Filed Under:

Libyan Radio Station Promotes Democracy, One Rap At A Time

Play associated audio

Many of the militia fighters who rose up and ousted former dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 have refused to lay down their arms and are still challenging the post-revolutionary government.

Yet the militias are facing a challenge of their own. They now come under verbal attack on one of Libya's newest radio stations, Radio Zone.

Bassem Arady, a presenter at the station, says pretty much whatever's on his mind. He's unafraid of militiamen, government officials or his boss, who sits nearby on a recent day, quietly laughing as Arady makes fun of members of congress, who were caught with whiskey and women the night before.

It's quite a scandal in this conservative Arab nation.

Arady uses the colloquial Libyan dialect instead of the formal Arabic typically used in television and radio newscasts. It's as if he's talking to a friend, and he invites his listeners to call in and voice their opinions.

But his work is about more than informing the public, he says.

"I'm doing this for Libya, for my people," he says. "So if anybody have any problems with me, please, he's more than welcome."

Arady says he wants people to know that there's no reason to be afraid to speak out about the problems in Libya and against violence. He names names and doesn't worry about the fallout.

The owners of Radio Zone are no strangers to threats. One of them, Nabil al-Shebani, has been kidnapped twice for criticizing the armed groups.

Shebani says it's incidents such as his kidnappings that give this new station a cause: to make sure his kid's generation doesn't think that guns are the answer.

Radio Zone is only about a year old; the studios are still being built. The staff members, mostly 20-somethings, broadcast in one room while construction goes on in the other.

A young, tattooed composer sits in the offices downstairs putting together tracks.

He goes by the stage name Pixie, and he's working on a new song that uses gangster rap to rap against what he sees as the gangster behavior of Libya's militias. The lyrics were written for his musical partner, Yousef al-Shebani, whose father is Nabil, the Radio Zone co-owner.

The 13-year-old Yousef shot to fame during Libya's revolution with the song "We Want to Live in Freedom."

"We want the darkness to go away and justice to prevail," he sings. Yousef's father wrote the lyrics, which the older Shebani says still hold true today.

"We need a life as a human being," Nabil al-Shebani says.

Ali al-Abbar, the co-owner of Radio Zone, is in charge of the music side of things. He's working on bringing Libyan artists with a social message to the station. It's music, he says, that will lure young people, rather than lectures about gun control and violence.

"We present ... Libyan music, but Libyan music in a modern way," he says. "When you hit a message to any generation, a young generation, you have to hit it by the way they like, to satisfy and deliver your message in a clear way."

Abbar and Pixie, the young Libyan composer, got together after the revolution. Pixie had worked with international hip-hop stars in Turkey, where he grew up. Now he's home, hoping to make a mark in his own nation.

In many ways, Abbar says, Libya is a mess. But despite all the difficulties, Libyans now have the right to speak freely.

"Before, we were controlled," Abbar says. "But now we can do whatever we want."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

Kate Mulgrew: "Born With Teeth" (Rebroadcast)

Kate Mulgrew, who stars as "Red" in the Netflix TV series "Orange Is The New Black", opens up in a new memoir about her complicated family and the baby she gave away for adoption as a young woman.


Swapping The Street For The Orchard, City Dwellers Take Their Pick Of Fruit

Urban foragers don't just pick their meals from the trash; many eat only the finest, freshest produce — picked from city trees. The League of Urban Canners harvests fruit from trees to make jam.

Reconsidering The Pilgrims, Piety And America's Founding Principles

Conservatives who want to emphasize America's Christian roots embrace the story of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower Compact. But some historians say their role in the country's founding is overstated.

From Takeout To Breakups: Apps Can Deliver Anything, For A Price

Convenience is at an all-time premium — and a lot of smartphone apps promise to make many of the things we do every day easier. In a time-crunch or sheer laziness, how far will the apps take us?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.