Produced to a remarkably high standard on a six year-old PC running Windows 98, the 13 tracks on their album "No More Lies" move from the deep-rooted fury of "Kan Zman," a rap of pure hatred towards the outgoing regime, to the piano ballad "Day After Day," a song about forgetting and moving on:
For a better tomorrow
We have to end this horror
We have to purge our motherland
And together as one
We raise our hands.”
It reads like strong cheddar when written down in black and white but you only have to look around at what’s left of Misrata to see where the sentiment comes from. And they can sing, too. Many of the choruses are in English while the high-speed Arabic raps flow off the tongues of brothers Abdullah and Akim Elwafi, good-looking black guys from Zlitan who are cranked with energy.
Libyans are now buoyed along by a wave of excitement never before felt by this generation. You can feel it everywhere you go and F.B-17 are plugged into that—for better and for worse.
In 2007 Abdullah was chased by secret police for weeks because of a song he wanted to record about life under Gaddafi. He made the mistake of showing the lyrics to somebody in a Tripoli recording studio and they telephoned the wrong people. He ran from Tripoli, changed his name and stayed in Misrata for two months to avoid capture.
“It wasn’t until now that we could record that song, ‘Come back 2 Home,’” he says of the track that nearly landed him in one of Libya’s political prisons. “It’s about a family that had enough of Gaddafi and left Libya for 10 years, and how when they come home they find the whole country turned upside-down by what he has done.”
Does he know this family? “Of course,” he replies. “They are mine.”
FB-17’s instruments amount to an old electric guitar, a Yamaha 1000 keyboard and a sackload of riffs and samples pinched from the internet. Sometimes they had to stop recording when the bombs got too close or they were involved in the fighting themselves.
“It was a strange place to make music,” says Modee with a laugh. “We recorded the first five songs at Covo’s house in his bedroom. It’s only four metres square, like a phone box, so when we were all there we couldn’t move. At times Grad missiles were falling very close to the house. We recorded some of the impacts and tried to work those as a beat into the music.”
“Nothing was easy,” says Covo. “The power was often down and we’d lose whole sections of music if I didn’t frequently save them. But thank God for the internet; that’s how we learned to play the guitar, watching seminars on YouTube on how to play the chords. It was the only thing the old regime couldn’t control, and it’s been every Libyan’s window into the world outside. In 1983 and also 1993 the Libyan people tried to revolt, the rebels started fighting like they did this time but without any connection to each other or the outside. Gaddafi squashed the revolutions, killed many people, and nobody even knew. The internet changed that this time around, and it’s important to us now as a band, too. It’s difficult to get our music played on the radio so we post our music online.”
I’m not an entertainment journalist but F.B-17 have to be fairly unique in the world of modern music. Five young men—some of them teenagers—who just a few weeks ago were actively engaged in fierce fighting, have witnessed the toppling of a foul regime and, during all this, spit rhymes about their first tastes of freedom. You wonder what it feels like, what it really feels like.
“Freedom with a new taste,” says Modee. “We can’t even explain how this feels. In Europe and America you are so lucky to be born with freedom of speech. It’s your right, but for us this is a whole new feeling. Now we can speak however we like, and it’s an incredible sensation.”
“We are very proud of Libya now,” says Covo. “Our pride has been stepped on too many times in the past, but what the Libyan people have achieved here is something to be proud of. Of course we are angry about what happened in the past, but now we look to the future. The new Libya is going to take time and we have to start from the beginning. We want our music to reflect the people of new Libya, to tell them to have pride and live in peace. The fighting is over now, Gaddafi has gone and there is no need to have a gun. We committed acts of violence during the revolution, but if someone enters your house with a tank what are you supposed to do? We had to defend ourselves.”