May 30, 2012
Al-Shabaab's exit from Mogadishu and the improved security situation in the Somali capital have encouraged many Somali artists to return home. Their return reverses a migration trend that lasted many years, during which theatres and cinemas in the city closed their doors, sidelining artistic advancement.
Artist and writer Yusuf Mohamed Mumin told Sabahi that Somalia is witnessing a rebirth of art and freedom. Somali artists have new freedoms that allow them to voice observations and speak out. Artists can help correct the country's new trajectory, Mumin said, even though art will not be spared threats from extremists.
Mumin said the authentic musical tradition of Somali music is making a comeback as the violence and instability that caused the deaths of around 200 artists is ending.
Music is still banned in areas under the control of the al-Qaeda-allied militant group al-Shabaab. They attack music shops in southern and central cities, while musicians are harassed due to their clothing and hairstyles.
Singer Amina Maaow enthralled the audience with her sweet voice at last week's opening of the social reconciliation program organised by the Benadir administration, funded by the US Agency for International Development's (USAID) Transition Initiatives for Stabilisation programme. Maaow sang some of her best songs from an album with a patriotic and romantic style.
"We are not afraid of [threatening] letters and text messages via cell phones or bombs thrown at concerts by rebels that reject reconciliation and peace. We will serve our country despite all difficulties so we can take part in ending security and political problems and to secure a prosperous life for all," Maaow told Sabahi.
She said the art industry in Somalia was in a state of stagnation for the past 21 years due to the difficult security conditions and civil war, which forced most Somali artists to immigrate abroad, especially to Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Britain, Denmark, the United States and Canada.
Artist Mohamud Gooh Qarboosh, who resides in Nairobi with his singer wife, Muslimo Qaasim Hilowle, said he and his wife have decided to return to Somalia to send a message to the people and to volunteer in a reconstruction programme improving government institutions and civil services, especially streets, hospitals, schools and universities.
Qarboosh told Sabahi that his desire to serve his country brings him great spiritual and physical fulfilment.
"Somali music is able to surpass all barriers that hinder the peace and unity process," he said. "The language that an artist uses reaches each household without any barriers. We have to intensify our awareness campaigns targeting Somalis living abroad so they can lend a hand to their country and bring calm, rebuild and populate it."
Lawmaker Abdi Abdulle Said "Jinni Boqor" said that Somali artists should to return to Mogadishu to raise societal awareness about the importance of peace and stability, because peace allows people to co-exist, unite and advance.
Many artists are expected to return to Mogadishu in the coming two months, including Mustafa Sheikh Elmi, Abdikadir Jubba, Hassan Adan Samatar, Maryan Mursal Isse, Mohamed Hassan Hussein Lafoole, Khadra Omar Dhuule, Farhiya Ahmed Adawe Fiska and Daa'uud Ali Mashaf.
The renowned singer Farhiya Fiska is expected to perform on stage at Mogadishu's National Theatre for the first time after becoming famous among Somalis in the diaspora, declaring herself a travelling ambassador for Somali art.
The artist Abdi Shire Jama also returned to Mogadishu this week from London after a 24-year absence. "I left Somalia for Britain flying with Somali Airlines in 1988, two years before the military government was overthrown. Many reasons were behind my return to my native country, including taking part in its development and its stability," he told reporters as he arrived at the Mogadishu airport.
Jama described his longing for his country with a few short words as he was playing the lute: "The sun is my sun and Somalia is my home and my blood."
Despite visible security improvements, a young female suicide bomber blew herself up in April in Mogadishu at an event attended by Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and other ministers at the National Theatre commemorating the first anniversary of the launch of Somalia's national television station. The blast killed at least 10 people, including Somali Olympic Committee president Adan Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur, as well as the parliamentarian Mowlid Ma'ane Mahmoud.
Comedian Abdi Muudey Marshaale told Sabahi that he is thinking of producing a comedy programme to alleviate the heart-wrenching pain suffered by Somalis and to lift them away from the perils of war, forgetting past feelings of hatred, animosity and depression.
Marshaale has acted in short and feature-length films that have aired on local channels. Known for his comedic roles and considered one of Somali cinema's greats, his performances have enriched local comedy theatre.
He said his new programme would help young people forget their daily suffering and rise above psychological woes that are a result of fighting.
"We will make art the weapon of choice that unites Somalis because our people are treading a new path filled with hope that leads towards justice, freedom and dignity," Marshaale said. "[We want] to move forward with efforts to overcome outstanding issues in security and reach the other side, where a positively charged atmosphere will help support art and entertainment. This will convey a message of fraternity, compassion and love, renouncing a spirit of discord and hatred while working to overcome obstacles."
Playwright and Director of Somalia's National Theatre Abdi Dhuh Yusuf called on countries and organisations interested in the affairs of Somalia to step up and support the re-establishment of the National Somali Institute of Music, which was destroyed in the civil war.
He said this step will help realise the dream for change and train a new, professional technical workforce to manufacture traditional musical instruments and equipment, as well as being well versed in computer technology and sound engineering. He said music and music education are vital for the survival of art.
"Somali art has lagged considerably due to the security situation, but we are trying to catch up with innovation by working non-stop to once again produce Somali work in our homeland," Yusuf told Sabahi. "We are now, however, facing a huge problem, which is a shortage of local technical personnel who are proficient in working with the latest technology. This forces us to seek assistance from foreign expertise until we are capable of developing our skills."
It is important to train music teachers and technicians on the maintenance of musical instruments and preparation of curricula, and to hold workshops to assist artists taking part in regional and international festivals and competitions, he said.
Salim Milaq Abshirow, a music fan who lives in Mogadishu, said patriotic songs will touch most Somalis and remind them of the value of peace and co-existence.
"I am a music lover and I suggest that artists rent vehicles that have sound amplifiers attached to them and [drive through the city], playing old and new patriotic songs so that they fall on the ears of those rejecting peace and reach extremists hiding inside houses, especially in residential areas that were liberated weeks ago by the Somali army supported by the African peacekeeping mission."
"This will bring down morale among al-Shabaab militants and their supporters and will encourage the joint forces that are hunting down radicals in the outskirts of Afgoye in the Lower Shabelle province," he told Sabahi.
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