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These lost and found Somali tapes are now nominated for a Grammy award

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It is an album that captures the melodious voices of prominent Somali singers like Hibo Nura, Nimo Jama, the Waberi troupe, and the Iftin Band, among others.

In it, they meditate on love, life, and a Somalia rising from the ashes of colonialism. The music, plaintive and treacle-like to the ear, is influenced by American funk and pop, features influences from Arab and Indian sounds, and instruments ranging from the short-neck lute oud, to the guitar and accordion.

And now, these songs, collated from lost tapes from the 1970s and collected into an album this year by the US-based Ostinato Records, has been nominated for a Grammy award.

Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa was produced and compiled by Vik Sohonie and Nicolas Sheikholeslami. Nominated in the Best Historical Album category, the 15-track mix tape features Somali classics that document the vibrant music era of Somalia before the civil war broke out in 1991. Sohonie first got the idea to preserve the singles after watching songs uploaded on YouTube by members of the Somali diaspora.
The project took him across the world, from Minnesota to Mogadishu, eventually landing him in the archives of the Red Sea Foundation in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

There, he found 10,000 tapes saved from the dictator Siad Barre’s blanket bombing of the city in 1988. One reason why Somali music wasn’t released worldwide or became commercially successful is that Barre had nationalized the art industry in general, with the government owning all the rights to songs and plays.

In an interview with Quartz in April, Sohonie said, besides preserving the past, he wanted to dispel the “single story” coming from war-torn countries like Somalia—or other Afrophone nations. His company has also released two compilations of music from Haiti (Tanbou Toujou Lou) and Cape Verde (Synthesize the Soul). “The stories coming from these places lacked so much perspective and history,” he said.

Over the last few years, crate-digging has become a big trend in Africa, with independent labels unearthing a treasure trove of African music and rescuing musicians and their work from obscurity.

These include Analog Africa, Sublime Frequencies, Sahel Sounds, and Awesome Tapes from Africa. But the trend has also proved controversial, with some saying that white ethnomusicologists’ search and compilation of these rare records is one more Western scramble for Africa.

Sohonie, who was born in India and grew up in Africa, Europe, and the United States, says the nomination was a “real testament” to the rich Somali music and culture. Somalis in the diaspora, he said, had written to him saying the album allowed them to reconnect with their parents and to “relive with them those memories of Mogadishu and Hargeisa.”

The Somali album was also his most successful of all three, selling several thousand copies.

“We knew the music was great,” Sohonie said. “It was just the matter of ‘Will the world like it? Will they relate to it?’ Our job was to present it in a way that people were able to access it, understand it, and consume it. I guess it’s mission accomplished on many levels.”

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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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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