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Cherrie Is a Somali-Swedish R&B Queen With Style and Substance

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VOGUE — Immigration is changing not only the way that Sweden looks, but also how it sounds. This country’s contributions to music are disproportionate to its small size and extend well beyond Abba’s cheery pop and the indie cool of bands like Peter Bjorn and John. A politicized hip-hop scene that first emerged in the early ’90s has blossomed, and now the honey-voiced Cherrie is putting Sweden on the R&B map with music so catchy, it needs no translation. “It’s kinda funny to hear British people try to sing in Swedish,” says the singer, who has spent the last year performing all around the world. And it’s not only music lovers lining up for Cherrie, she’s also collaborated with musicians in and out of Sweden, including grime king Stormzy, who contributed English lyrics to one of her Swedish songs.

Cherrie was born Sherihan Hersi in Oslo, Norway, to Somali immigrants and lived in Finland for about a decade before moving to Sweden where her family took up residence in the Rinkeby area of Stockholm, home to a large immigrant population. Cherrie took it upon herself to become a spokesperson for the area, representing some of the challenges its residents face, from broken hearts to gun violence. Melancholy chords suited the subject and Cherrie’s state of mind at the time. Partly to keep the attention on her message, the singer stayed mostly out of the spotlight. Having gained confidence and experience, Cherrie is now ready to take center stage. “I have this new narrative that goes together with the old one,” says the artist, who is currently in the studio recording her second album. “I don’t want people to box me in, like, ‘Oh, she’s the girl from the hood, that’s what she does,’ because I’m always going to evolve and I’m just now finding ways to show that visually.”

The best example of her evolution is the video “163 För Evigt” (“163 Forever”), which recently went viral (163 is the postal code for Rinkeby). In the video, which was styled by Wasima, Cherrie wears the same pink puffer by Ella Boucht, a Finnish designer, that made headlines when Rihanna wore it. The bright color was aligned with the hopeful message—essentially, if I can make it, you can, too. “I’m very in tune with what kind of energy I want to put out there. I think [that video] really did something for me, but also for our community, because we used our visual ability and did something that was positive and it really translated, even way outside of Sweden. I’m just now realizing people don’t even need to understand what you’re singing about; it can translate through true feelings and energy. And I’m just realizing how much fun I can have with fashion and using that to put out the positive energy as well.”

Cherrie’s sound and style are largely influenced by female R&B artists of the late ’90s and early ’00s, and she nods to them when she works some throwback style in the video, pairing an Adidas tracksuit with huge hoops. “When it comes to fashion and the visual aesthetics, you can tell Aaliyah’s been a huge inspiration,” Cherrie tells Vogue. “Aaliyah and Ciara from the early 2000s—the ‘Like a Boy’ video.” Another major influence on the artist’s look is her dance training. “I didn’t even wear makeup until I was 21 because I always used to sweat in my dance lessons, so I was like, I’d rather just not wear [any].” She still keeps her beauty routine to a minimum, relying on water and a pharmacy-bought moisturizer, eyeliner, mascara, and brow definer. “I think a lot of the way I look in the videos and how I like to dress comes from wanting to be comfortable because you have to be able to dance,” says Cherrie.

The singer also takes style cues from Rinkeby, where, she says, “People are just mixing and making their own sense of style and slang and culture.” One of her recent purchases was a pair of old-school Nike TN sneakers. “I always used to see people wearing them in Rinkeby, and then when I came to Paris, it was the same thing. European hoods,” Cherrie adds, “have their own style, and it’s always influenced by African and Middle Eastern culture.” The singer counts Iman, Waris Dirie, and Halima Aden as Somali women whom she admires, and credits social media with creating a platform that has helped her to connect with her heritage; in turn, she has been supported by people who have found her through the channel. Cherrie understands the importance of role models because, she explains, “I know what it did to me not having that.”

The “third culture” idea (referring to children who are raised in a culture different from their parents’ or different than the one on their passport) is one that Cherrie has built her career upon. “I remember being a young girl and having parents of African heritage but living in a Scandinavian white city with almost no black people: You’d be confused ’cause you’re not at home there, but if I went back to Africa, I wouldn’t be 100 percent home there—because I’ve never been there, right? So, the third culture concept comes from creating your own culture of what you do have.” Cherrie goes back to Rinkeby when she can. “Some of my best friends are people who used to do really bad stuff and now they’ve turned their lives around somehow. We’ve all inspired each other. If the people who I grew up with find strength or comfort in my music, and my song might be the one that they listen to when they are doing their SATs and that kind of helps them—do you know what that does for me? That’s what makes me. I’m just trying to do something that will help me through helping others.”

