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Cold Specks’ journey of discovery

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For much of her career, Ladan Hussein went out of her way not to reveal too much about herself. Though she’s a singer/songwriter, she chose to perform under the name Cold Specks because she was uncomfortable using her own name. And in most of her songs, she made a point to distance herself from the subject matter, consciously creating music that wasn’t directly representative of her own life or who she is.

After a few years, Hussein took a step back and realized that all these efforts were unnecessary. And for that matter, the various layers of identities she created for herself became too difficult to unravel.

“I was always attracted to musicians like Bat for Lashes and Flying Lotus, so I called myself Cold Specks,” she says. “But people are nosy, so they wanted another name behind the name I already came up with. So I came up with another fake name behind that, Al Spx, because of [punk band] X-Ray Spex… I’m a big Poly Styrene fan. It was just a collection of pseudonyms. It just became so confusing.”

Fool’s Paradise, released in September via Arts & Crafts, is an album that reflects Hussein’s own period of self-discovery and expression after a long period of putting up barriers around her identity. The album features some of the most personal songs that she’s written to date, including “Witness,” a song about the hopelessness amid a chaotic geopolitical climate, while “Exile” features a prayer recited by her mother. It’s not necessarily an album in which everything is easily spelled out in plain language yet nonetheless contains some of the most revealing songs of her career.

It also features some of the most intimate sounding music she’s written. Fool’s Paradise, Hussein’s third album, is a much quieter and more spacious record than its predecessor, the more guitar-driven Neuroplasticity. Instead, the album is defined by its gauzy synthesizers and gentler melodies, which make them feel much more intimate. It’s not a coincidence that Cold Specks’ most personal album is the one that’s the starkest, though the shift in approach is also partially the result of Hussein’s own short attention span.

“I came off of touring the last record, which was a very loud record with a loud band, and immediately I wanted to strip everything back,” she says. “It was grueling and hard on my voice, and I just grew tired of it. I think the records are so different because when I finish it, I tour it endlessly. And I get so bored so easily. It’s a very conscious decision to make it sound different, because I think I am trying to challenge myself in some way. But I also just get very bored.”

Hussein, who lives in Toronto, comes from a Muslim family of Somali immigrants, and Fool’s Paradise reflects that heritage, particularly in the title track, which she describes as a song “about detaching from a crumbling world.” It’s the first Cold Specks song in which she sings in Somali. Toward the end of the track, she chants the name “Araweelo,” who is a legendary Somali queen who was one of the country’s first female monarchs, as well as a ruler who became known for castrating male prisoners. The track also features the phrase “kala garo naftaada iyo laftaada,” which is an expression that Hussein heard often in her own family.

“The title track, ‘Fool’s Paradise,’ is the only time I sing in Somali. The phrase I sing is a Somali idiom that my grandmother used to say: ‘Understand the difference between your bones and your soul,’” she says. “So I found myself singing those words—to understand the difference between your bones and your soul—around the time the Muslim ban happened, when I wrote the song. I found my grandmother’s words just came out naturally.

“I’m sure there’s a religious meaning originally behind it,” she adds, explaining her interpretation of the idiom. “For me it’s more about self-care and detachment, and nurturing my soul.”

While Hussein largely looked inward on her latest set of songs, she did take influence from some outside sources and past collaborators. Cold Specks has worked with a long list of other artists over her career, including Swans and Moby. Prior to this album, she appeared on the track “Dead Editors” by Massive Attack, and the experience fed into her own creative process.

“A lot of the songs and sounds on this record… came to life after sessions with Massive Attack. And I’m sure that spoke to my songwriting process. On ‘Solid,’ for instance, I wanted specifically something that reminded me of [Massive Attack’s] ‘Safe from Harm,’” she says.

The experience of making Fool’s Paradise was one that led Hussein to both appreciate herself and be less guarded about who she is. She’s also comfortable letting that go when the music hits someone else’s ears. This is music that’s very personal to her, but she says it’s up to the listener to determine what it means to them.

“I can just make the best art I can possibly make,” she says. “Once it’s out there, it doesn’t belong to me. If people want to listen to it and enjoy it, that’s cool. Just listen to it and let it soothe you.”

Diaspora

Somali teenager sets her hopes high for the future

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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – War shattered 14-year-old Manaal’s dreams for the future. Now safe in the Netherlands, with new friends, her spirits are soaring once more.

“I have only been in an airplane once and that is when we arrived here from Somalia,” says Manaal, who fled the country with her family. “In the airplane, I felt butterflies in my stomach the whole time. I saw a movie about a stewardess and she looked so pretty and smart that I decided I want to become a stewardess as well.”

