Libya’s Revolutionary Musicians: Stronger than Bullets

Amidst the bloody revolution to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, a defiant music scene emerged from the dust of war. After 42 years of non-Arabic music being banned, Benghazi suddenly resounded with a melodic fury, with hip-hop, heavy metal, rock, blues, and even country music echoing around the city.

“Stronger than Bullets” introduces the musicians who are free to play at last, and follows them as they stand shoulder-to-shoulder, guitar to rifle, alongside rebel fighters.

After months of war, Gaddafi’s death paved the way for the musicians to celebrate their victory with a triumphant music festival. Yet when the tyrant fell, shadowy elements emerged to halt the festival at the 11th hour, as victory descended into conflict and chaos.

Soon the situation came full circle back to the days of the tyrant, and the musicians had to scatter to the four winds. Will the music scene thrive once again, or will it remain mired in post-revolutionary blues?


By Matthew Millan

As documentary filmmakers, we often go into situations expecting to tell one story but, inevitably, the story transforms into something entirely different. Such was the case when I went to Libya in those early days of 2011 to document the revolution against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. What awaited me was something utterly unexpected – a spring bloom hidden in the desert wastes of the boundless Sahara.

When I crossed the border into the dust of revolution, I was astonished by what I saw, a spirit of cooperation and unbridled joy that painted a vibrant contrast to all of the surrounding destruction, chaos, and uncertainty. This human spirit manifested in many ways with people sweeping the streets, children directing traffic and an explosion of music akin to the counter-culture heyday of the 1960s. From blues to country, heavy metal to hip-hop, the Libyan youth defiantly came out in droves – and for the very first time – to express their newfound freedom through the irrepressible spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.

This documentary is not just a study of a dazzling music bloom in the midst of a bloody revolution. It’s a rousing rock ‘n’ roll odyssey which follows a group of determined musicians who continued to play even in the direst of conditions.

In an increasingly polarised world, our views are largely shaped by agendas that often highlight the differences between peoples, instead of their similarities. This is why I believe that “Stronger Than Bullets” is such an important story to tell, for it bridges the seemingly vast gulfs between societies, and highlights the commonality found within them all.

In addition, the documentary offers valuable insight into the unique conditions needed for counter-cultures to form, and to thrive. And most of all, the musicians in the documentary truly exemplify the binding power of music by defiantly challenging the hail of bullets with their strings.