The Libyan artist Ali Fates has a mission: “To revive Berber culture.” For years he has been stateless in his own country, after the authorities confiscated his papers for refusing to sing for the country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. The young man fled to the Netherlands, where he was granted asylum.
By Mohamed Amezian
Mr Fates didn't choose the Netherlands deliberately, "It just happened that way - I just wanted to get out of Libya." He left a younger brother and sister behind. “It hurts to leave them. I hope what happened in Tunisia will happen in Libya. Then I would go back quickly.”
Ali Fates became interested in Berber culture after hearing Ider, a famous Algerian Berber singer. He then started writing lyrics and learned to play guitar. But why sing in Berber? He refuses to sing in Arabic out of principle. “It is my right.”
In Libya, Mr Fates was arrested for singing at an important Berber festival in Tangier in North Morocco with his band Oessane (Days) in 2006. He was asked to sign a promise never to sing in Berber again in custody, but he refused.
“I lived in Libya without papers for four years. Secret agents watched me perform. I sang in the Berber language Tamazight under surveillance. Last year I was asked to sing at a private occasion at a farm near Tripoli. Armed police raided the farm and threatened us with weapons.”
According to Ali Fates, Berber "does not exist" as far as the authorities are concerned in Libya. "Berber artists are treated terribly. I tried to record tapes in a studio in Tripoli, but the owner was sent a warning straight away.”
So Berber artists have their own channels to promote their work, "via mobile telephones, cassettes and computers. You can build a studio at home. We’ve tried everything, but the continual intimidation makes it difficult for Berber artists."
In the Netherlands, Ali Fates has formed a group with two Dutch friends. They have recently started performing in the Netherlands and Belgium. In Libya he sang about love and daily life, but now his songs are about the political situation in his country. He often dedicates them to prisoners at home. “In Libya, one Berber singer has spent five years in prison.”
Fates is trying to give a new life to Berber society. “I have a mission. I want to revive an endangered culture.”