Reviving Contemporary Culture and the Arts: Music in the City of Houn – Al Marsad

Despite being surrounded by difficulties and war, the city of Houn has managed to continue its tradition of supporting arts and culture in Libya. Al Marsad speaks to the Houn Media Group who organised the World Music Day Festival in Houn and the importance of cultural activities for youth in the city and in Libya.

[Libya, 8 July 2019] – Houn, located in central Libya, is an oasis city situated in northern Fezzan. It is the capital of the Jufra region and has a rich heritage in culture and arts. Its name has always been associated with its residents who established a newspaper that over the years came to symbolise cultural openness to the world. Founded in 1964, al-Haqiqa, or The Facts, heralded the beginning of contemporary journalism in Libya.

The same family from Houn that founded The Facts newspaper, the al-Houni family, moved to London in the early seventies to establish the first ever Arabic daily from the British capital, Al Arab NewspaperThe International Newspaper of the Arabs. Soon, Al Arab circulation went beyond the Arab expats’ circle in London, and the Arab British community, and reached most of the European capitals as well as other Arab nations.

Houn is also famous for its religious and Sufi schools or zawaya (singular: zawiya), such as the Issawi Zawiya, Qadiriya Zawiya, Senussi Zawiya, and Asmari Zawiya. It is also a city of poets, such as the late Saleh Abbas, author of Shebakak Saher Maftouh, a pan-Libya folklore song, and the late Al Senussi Habeeb.

Ruins of the Senoussi Zawiya

The city of Houn has always been open to arts and creativity. Last week Houn hosted a celebration of the World Music Day, organized for the first time in the country by Houn Media Group (HMG), with extensive participation of singers and musicians from all over Libya. We spoke to several members of the HMG, an artistic and media group that has become increasingly active since its establishment in May 2013.

An advertisement of one of the performances at the World Music Day Festival in Houn.

Supporting Libyan Musicians

Ahmed Ali Khair, General Manager of the Houn Media Group (HMG) and a young thinker who is passionate about radio, theatre and music, told us: “We thought about the World Music Day project after witnessing the success of the World Theatre Day celebration, which we have been continuously organizing over the past five years, and has enabled us to revive the culture of theatre in the city of Houn. Through the annual celebration of the World Theatre Day, we honored actors, directors, and playwrights and showcased a Libyan play. In the same way, we decided to celebrate the World Music Day, as it goes well with our team’s vision and it would allow us to introduce Libyan musical talents and appreciate the musical diversity in Libya today.”

Ahmed added, “The event exceeded all our expectations and plans. None of the artists we invited, for example, failed to show up; Ayman Al Houni, who was a great supporter of our work, Alaa Al Alwani and his band, Mohammed Al Naas, Saad Hamouda, Yahya Darawil, and Saad Mousi from the Houn Folklore Music and Heritage group all participated in the celebration. There was also a fusion between oriental and modern music in the party.”

Contrary to expectations, the audience include not only young people but all age groups. Different age groups found their favourite musical styles performing at the event, and some looked on with passion and nostalgia to genres of music that were also played at the festival in the past.

HMG member, Samer Saleh, commented: “The participating artists were all volunteers and paid their own travel expenses to Houn, as the HMG was not able to ensure the full financing of the ceremony this year. The event was carried out with the efforts of our team and volunteers from the city. We are sure, however, that we will receive financial support in the coming years due to this season’s success.”

Houn Media Group and Radio Houn

The Houn Media Group is an extension of Radio Houn, the popular radio station in al-Jufra which has started, like many private initiatives’ projects, with minimum facilities, yet achieved great success within a short time span. It encouraged the youth to consider a more effective and communal participation and role that could enhance the cultural landscape in the city of Houn.

The group members define themselves as “a team that aspires to take on a leading role in building a civil society led by creative, active, and influential youth.”

What makes the activities of this group special is their knowledge of the features of Houn and the wider Libya, and their passionate belief that art is global and has no boundaries or limitations, which is reflected through the international and cultural days that they organise to celebrate in a way that suits their environment and the needs and aspirations of the youth in the city.

Attacked by Armed Groups

On 1 May, 2016 , Radio Houn was attacked by an unidentified armed group which resulted in the destruction of the radio station and most of its equipment and causing an interruption to the services they provide the city.

While discussing this attack, the group informed us that the security situation in the city is much better now under the Libyan National Army (LNA), ensuring a safe space for creativity. Since security in the city of Houn is now under control, we asked HMG about the existence of social challenges, and they stressed that they are doing their part and that the community in Houn is familiar with cultural activities and always welcome them—“especially as our targeted audience is the youth segment who motivate us and we move forward with them,” added another.

Promoting Female Participation

Ahmed Ali Khair said, “Perhaps the real obstacle we face is the lack of female participation in our activities, as our team always endeavors to achieve equal gender participation. So far, however, the female participation has been limited to the same number of young women who have been active with us since our debut. Of course we all know that there are certain social challenges that hinder elevation of female participation ratios, but we believe in their ability to overcome anything and we urge them to be resilient.” While speaking of the role of women, we learned that the first financial aid Houn Media Group received was from a woman charity society which donated a building to house the radio station.

Nurturing Musical Talent and Community Regeneration

Members of HMG believe they are on the right track and that they are already seeing the results of their work. Through their activities, some members developed their artistic skills while others discovered their real talent. For example, Taha Bugsaisa, who participated in the first radio training conducted by Houn Media Group for high school students in 2014, discovered his passion for radio through a training program and spent a full year internship at Radio Houn where he was employed soon after his experience. During the celebration of World Radio Day, Taha was the head of the team supervising the training and he was the one who led the students’ tour of al-Jufra radio stations.

 

At present, the team is engaged in a human resources development program in the al-Jufra region as a whole, and the city of Houn in particular. The training program covers the extracurricular aspects that are not included in the traditional curricula in Libya. In addition, the HMG seeks to deliver a training package that attracts young people aspiring to change and developing their skills and capabilities. The package also includes training in communication skills, public relations and computer science. Thus, despite all the challenges, the city’s youth are making notable strides towards new horizons filled with hope for a bright future.

© Al Marsad English. 2019.