June 1, 2011 At thirteen, an age when many kids are developing the musical preferences they will carry with them for a lifetime, Khaled Mattawa emigrated to the U.S., eventually graduating from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and going on to graduate studies in creative writing at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Now an acclaimed poet, Mattawa left his native Libya after Muammar Qaddafi seized power, but he carried Libya’s music with him. “Libya’s musical heritage is rich, but little known to the rest of the world,” he writes in an essay in The Daily Beast.” As the country stands geographically in the middle between the Mashreq and the Maghreb, and in between Africa, Europe, and the Arab world, Libya’s music echoes all the cultural currents that run through it.”
Qaddafi changed all that. “Those were the years the music died,” he writes, but now the Libyan revolution is being inspired by a resurgence in music the likes of which the country has not seen in forty years: “Libya’s independence-era anthem came back roaring after being banned for four decades. A melodic song, ‘We Shall Remain Here,’ has been the anthem most specific to this revolution. The courthouse in Benghazi that has been converted to a media center now houses several studios and practice rooms.”
For a poet, the power of music, of words, is surely a given, but seeing that power fuel a revolution can still be intoxicating: “I look forward to this new era of Libyan music, in all its facets. As of now, the moment is about energy, momentum, and inspiration. My favorite number in this category has been the song that poured out of that loudspeaker van in Doha. Such spontaneity and joy has not been heard in Libya for decades, and it could not come any sooner.”
To read the full essay, and to watch a a video gallery of contemporary and classic Libyan music, click here. To read more about Khaled Mattawa’s efforts on behalf of the Libyan revolution, click here, and here to read a poem he has written about the upheaval in his homeland.
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