Audio

This New Compilation of Pre-Civil War Somali Music Celebrates Somali Women

Vik Sohonie, the man behind 'Sweet As Broken Dates,' writes about his upcoming compilation of lost Somali tapes for Ostinato Records.

Vik Sohonie, founder of Ostinato Records, sheds light and gives us some background on his upcoming compilation 'Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa.'


It's 7 AM in Hargeisa, in self-declared Somaliland, just to the east of Djibouti.

The city gets moving early. The cool nighttime breeze of the desert climate still lingers and the swirling streams of dust have subsided. Avocado smoothies with a generous dollop of sugar—a breakfast staple across the Horn of Africa, far before any western trend—are readily available.

We've been invited to Radio Hargeisa to meet Vice Minister of Culture, Shukri Ahmed, and senior radio staff. 8 AM sharp. Our friend and guide, Zaat, who doubles as a taxi driver and immigration official—it's what you have to do when your self-declared republic is still 'under construction'—gets us there in time.

Shukri, as she insisted we call her, meets us in her office, keeps introductions to a minimum, bangs her gavel to call the meeting to order and asks all non-essential staff to leave.

“So. What can we do for you?", she queries bluntly, placing her well-worn gavel aside.

I explain our —to access, revive, restore, and make internationally available Somali music from before the civil war as a compilation for a global audience. Shukri tells us she was Radio Hargeisa's first female journalist, employed when the first bombardments, specifically targeting the radio, of Somalia's 20-year civil war began.

Faynuus Sheikh Daahir. Image courtesy of Vik Sohonie.

In 1988, after neglect by the central government, Somaliland's agitations for independence escalated to all out rebellion. Siad Barre, the military ruler in Mogadishu at the time, responded with heavy airstrikes. Shukri lived through the war and when Somaliland declared itself an independent state in 1991, she was earmarked for her current ministerial position.

Shukri is a respected leader, one of the few female members of the government, but far from an anomaly. Rather, she's emblematic of the untold tradition of inspirational female leadership in Somali culture.

Look around today. Ilhan Omar, at just 34, was elected this year as the first Somali-American lawmaker. Finland's Fadumo Dayib was a prominent contender for Somalia's presidential elections in February.

At TEDx Mogadishu, I had the honor of sharing the stage with Samira, Somalia's only purveyor of fine camel milk cheese, considered the gold of the desert (step aside, feta); Nasra, a teenager who is Mogadishu's only female car mechanic running her own shop; and Dr. Lul Mohamed, a pediatrician leading medical teams around the country to quell health crises.

But if we cast our gaze to the 1970s & 1980s, just before the civil war, when the arts, especially theater and music, reigned supreme, Somali women were the captains of their art form.

In the 1950s, Somali theater plays, a cornerstone of Somali cultural life, employed men to play the role of women. But talent could only be ignored for so long, and when women were cast in their rightful roles, their voices were compared with the sweetness of broken dates.

Any curation or distilling of the Somali sound from before the war, not even by choice, will undoubtedly consist of a selection tracks led by women vocalists. Just by virtue of their preeminence, over half our compilation has female vocalists. Their voices, from soaring, to sweet, to haunting, are reflective of the diversity of the Somali repertoire.

If you look at Somalia's immediate neighbors, their equally vibrant music scenes from the day saw females as minority in recorded music. Somali music is set apart by the prevalence of adored female singers.

The roster is endless: Khadra Dahir, Maryan Naasir, Maryan Mursal, Sahra Dawo, Sara Axmed, and the nightingale Magool, amongst so many others, are just some favorites. They were often more prolific than their male counterparts. The female presence in Somali music is inseparable from its evolution and sophistication.

Even when not leading the way, behind the legendary male musicians of the day, were women. Composer and jack of all trades, Axmed Naaji, a godfather figure in Somali culture, achieved status not only by virtue of mercurial talent, but because he “had the best female singer, Faadumo Qaasim, and the best dancer, Feynuus Sheikh Dahir," his close comrade and fellow musician Mahmud Abdalla “Jerry" Hussen told us.

Khadra Dahir, who performed in both Hargeisa and Mogadishu with the Waaberi theater troupe in the 1980s, told us that, through music, “Women became the pride and joy of the public."