Twenty-eight long years of conflict have left Somalia reeling. The peaceful canals and cafes of Amsterdam, where Manaal found safety in 2014 , have offered the youngster a refuge she could barely have imagined.

Manaal is one of 12 refugee and asylum-seeking children living in Europe who star in a new project that lets their imagination run free.

Titled The Dream Diaries, the project sees the young refugees and asylum-seekers reveal their hopes and dreams from the safety of their new homes in Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
“In the airplane, I felt butterflies in my stomach
the whole time.”

The series was produced by Humans of Amsterdam photographer Debra Barraud, her colleague Benjamin Heertje, Dutch graphic designer Annegien Schilling, filmmaker Kris Pouw and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

In it, Manaal dreams of becoming an air stewardess. A portrait shows her sitting on the wing of an airplane, soaring through a picturesque evening sky.

After 5 long years of separation from her father, who was the first to flee to Europe in a desperate bid to find a better life for his family, air travel means more to Manaal than most.

“When we arrived at the airport, I finally saw my dad again,” she tells The Dream Diaries team. “So I ran up to him and hugged him really tight.”
“When children flee their home countries, they leave everything behind, except their hopes and dreams,” says co-creator Debra Barraud, whose Humans of Amsterdam photography project has over 400,000 Facebook followers. “Through the project we saw the strength of these children and how with the right support they can achieve anything.”

Audiences are being encouraged to stand #WithRefugees by signing UNHCR’s global petition, which asks decision makers to grant refugees safety, education and opportunities – turning their dreams into reality. You can follow The Dream Diaries series via Humans of Amsterdam, Fetching Tigerss and UNHCR’s social accounts.

“My dream is to be a flight attendant,” says Manaal, who will never forget the elation of her first flight – to safety. “I want to be able to travel, see Paris and have butterflies in my stomach. I want to see the entire world.”

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Diaspora

Maine’s 1st Somali police officer busted at Mass. concert

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LA TIMES — Maine’s first Somali police officer is on paid leave during an investigation after her arrest over the weekend in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Worcester police charged Zahra Munye Abu, of Portland, with several misdemeanors including assault and battery, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Police say the 26-year-old caused a disturbance at a Ja Rule and Ashanti concert at the Palladium Nightclub. She was arrested Saturday night, and posted bail early Sunday.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck confirmed Abu’s arrest, but declined further comment.

Abu was born in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to Maine. She graduated from the University of Southern Maine and became a police officer in 2016. The Associated Press could not locate a phone number for her, and it’s unclear if she has a lawyer.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Diaspora

Portland police officer whose hiring made history is put on leave after arrest in Massachusetts

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PRESS HERALD — Zahra Munye Abu, the first Somali immigrant to serve on the city’s force, is charged in Worcester with five misdemeanors, including assault.

A 24-year-old Portland police officer has been charged with five misdemeanors, including assault and battery, after being arrested Saturday night at a concert venue in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Worcester police said Zahra Munye Abu, of Portland, is also facing charges of trespassing, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

Abu caused a disturbance while attending a Ja Rule and Ashanti concert at the Palladium Nightclub on Main Street, said Worcester police Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst.

“The nightclub was hosting several live musical acts,” Hazelhurst said in an email. “She was (given) several opportunities to leave and refused. Eventually she was placed under arrest.”

Worcester police would not provide more details about the incident, and members of Abu’s family declined to comment when contacted by phone at their home.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Abu has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending a review of the matter.

“The Portland Police Department was notified late Saturday night of the arrest of Police Officer Zahra Abu in Worcester, Massachusetts,” Sauschuck said in an email. “This issue will be dealt with as a personnel matter from this point forward, so I will have no further comment.”

Chris Besaw, the Palladium general manager, declined to comment about the arrest or what occurred before local police became involved.

Abu was bailed out of jail at 1 a.m. Sunday, Hazelhurst said. He did not know the bail amount. She is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Worcester District Court.

Abu is a high-profile member of the Portland police force because she is the first member of Maine’s Somali immigrant community to become a police officer in Maine.

She was born to Somali parents in a Kenyan refugee camp and has lived in Portland since she was 2 years old. She graduated from Deering High School in Portland and studied criminal justice and women-and-gender issues at the University of Southern Maine.

If convicted, Abu faces a maximum penalty of up to 2½ years in a county jail on the assault and battery and the resisting arrest charges. Each of the other charges include less severe maximum penalties.

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