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Meet The Somali-Swedish Singer Everyone Is Talking About

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Meet Cherrie, a singer-songwriter from Sweden whose music video “163 För Evigt” may have popped up in your timeline recently.

People have fallen in love with the song, which translates as “163 Forever”, even though many have no idea what Cherrie is saying because, hello, it’s in Swedish. Still, people are really feeling it, and one Instagram upload has had over 250,000 plays.

While Cherrie, 26, whose real name is Sherihan Hersi, is relatively unknown in Britain, she’s a breakout star in Sweden. She rose to fame in 2015 with her evocative hit song “Tabanja” (Swedish slang for “gun”), and earlier this year her debut album Sherihan won in the hip-hop and soul category at Sweden’s answer to the Grammy Awards.

Oh yeah, and she’s also collaborated with rapper Stormzy, on the song “Aldrig Igen (Må Sådär)” – in English, “Never Again (Feel Like That)” – before joining him on the European leg of his tour.

Cherrie told BuzzFeed News that “163 För Evigt” is a tribute to the 163 postal code – the code of Rinkeby, the Stockholm suburb she grew up in. “A lot of non-European immigrants live here, and the conditions and possibilities for people out here are less fortunate than anywhere else in the city,” she said.

“It’s also me celebrating my career, as it has been tough to get where I am as an independent artist.”

The song contains the line “Om jag lyckas då vi alla kan”, which means, “If I succeed then we all can.” Cherrie said she wanted to make a song that would instil hope in the young people of 163 and others growing up in similar conditions.

“My music is known for its emotional and honest feelings that sometimes come from a dark place,” she said. “This was my first release since my debut album, and I just really wanted to make something that had the same depth but could be positive and something people could vibe to.”

The international reception to the song – including in the Somali diaspora – has left Cherrie in awe, she said: “The fact that this is in a language most people don’t understand and it still translates enough for them to vibe to, it just makes me believe in myself even more than I did before.”

She added: “A lot of people say they can tell that whatever I’m singing about comes from something real through the conviction of my voice.

“Also, it carries a message of self-love and love for others, and even if they don’t understand I know they will feel it, and I’m just happy to be doing something positive through my music. If you listen … with an open mind, you’ll feel the energy and message no matter what language I choose to do it in. And for that I’m forever thankful.”

Cherrie was born in Norway but grew up in Finland – she says her family were among the first African immigrants to move there, at a time when racial tensions were high. They later moved to Sweden, where she says they encountered a different kind of racism.

“I always felt like racism was more institutionalised here like in the workplace and school,” she said. “Kinda more hidden racism.”

And while things aren’t as tough now, Cherrie says racism is still a huge problem across Scandinavia, despite the region’s liberal credentials. An anti-immigrant party, the Swedish Democrats, is now the country’s second-biggest.

“At the same time I feel like these racists are fading — this is their last fight to stay relevant in an evolving world where people like myself are becoming the norm in society,” Cherrie said.

Cherrie is proud to be a “third culture kid” – someone who has grown up in a different to society to their parents. The singer even contributed to an anthology telling stories from 40 people who identify this way. She also leads workshops in Sweden’s “less fortunate suburbs” to talk about identity.

 

“The world is changing, third culture kids are everywhere,” she said. “Like, even if you are 100% Swede but you grew up the last 15 years in an area where you have 90 different nationalities, you are bound to understand that all these narrow-minded homogeneous type of people are dying out.

“I definitely see myself as a third culture kid or cross-culture kid. I was born in Norway, moved to Finland, then to Sweden, and then to London and then back again.”

She added: “I think we need to rule our situation here in Europe and build identities that we feel safe with, rather than [allowing] the government or such to put labels on us.”

Her personal influences include all of her identities. For example, she named her independent record label Araweelo after a fearsome queen in Somali folklore who Cherrie says was “probably one of the first feminists ever”.

Growing up, Cherrie heard stories about Araweelo, and even though they were supposed to scare her, they did the opposite and inspired her instead.

Cherrie is now working on her second album and will be the opening act for Canadian music artist Daniel Caesar as part of Red Bull’s 30 Days in Chicago next month, before heading to South Korea for two shows.

Of course, there’s only one question her new army of stans want to know: Will Cherrie be creating any music in English or Somali?

“I have and I’m considering it,” she said. “For me, it all boils down to if it feels right in my gut.

“I know what my music has done in Sweden and if it doesn’t feel as real and important in the next language then it’s not really worth it. But I really believe that I’ll get there soon enough.”

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DOCUMENTARY FILMS

Aamir Khan: The snake charmer – Witness

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Aamir Khan is one of the most popular and influential Bollywood actors in India today. He became a star of Hindi cinema in the 1980s, and his greatest commercial successes have been the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time.

Yet in 2012, Khan’s career took an unexpected turn. Together with a childhood friend, he created a TV series called Satyamev Jayate which became the first prime time TV show in India to expose the country’s most critical social issues – from rape to female foeticide and dowry killings.

Aamir Khan was used to portraying macho men on a quest for vengeance and belongs to an industry accused of denigrating women and encouraging sexual violence.

But now, the 48 year old actor with Peter Pan charm risks his career by challenging men to re-examine their attitudes and behavior towards women, confronting the spiraling wave of gender-based violence in India and defying age-old stereotypes.

The snake charmer follows Khan on a journey through India’s TV and Bollywood film industry, as he attempts to change the way Indians perceive and treat women.

From the set of Satyamev Jayate, the film follows Aamir Khan backstage to his new Bollywood blockbuster Dangal.

Khan’s quest ultimately opens a window into a country in crisis and into the changes it is undergoing.

