As we come up on July 1, Somali Independence Day, Somalis around the world will celebrate their flag and nation. But it’s the culture, people, and land that keep us all tied together. I was born in the U.S. in the early 1990s, a time when humanitarian and political crises gripped Somalia back home. For those of us in the diaspora, this embedded a consciousness of our Somali identity from a young age.
My childhood experiences with Soomaalinimo involved community connections, activism, and pride in being Somali. In English, Soomaalinimo roughly translates as an innate pride in community and self—a sense of being God’s chosen child. As a practical manner, we embraced our culture through activities like attending riwaayads (plays) in places like Boston, Toronto, and Hartford; attending community picnics; and of course, listening to Somali music.
Somalis in Minnesota can do all these things—and more!—during Somali Week taking place from July 2nd to July 17th. The organizers have a diverse range of activities bringing together art, history and culture. This festival has run in Minneapolis for eight years and has brought together over 40,000 people to enjoy Soomaalinimo at its finest. This festival originally started as a community festival on Lake Street, and will start off this year’s celebration with one on Saturday, July 2nd.
Those in the city have the pleasure of seeing the legendary Suldaan Seeraar performing at the Target Center!! This year’s festival will include events such as “Xasuuso (Remember): 1960”, (the year Somalia gained independence) taking place on July 6th and “Celebrating Somali Women” on July 7th. Take a look at the full agenda so you don’t miss any part of this year’s Somali Week celebrations in MInneapolis!
As a child of the diaspora who has spent a long time understanding and promoting our narratives, culture, and history, I also wanted to put together a list for how Somalis–in Minnesota and across the globe–can learn more about our culture, traditions, and current socio-cultural trends. I’m so excited to share some resources such as books, movies, and music that have strongly informed my understanding of Somali identity and culture!
If you don’t have the chance to join some community celebration, read below on ways you can celebrate Soomaalinimo at home, all year round.
Brief history lesson
Before we get into the celebrations, it’s important to have some historical context. I am personally guided by the ideology of Sankofa: You have to know where you have been to know where you are going. In this case for those who are not familiar with the significance of Somali Independence Day, read on for the entry-level course.
Somalia’s independence on July 1, 1960, marks the union of two colonial territories: British Somaliland (which actually gained independence five days earlier, on June 26) and Italian Somaliland (the land along the entire vertical coast).
The aim and the dream of our forefathers was to bring all five of the Somali territories together so that people who shared the same culture, language and religion could be unified under one flag as free people. The white star on Somalia’s flag has five points to reflect the five territories: British Somaliland, Djibouti, Eastern Ethiopia, Northern Frontier District in Kenya, and Italian Somaliland.
While political unity did not happen for all five territories, we are unified as a people through culture, language, and land. It is important to remember we are all unique but share similarities. The pride Somalis felt on July 1, 1960, is something that elders might still remember. Somalis sang “Kaana Siib, Kanna Saar”—(Take down that flag, and put up this one) — as the British flag was lowered and the Somali blue flag waived against the sky.
If you see any elders, ask them about independence day celebrations back home and if they remember the national anthem. You might walk away with a far deeper and more interesting history lesson! For Somali Independence Day though, I hope you enjoy some Somali food, enjoy being in community with your neighbors and dance along to some Somali music!
A soundtrack to Somali pride
It was Somali music from the 1970s and 1980s that first introduced me to a strong current of Soomaalinimo. These classic songs, by artists such as Sahra Ahmed, Abdulqadir Jubba, Hibo Nuura, and Muuse Ismaaciil Qalinle explored gender relations, migration, modernization, and traditionalism. All the while, they also expressed a deep appreciation and love for the land and country.
Being that they came from a time when Somali nationalism was at an all-time high, most of these songs feel like you are being transported across the country, offering a snapshot of the beauty of each city and town.
Listening to them now, you can still feel that pride in your bones. The diversity of views and musical expression evoke a Somali society rooted in dialogue and acceptance. This music also gives me a glimpse of how my parents and their generation understand themselves and who they are.
That sense of connection continues to this day, from Minneapolis to Toronto to Mogadishu to London. Wherever I travel, I cannot pass an elder without some type of exchange where they try to figure out how they might know me or whom I came from.
This love for community, culture, and identity is how I understood Soomaalinimo growing up. Despite how American I thought I was, I was always identified as my father’s daughter or my grandpa’s offspring. Meanwhile, new family members and new arrivals brought remnants of Somalia to their newly adopted homes. In this way, my sense of Soomaalinimo constantly refreshed itself without me even realizing it.
