S. Sudanese find song amid war and hate

East African artists lift their voices with hope of healing. As newly independent state faces seventh week of strife, can music help 'restore happiness'?

A version of this post originally appeared on the Enough Said blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

A group of South Sudanese artists have emerged as conflict broils in the world’s youngest country. These young artists are spreading messages about peace and reconciliation using their most powerful tool – their voice.

Music plays a large role in South Sudanese society and these artists are using their talent to express their sentiments and opinions about their home country through song.

Just as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, has used song in order to boost the morale of its soldiers, these artists are using music to encourage peace and understanding. Moreover, the songs celebrate unity, and emphasize the importance of national identity as South Sudanese.

One of these artists, Meen Mabior Meen, fled to Kampala when fighting broke out in December. In Kampala, he collaborated with South Sudanese musicians, who were also refugees in Uganda, to discuss the ways they could contribute to a healing process amid war.

Ugandan artists, such as Michael Kazibwe, also contributed to create the song, highlighting how the conflict has affected the eastern Africa region.

 Their song “No More War” calls for an end to the violence, and the simple adage reflected in the title pervades the lyrics.

The group hopes to promote the song on social media so that those in South Sudan can also listen to it.

Joan Atieno, a female artist on the song, discussed the importance of female voices in the song and in her country, "Maybe if me, a woman, I raise my voice, it may be helping other women out there who cannot fight for themselves.”

The idea that these songs and messages can inspire citizens to act and “restore happiness," as Meen puts it, can be relevant to a peace processes. These cultural songs reveal South Sudanese’ hope for peace, forgiveness, and ultimately, a united South Sudan.

Lual D’Awol is another artist using his music to make political and social statements about events in South Sudan. Finding a love for hip-hop while growing up in Maryland, L-U-A-L (Lual’s stage name) or Lyrically Untouchable African Legend, brought the musical influence when he moved back to South Sudan to expose social issues there.

In his song, Give Peace a Try, featuring Nancy Chan, L.U.A.L. poignantly raps that “we need a common meeting ground instead of groups in certain crowds,” and stresses the need for an “objective vision” when looking at the future of South Sudan.

The music video for another one of L.U.A.L’s songs, “I’m the King around Here,” was shot in a cattle camp in South Sudan. Problems with cattle rustling and theft have been on the rise and become extremely violent in recent years.

By choosing both sites for music videos and insightful lyrics, L.U.A.L. is able to craft a dialogue and picture of some of the issues facing South Sudan.

Mer Ayang also hits home with the poignant message in her song,“I’m Southern Sudanese,” with a message to the leadership from the younger generation. Her father was a freedom fighter who died a year before independence and she spreads her message in song to honor him.

These artists’ songs come from their own personal experiences and put their own thoughts and dreams into their music. They have found innovative ways to call for peace and contribute their talents to the dialogue about the future of South Sudan.

Artists like Lual, Joan, Meen, Michael and Mer have found their voice, and they refuse to be silenced.

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