Meet Volcano, Libya’s soldier-rapper

Achraf, alias Volcano, drops a beat amidst still-smouldering rubble. As bullets whizz past, he continues to rap. His goal? To inspire courage in the young people fighting jihadist groups on the frontlines of war-torn Benghazi, Libya.


Screenshot of one of Volcano’s music videos.

Achraf, alias Volcano, drops a beat amidst still-smouldering rubble. As bullets whizz past, he continues to rap. His goal? To inspire courage in the young people fighting jihadist groups on the frontlines of war-torn Benghazi, Libya.

In the vicious conflict tearing Libya apart, Volcano chose to fight with the soldiers supporting the internationally-recognized government in Tobruk, which is currently trying to re-take Benghazi from the jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia. But guns aren’t the only weapon Volcano brings into battle. He also shoots music videos on the frontlines.

Volcano shot this music video in war-torn Benghazi last March.

This excerpt from Volcano’s song has been translated from Arabic:

"My people, don’t be afraid, Operation Dignity has prevailed (…),

Thanks to Benghazi’s citizens – people who don’t know the meaning of cowardice,

Tripoli, El Bayda, Tobruk, all these cities are revolting (…)

Libya, your children are rising up against the scum of humanity,

Navy, military, police, traffic cops,

All your men have made sacrifices

They all gave us martyrs, and, thanks to God, the wounded will be healed”

"I filmed this video to taunt the jihadists”

Volcano started rapping just after the fall of former Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. However, his first real music video was for his song "C5", which was named for a missile launcher frequently used by Libyan militias.

The day after the revolution, I started using my music as a way to talk about what was going wrong in my country and elsewhere in the Arab world. However, soon after, I joined the army to fight against the terrorists of Ansar al-Sharia outside of Benghazi [Editor’s note: This jihadist group, which is thought to have close ties to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State organisation, was added to the UN Security Council’s terror list in 2014.]

I had no military training, but when “Operation Dignity” was launched, I realized I couldn’t just stand there, doing nothing while this group sows terror and kills civilians in the name of Islam.

This desire to do something is why I shot most of the scenes for my last music video on the frontlines, notably in the Lithi and Bouatni neighbourhoods in Benghazi last March. For me, it was a way to show my support for the young people fighting and a way to raise the morale of the troops.

Shooting the video was incredibly difficult because, for one of the scenes, there was a sniper not far way. I didn’t realize he was there until after I was already in the midst of filming. Luckily, my camera woman was using her zoom to film from far away and she was not in the sniper’s range. I wasn’t in the sniper’s range either, but quite close, so I was trapped and had to stay in the same spot for several hours.

The sniper did at one point shoot in my direction and I sustained a slight injury on my hand from debris projected by a bullet. But I didn’t get discouraged. I put on a bandage [which you can see on his right hand in the video] and I just kept rapping. After about 14 hours, an armored vehicle belonging to the army arrived, and I was finally evacuated.

One day, my friend called me to say that a building had just been shelled. I immediately went there to film a sequence for my music video. When I got there, the fire had already lost some of its original intensity. So I filmed a segment of my music video anyway and then added special effects to make the flames look more spectacular on camera. I used this part of the video to send a message to Ansar al-Sharia. I was telling them: "You bombed this zone? Well, I’m not scared. I am going to go there immediately and start singing.”

In this video, I also pay tribute to civilians killed during indiscriminate shelling. Most of them were at home when they were hit by shells. Some of my friends and cousins were among the dead. On that day, I gathered up pieces of their bodies.

Obviously, I can’t perform at a real concert during these difficult times. So in order to film the short concert section in the video, friends and fellow soldiers volunteered to make up the audience. I wanted to taunt the jihadists by saying “You might be fighting Benghazi’s young people, but they are doing just fine. They are even partying!”

"I’m actually more of a country music fan"

We shot this video with a very limited budget. We’re a tiny team of just three people and we really hustled to get it out fast. It took us just two weeks to film it, edit it and then put the music video online.

This might sound surprising but I’m actually not a big rap fan. I’m not really up to date on the rap scene and I don’t know any of the big name rappers, except for people like 50 cent and Tupac. I’m actually more of a country music fan. Rap was just the most efficient way to share my message. A classic song doesn’t usually have more than about 60 words, whereas a five minute rap song can include up to 300 words – which is useful.