Somali women are key to the Horn of Africa's present and future, and were clearly the protagonists of its past. Their confidence, passion, and sheer resilience in the face of stifling attitudes are an example of persistent, empowered feminism we don't often see, but it's been there and it's here to stay.

Perhaps we can all learn how to hit the high notes from the likes of Faadumo Qaasim and Shukri Ahmed.

The 'Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa,' is available for pre-order now. For more, revisit Vik Sohonie's articles on his previous compilations 'Somali Sounds from Mogadishu to Djibouti' and 'Synthesize Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands 1973-1988.'

Audio
Nelson Freitas in "Goofy." Image courtesy of the artist.

The 16 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Lady Donli, Mdou Moctar, Boddhi Satva x Nelson Freitas, Shirazee x Saint Jhn, YoungstaCPT, Naira Marley and more

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Keep reading...
Video
Shirazee. Photo: Tiara Marei. Courtesy of the artist.

Get Into Shirazee & Saint Jhn's Highly-Addictive 'Juju'

The new music video follows Shirazee and Saint Jhn to New Orleans.

Shirazee is back with his latest single "Juju."

The new song sees the Benin-born singer-songwriter linking up with none-other-than Saint Jhn for a highly-addictive tune built on afro-fusion beat work. The striking new music video for "Juju," which was directed by Tiara Marei, follows Shirazee and Saint Jhn to New Orleans, Louisiana.

"This one is special to me 'cause the song was recorded at a time I needed to break a love-spell that I felt was put on me by a serious crush of mine [laughs]," Shirazee tells OkayAfrica. "Shooting this video in New Orleans, a city with historical ties to my Benin, was such a privilege and does so much justice to the song and theme.

"[I'm] looking forward to releasing new music this year and the first of two EPs called LOST is on the way and it's exciting," he adds.

For more on him, revisit our interview with Shirazee on his journey, taking risks and going independent. As you remember, Saint Jhn featured on Beyoncé and Wizkid's "Brown Skin Girl," one of our favorite songs last year.

Get into Shirazee and Saint Jhn's "Juju" below.

Keep reading...
Video
Stormzy performs during The BRIT Awards 2020 at The O2 Arena. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage) via Getty Images.

Watch Stormzy's Powerful BRIT Awards Performance Featuring Burna Boy

The night saw the British-Ghanaian star run through a medley of songs from his latest album, Heavy Is the Head.

The BRIT Awards 2020, which went down earlier this week, saw the likes of Stormzy take home the Best Male trophy home and Dave win Best Album.

The night also saw Stormzy deliver a stunning performance that featured a medley of songs from his latest album, Heavy Is the Head. The British-Ghanaian star started things out slow with "Don't Forget to Breathe," before popping things off with "Do Better" then turning up the heat with "Wiley Flow."

Stormzy nodded to J Hus, playing a short bit of "Fortune Teller," before being joined onstage by Nigeria's Burna Boy to perform their hit "Own It." Burna Boy got his own moment and performed an energetic rendition of his African Giant favorite "Anybody."

The night was closed off with a powerful message that read: "A lot of time they tell us 'Black people, we too loud.' Know what I'm sayin'? We need to turn it down a little bit. We seem too arrogant. We a little too much for them to handle. Black is beautiful man." The message flashed on a black screen before a moving performance of "Rainfall" backed by his posse.

Watch the full performance below.

Keep reading...
News Brief
The ornate gilded copper headgear, which features images of Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles, was unearthed after refugee-turned-Dutch-citizen Sirak Asfaw contacted Dutch 'art detective' Arthur Brand. (Photo by Jan HENNOP/AFP) (Photo by JAN HENNOP/AFP via Getty Images)

A Stolen 18th Century Ethiopian Crown Has Been Returned from The Netherlands

The crown had been hidden in a Dutch apartment for 20 years.

In one of the latest developments around art repatriation, a stolen 18th century Ethiopian crown that was discovered decades ago in the Netherlands, has been sent back home.

Sirak Asfaw, an Ethiopian who fled to The Netherlands in the '70s, first found the relic in the suitcase of a visitor in 1998, reports BBC Africa. He reportedly protected the item for two decades, before informing Dutch "art crime investigator" Arthur Brand and authorities about his discovery last year.

The crown is one of only 20 in existence and features intricate Biblical depictions of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. Historians believe it was given to the church by the warlord Welde Sellase several centuries ago.

Read: Bringing African Artifacts Home

Keep reading...

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.