has its eyes wide open.
A young man named Ahmed returns to Libya after studying economics in the United States. But he’s not here to start a new life in the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Instead, he waits patiently in his hometown of Benghazi. And when the orders come from his contact, he is prepared to move quickly.
Hiwaz was probably somewhere in Tunisia at this point. Through many Libyan nodes, Hiwaz, a remnant of the old military guard before Gaddafi, had recruited them in the States and in Europe. He ushered them to Morocco where they trained for months…unseen, unheard. Slowly, the man began filtering through the Libyan border, and taking positions within the populace. Now they wait…
Weeks pass. His contact is silent, and the abyss of the unknown stretches out in front of him. Until one day Ahmed finally gets word…but too late. Hiwaz is dead, his plans lay in ruins. And the roundup begins. He is unsurprised when they finally show up at his door. He is trussed up and sent off to Tripoli, to the dreaded Abu Salim Prison where he is processed. He waits in the corridor, standing and handcuffed with a bowl of some unidentifiable substance posing as food poised at his feet. He is starving, but he will not eat like a dog.
Days pass, and the guards find him slumped on the floor, bowl untouched. Processing complete, they move him to a cell, where he is soon joined by 14 other doomed souls. News starts to filter in about what happened. Hiwaz and his co-conspirators, attempting to infiltrate through the Tunisian border, were killed in a firefight against the vigilant Gaddafi apparatus. The leader of the Great Socialist People’s Jamahiriya is invincible.
But news of what really happened begins to filter through. As a young man named Zakaria is arrested for the sole crime of sharing the uncommon name with one of the conspirators, another man is ushered into Abu Salim. Word travels from cell to cell in a wave of information. He was with Hiwaz, they whisper.
Weeks sail by, and Ahmed loses precious weight. Deciding that he will observe the month of Ramadan indefinitely, he saves his food for the setting of the sun. The cell network filters in more news. Hiwaz and his cohorts made it through the border. There was a gunfight near Bani Walid. Some were killed. Some were captured.
Next to hapless Zakaria’s cell in an adjacent block, a man who was with Hiwaz is shepherded out of his cell one day, and never seen again. The guards soon tell Ahmed that he and others were hanged publicly back in Benghazi, a serious lesson that the Gaddafi apparatus is well-oiled, and poised for retribution. Suspecting all along that he would be hanged for his part in the conspiracy, Ahmed waits. But they never come.
As the distinguishing lines between the days melt away, the lines of hunger on Ahmed’s shattered body become more pronounced. He feels spears of madness probing his brain, but he resists. He repeats nursery rhymes he learned in the States over and over. When that fails to keep away the darkness, he remembers as many verses from the Qu’ran as he can, and repeats them deep into the stygian nights. They were stopped. They showed them their papers but were brought into the station anyway. Hiwaz was taken in alone to interview about his papers. He carried a gun.
To be continued…
At the dawn of the millenium, there was only one store in the whole of Libya where one could buy heavy metal music. It was considered very dangerous to listen to such corrupting noise. Now, only 10 years later, there is a burgeoning metal community, led by Dawn of Odessa, a band born straight out of the now anachronistic British New Wave of Heavy Metal.
Last night, I was taken to an ad hoc rehearsal room in an ad hoc music studio, bordering an ad hoc center for Libya al-hurra channel. As a young lady with a beautiful voice laid down tracks in an ad hoc sound proof room, the face of Benghazi metal began rehearsing their song ‘United Warriors’ upstairs. Their equipment was old, battered, and barely workable…yet good enough for these enthusiastic metal heads.
And then they started playing. Within seconds, I found myself back in 1986, whirled away in a hot tub time machine of sorts. Yet in front of me wasn’t the odious glam rockers Poison, but the true spirit of metal. The lyrical content may have been aimed at Gaddafi and his fallen regime, but the spirit of metal was universal.
When the Rebirth Music Festival kicks off in the ruins of the Katiba on February 21st, 2012, I fully expect these guys to be one of the major acts to play in front of the expected crowd of 150,000. And in those moments, they will launch the New Wave of Libyan Metal