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Arts & Culture

‘For My Ayeeyo’: Two young women learn Somali poetry from a distance

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Somalia is often called a land of poets, a place where everything from teenage romance to legal disputes has been recorded and passed down through poems. As conflict and drought have driven hundreds of thousands of Somalis from that homeland, the poetry has travelled with them. But here in the U.S., Somali-American poets must find new words and metaphors to describe their new environment.

Hamdi Mohamed

Amal Hussein and Hamdi Mohamed have a lot in common. Both were born in Kenya, where their parents had fled as refugees, and both came to Boston when they were just a few years old. They’re both 23 years old, they’re both poets — and equally important for this story — both their grandmothers are poets. This video shows a style of Somali poetry called gabay that both their grandmothers perform. As you can hear, the poem is as musical as it is lyrical.

But there’s one crucial difference in the two women’s stories. Hamdi grew up with her ayeeyo (grandmother) in the house, whispering poems in her ears. Amal has only known her ayeeyo on the phone — she stayed behind in Somalia when the rest of the family fled. Nevertheless, it is the distant words and stories of her grandmother that inspire Amal to take on the challenge of writing her own gabay.

Amal Hussein

From the Poet’s Notebook

In the story, we hear excerpts of several poems. Here is the full text for two of them, both written by Hamdi Mohamed. The first is written for her grandmother — “ayeeyo” in Somali — who lived for many years with Hamdi’s family in Boston, but has since returned to East Africa. The second is about water, and the fact that in Boston, people are quick to complain about the rain, even as Somalia endures years of drought.

For My Ayeeyo
by Hamdi Mohamed

Worn brown hands claps black prayer beads
A golden chest, a haven for dust
And memories
You whisper behind a veil
Wrapping proverbs like gifts
It is the festival of ‘Eid

I sat between your brown thighs
You twisted my thick hair
Into rows
To remind you of home, you say
You miss weaving baskets
For the harvest
The way the rain smelled like perfume
And clung to the skin like fresh honey
You say Hamdi, our skin and bones
Always know where they came from
Don’t forget you kin

Your eyes are pearls
Molten silver
Even the cataracts
Can’t subtract from you

At the airport
My hands crushed yours
I was the spoiled child
In every supermarket
Crying for something I couldn’t have

Still you didn’t scold me and
Shushed my mother
You were the strong oak tree
Under whose leaves I sought refuge in
It is winter now,
The leaves are almost gone
The rest are brown and worn
I wish they would stay

I feel heavy Ayeeyo
When we speak on the telephone
My memories of your hands are fading
Henna we used to wear black and red
Now gone
Make a prayer Ayeeyo,
With your black prayer beads,
God is closer to you than I

I am coming soon Ayeeyo
Listen for my skin and bones
They always know
Where they came from

Lifeblood
by Hamdi Mohamed

I watch as the raindrops glaze off
Rain clothes, rain boots stomp out the water
Collective indifference
No one listens
To the sounds of rebirth
As the rain makes a new earth
Flowers gather dew like diamonds
The hushed silence
Between the pitter patter of rain
This sound is sweeter than any music
The fluid movements bringing
Grass and tulips

Back home,
Trees wither and wisp away
Bones protruding
Shepherds wailing for the rain
I can’t complain of water
The taste of hunger is much sharper
When lives depend on the grass
When lives depend on the herd
It’s absurd
My people carry weak collars,
bony hands clutching
Blood soaked dollars

How much is water worth?
How much would you pay for wet dirt?
Oil rainbows on sidewalks
The sound of rain on your rooftop?
How much is life worth?
Can you gather your lifeblood in your hands?
Watch as the heartbeats devolve, deteriorate into dust
How much water will be brushed away?
Like it ain’t the fabric of our bodies
Like it ain’t the fuel of our cells
Like water ain’t worth a damn thing anymore

I pray for months of monsoons
For hailstorm of water droplets
Soaking into the earth
Soaking onto their faces
May god grace us
With rain

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Arts & Culture

Kenyan-Somali, black, Muslim and Canadian: new doc explores Canada’s hyphenated identities

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Short documentary ‘Hyphen-Nation’ by 22-year-old Torontonian puts five black women in conversation

A new documentary by a 22-year-old Toronto filmmaker is analyzing what is means to be an immigrant in Canada.

Directed and produced by Samah Ali, Hyphen-Nation features a 14-minute conversation between five women of colour that is inspired by her own cultural experience.

The women discuss how their cultural heritage influences their identities as Canadians and immigrants.

“The whole conversation is what’s your hyphen?” explained Ali, calling her debut film a “nuanced” discussion about what black Canadian identities look like.

“And that’s what opens it up to so many people to identify with because whether it’s themselves or their family members who have an immigration story, everybody typically has a hyphen.”

The women are asked if they identify with being black Canadians.

Ali explains this is both liberating and tragic. She identifies as a Kenyan-Somali woman, along with a Muslim woman and a black woman.

“I don’t know if I identify strongly as a Canadian, but definitely when I leave Canada I identify as a Canadian,” she said despite being born and raised in Toronto.

“The other parts of my identity, the ones that are more visible, the ones that I practice everyday are definitely the ones that are on the forefront of my mind. Compared to my Canadianness, it’s something that I’m not really aware of until I have my passport and I’m travelling to other countries.”
Sojin Chun, programmer for Regent Park Film Festival, says the short documentary captures the theme of the festival.

“We really want to show different narratives that you wouldn’t normally see through other means, through the mainstream media,” she said.

The three day event is free and showcases the work of women of colour which reflects Toronto’s east end neighbourhood.

“We really make sure we represent all the cultures that are present in Regent Park,” said Chun.

Ali explains this is why she wanted Hyphen-Nation to premiere at the film festival.

“I want this film to foster a greater community, not only in Canada, but also worldwide.”

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