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Lame Jokes by RK Twins

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Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri named young people’s laureate for London

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THE GUARDIAN — The 24-year-old Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri, who has been chosen as the new young people’s laureate for London, is hoping to spend her year in the role convincing young people “to see poetry as part of their every day, rather than in some dusty tome, or academic niche interest”.

Mehri, who has a background in biochemical science and wrote the poetry chapbook sugah. lump. prayer, has been shortlisted for this year’s Brunel African poetry prize and won last year’s Out-Spoken Page poetry prize. As laureate, Mehri hopes to encourage young people to voice their concerns and experiences through poetry.

The poet, from Kilburn in north-west London, was selected for the role by a panel of arts organisations and poets, and is, according to Spread the Word’s chair of trustees Rishi Dastidar, “an inspired choice” and a “poet to watch”.

“For young people to have an artist who is an ambassador for them, who brings their concerns, struggles and joys to those in authority, and the wider world, is vital,” Dastidar said. “Her poetry is precise and powerful, and rich with images that are haunting. She is not afraid to tackle the biggest of subjects, which, combined with her talent, is going to give the role a renewed sense of purpose and visibility.”
Mehri said she was exposed to oral forms of poetry by her family when growing up, but only began writing for publication around four years ago. “Over time I honed, or found, my voice, and that allowed me to feel comfortable, finding the poetic voice I felt was most suited to me. Obviously at the beginning you’re very much inspired by your influences,” she said. “I think the poetry I write is interested in questions or ideas around disruption or movement, whether it’s movement of people or places, movement between different ideas, between how things change over different generations, and in themes of migration and urban spaces.”

During her time in the role, Mehri will be looking to amplify the voices of Londoners aged between 13 and 25, “to let them lead conversations, to be as inspired by them as hopefully they can be inspired by me”. She will work with writer-development agency Spread the Word on youth-focused residencies across London, head a tour to six outer London boroughs, and co-host a special project for young London poets called The Young People’s Poetry Lab.

According to research from the National Literacy Trust, 84% of teachers who participated in a poetry programme for disadvantaged children in London schools over a five-year period said their writing skills had improved.

Outgoing young people’s laureate for London, Caleb Femi, said that “poetry has the potential to play a vital part in self-expression and artistic enjoyment in the lives of young people”.

“We need a dedicated person who can assist in integrating the joys of poetry into the everydayness of young Londoners,” he added. “We are extremely lucky to have a talented and dedicated poet such as Momtaza Mehri appointed as the new young people’s laureate for London. Her tenure is sure to be an extraordinary one.”

Mehri said that she wanted to: “Reach everybody, to allow people to see poetry as part of everyday living in London, and all the different poetry traditions that people bring to London.”

“I am very much aware of the fact that I came out of a very different poetic tradition, and what that’s brought to my writing of the English language. So I want to be aware of the fact that people are carrying different poetic influences, whether they consider themselves poets or not,” she said.

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‘I grew up in a refugee camp, now I’m on the cover of Vogue’

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BELFAST TELEGRAPH — Halima Aden is used to firsts. She was St Cloud, Minnesota’s first Muslim homecoming queen, and St Cloud State University’s first hijab-wearing student senator. She was the first hijab-wearing contestant to compete in Miss Minnesota USA — she wore a burkini in the swimsuit round — and the first to be signed to a major agency, IMG, the industry colossus that also represents Miranda Kerr, Karlie Kloss and Cara Delevingne.

And last week the 20-year-old became the first hijab-wearing model to appear on the cover of British Vogue. “It’s taken 102 years for there to be a hijabi model on the cover,” Aden says. “People are very proud of this moment.” Indeed, by the time the issue appeared on news stands last Friday, the cover had already gone viral.

Alongside Aden, a Somali model born in a Kenyan refugee camp, appeared other faces rarely seen on the cover of a mainstream, European fashion magazine — the mainstream European fashion magazine — including South Sudanese Adut Akech, Indian Radhika Nair, Korean Yoon Young Bae and mixed-race, plus-size Paloma Elsesser. “I think the cover really was true diversity,” Aden says. “Not a matter of ticking boxes but really people from different religions, different ethnic backgrounds, all thriving in an industry that has brought us together.”

