Art, Conflict and the Somali Diaspora – Featuring Poet Nation

By in In the Press on January 24, 2012

Al Jazeera’s The Stream spoke to several people in the Somali community using art and culture as a platform to discuss serious issues in the Somali community including Poet Nation.

Art, conflict and the Somali Diaspora

January 24, 2012

The Stream speaks to members of the international Somali community about life as a diaspora and artistic forms of self expression.

During more than two decades of turmoil Somalia’s people have undertaken one of the largest migrations in human history. Millions of Somalis live in refugee camps or as immigrants abroad, but despite being displaced, the community has maintained a unique sense of culture, identity and affinity for their mother country.

Here are some highlights of the online conversation:
In 2003, photographer Abdi Roble started the Somali Documentary Project (SDP) to record the stories of a population in motion. Below, Roble explains the project’s mission.

Tariq Tarey, the SDP’s project manager, spoke with The Stream about the ongoing population movement. In the conversation, Tarey described the routes and extreme measures Somalis take to reach their new countries and how they adjust to their new homes.
Somalia activists argue there are few positive images of Somalis in the media and that they are often associated with extremism, poverty and criminal activity. Poet Shirwa Hersi, who was born in the United States and served in the Marine Corps, expressed frustration with those misconceptions in his piece “Terrorism is not a Religion.”
In a phone interview, Hersi explained that Somalia is called the Land of the Poets and that poets have a culturally accepted place as a point of dialogue. Hersi said when he performs, it is as if he opens “a Pandora’s box of emotions that are hard to deal with.”
In his piece “Somalia is Dead,” Hersi discusses issues faced by the Somali American community, including the role of men and women, memories of hard times and loved ones left behind.

Salah Donyale, song writer, musical producer, and Chairman of Somali Public Radio, discussed how hip hop has made its way into Somali culture. Hip-hop songs that incorporate traditional Somali sounds help preserve tradition. For example, in his song, “Deeqa”, performed by Ahzaab Osman, the sound is distinctly Somali while the culture is uniquely hip hop.
The Stream also spoke with Kay (@clickkay), a Somali American rapper based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kay discussed leaving Somalia at a young age, his musical inspirations and what it means to be a Somali musician.
Check out Kay’s song “The Drought,” which he released to raise money for Horn of Africa relief efforts.
In late August and early September 2011, Abdi “Phenomenal” Farah, A Minneapolis-based poet and activist, visited Somali refugees in Kenya. In a telephone interview, Abdi said that the people he met on the ground, refugees of drought and conflict, wanted to know people from the international community cared.
Waayaha Cusub, which translates roughly to “The New Dawn” or “The New Era”, is a Nairobi-based pop group. The 11-member band makes music that does not shy away from controversial topics like HIV/AIDS, piracy and al Shabaab fighters. Three years ago, Shiine Ali, a rapper in the group, was shot by intruders in his Kenyan home.  A female member was slashed in the face. No matter the risk, Waayaha Cusub group continues to produce music like “Yaabka al Shabaab” – a song urging young Somalis not to join al Shabaab.
Abdi Phenomenal and Matt Erickson, managing partner of Poet Nation, discussed how the arts are a means to bring people together. Although the Somali community is separated by thousands of miles, the common culture, religion, language and place of origin provide solidarity. Abdi said that no matter where he is in the world, he will always think of Somalia as home.
In “City of Struggles,” Abdi describes the pain caused to his community by decades of war, and he calls for Somalis worldwide to embrace peace.

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