Officially she works in this industry: she has walked Milan Fashion Week catwalks for MaxMara and Alberta Ferretti, and for Yeezy, Kanye West’s fashion line, in New York. She has appeared on the front cover of Vogue Arabia.

Unofficially she is also a full-time ambassador for her faith, and for the hijab. This is inevitable, as Aden observes, matter-of-factly. “I’m the first high-fashion hijab-wearing model. Automatically, I know there are a lot of girls looking at me. I need to be a good role model, a good representative of my faith, a good ambassador to my community.”

Being this in the hyper-visual, exposed and exposing world of fashion does, though, invite scrutiny — from within and outside her community.

Aden admits she recently cleansed her Instagram (where she has 577k followers). “I really wanted to explore a new look,” she explains.

“But I noticed that my younger followers were messaging me and saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t stuff I can wear. You’re the only person in fashion that I can look to, and you’re wearing stuff I can’t wear’. When I noticed that, I was like: ‘OK, it’s true’. I was still covered head to toe but I was trying out shorter dresses with knee-high boots. Those pictures got 60,000 likes but I wanted to stay true to my original followers. There are a million other models who can rock the same outfit but there’s not anyone besides me who can say, ‘I’m going to wear modest fashion’. I owe it to these little girls.”

Aden was born in Kakuma camp, in Kenya, in 1997. “I grew up in a refugee camp — there weren’t really many highlights,” she deadpans.

“I remember having malaria what felt like every other week. I remember scorpion bites and my mum having to apply Colgate toothpaste. It had a cooling effect.” She shrugs off any sense of victimhood. “I remember a lot of good things. When you don’t know ‘the other’, you tend to appreciate life.”

When she was seven her family went in pursuit of this ‘other’ life: Aden, her mother and younger brother were granted refuge in St Louis, Minnesota. “It was such a big deal,” she says. “A lot of Africans have the misconception that in America money grows on trees. But the neighbourhood we were in was very impoverished. You heard gunshots at night. The school I went to didn’t have an English language learners’ programme so I just went to school and listened and went home.”

After six months her mother moved the family to St Cloud on a word of mouth tip. There, teachers “would always help me, after school, during my lunch hour”. Her English is natural, her accent American.

“My mum made this quick call,” says Aden. “’I raised these kids, I went through hell and back for them, and I don’t want to risk them ending up in gangs, or in prison, or not getting a proper education’. It was really brave. African mums — I’m telling you,” she laughs.

Being crowned her school’s homecoming queen was “a big deal”.

“I’d never seen kids who are Muslim up for that, so I didn’t even think it was a possibility.”

And indeed, symbolically, it resonates: a prom is the gala event for the all-American teen experience, and she is a young Somali-American wearing a hijab.

She’s diplomatic about racial politics in contemporary, supercharged America. “Because Muslims are such a small number — one per cent in America — a lot of Americans never get to interact personally with a Muslim person.

“If you see horrible stories day in and day out on TV, you’re going to have this deep psychological fear of Muslims. It’s not right but that’s the hardest thing to show people — we’re not all the same. But fear is also human nature.”

She entered Miss Minnesota USA partly because there were scholarships up for grabs, but: “I also wanted to show other women in my home state that I didn’t conform in order to fit in. I wore a bathing suit — but it was a burkini.”

What happened next is one of those star-crossed fashion coincidences: Carine Roitfeld, former French Vogue editor, saw the pictures of her at Miss Minnesota USA and asked her to appear on the cover of CR Fashion Book, her new project and an influential countercultural industry tome. Roitfeld’s endorsement led to the IMG contract, which led to everything else.

Still, Aden was “shocked” to get the call from British Vogue editor Edward Enninful. “I met him at the British Fashion Awards in December. He was like: ‘I know we’re going to work together’. But I never imagined it being a cover story.”

For her portrait inside the magazine, Halima’s aesthetic is arch fashion: she slouches and pouts, staring down the camera in a mohair cape and woollen trousers — both Dior — and Altuzarra cowboy boots. She says it is “one of the biggest blessings that has come in my career” — though her favourite moment of the two-day shoot was off-set, shooting the breeze with fellow cover star Adut Akech.

It transpired the pair had been born in the same refugee camp. “We had a moment like The Parent Trap: ‘How old are you? What do your parents look like?’ And it was our first time meeting. Just imagine — these two girls from this camp, reunited for the first time on the cover of British Vogue. I can’t make that up.”

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