As an adult, having the ability to go back home and see cities and places I had only heard about my whole life has added richness to my understanding of Soomaalinimo. I saw Amoud University’s campus in the town of Borama, where my dad completed his elementary school when it was only a boarding school. (The boarding school has since closed down and its now one of the first universities in the North.) And I rode my first bajaj, or rickshaw, around the city.
Hargeysa, the city known for its historical ties to music, was my first introduction to Somali land, family, and culture. It is where I met my mom’s siblings and my grandmother for the first time, and drank the sweetest smoky tea by the side of the road. In Hargeisa, qaraami (traditional Somali) music and contemporary Somali music performances were the highlights of my time there.
I went to the gorgeous Liido Beach, in Mogadishu and spent a long spell by the ocean, trying to imprint the moment in my memory forever. My mom used to tell me about shopping in Suuqa Xamar Weyne (old-town Mogadishu market) and I walked around those same streets, imagining my mom as a teenager walking joyfully in her homeland. Each city and town has a specific association for me and many I share on my bi-weekly podcast, “Isirka.”
Alongside my own experiences, I still hold on to parts of what my parent’s generation showed me. I love the social ritual of shaah and sheeko, and truly believe that it is still a relationship builder like nothing else. Also, shout-out to the diaspora keeping caano powder alive, so that the tea tastes the same no matter where you are across the world. I love how bright our diracs and baatis are (In my head, I’m permanently walking around like this living beachside); and I love to see the pride men have when wearing macawis and go’ shaal ah.
Soomaalinimo lives in our mother’s henna-stained hands, with the dark tips and circles on their palm, against the gold dahab that older aunties still don despite their age. My hooyo doesn’t wear baatis that much anymore, but I still like to tie mine in the front, the same way she would when she was getting ready to clean the house. The mismatch of colors and patterns reinforces the sense that we were meant to always stand out in dress and personality.
I hope you’ll find a connection to our culture–and your place in it—through the playlists and suggestions, below. Like the musician RO X said below, “Dhaqankaaga Ku Faan”: Boast about your culture/who you are). A motto for life.
Waayo Waayo – Sharma Boy & K’naan: This song came about after Sharma Boy, a young rapper from Mogadishu, flexed on his song “I am King” saying he was going to take K’naan’s spot as the hottest Somali artist. K’naan came back from hiatus to put together this song. “Waayo Waayo” means the golden age, and in this song two Somalis who grew up in the post-civil war era emulate some of the pride we’ve seen from a time when Somali artists were celebrated and appreciated.
This multi-generational Somali celebration brings together diaspora and homeland, Somali and English with some artistic creativity on top. In this video, K’naan wears The Daily Paper’s Somalia sweater, in honor of one of the Somali co-founders, Hussein (Huzane). I love the all around brotherhood and pride!
Harimaadee – RO X & Sagalina: RO X (Roble) is a rapper who is based in Switzerland. In this song he shows us how someone young in the diaspora holds on to their roots. He pulled this song from a Somali tradition in the Djibouti, Somaliland, and Ogaden areas, but added his own touch to it.
Sagalina’s melodic voice contrasts his jagged voice and the two compliment each other perfectly. He uses this song as a way to celebrate and boast about who we are as a people, but also encourages us to level up in how we understand ourselves and the community. I appreciated the focus on women as cultural carriers and the innate respect and admiration women were given throughout the song. This song and visuals are so dope and he gave us a lot of one-liners to be proud of: ”Asalkaygi waa Qaali, Dadkayguna wa Gob,” or, “We are prideful people.” Dhaqankaga Ku Faan!!
Det Slår Mig Ibland- Cherrie: Cherrie (Sherihan) is a Somali-Swedish sensation that is carrying her people on her back. Although this song came out years ago, it’s a whole bop and oozes carefree Black girl vibes. We love to see it!
My Love- Suldaan Seeraar & Kiin Jaamac: Suldaan Seerar is the current king of Somali music and is taking over the soundwaves. In this song he is joined by Kiin Jamac, a London-based singer who is also everyone’s favorite. This duet, rooted in traditional Somali love, has a contemporary flair and edge to it. The beat is dope and it’s a very catchy song–are you singing along yet?. Minnesotans have the pleasure of seeing Suldaan live in Minneapolis on July 2nd at the Target Center. Don’t miss out!!
Shaadiyo Sharaf Mix: Shaadiyo Sharaf, based in Mogadishu, is one of my favorite contemporary singers. She always comes to the party with good vibes. In this particular song, she effortlessly flows between multiple classic Somali songs. Although this generation of artists sing a lot of songs that were made earlier, this is a unique way to do it. With shorter samples and an up-tempo, most of these slower love songs are now fun to jam to. I mean just look at the hype crowd behind her–everyone is jamming.
Maryan Mursal at Cedar, specifically, Lay Lay- Maryan Mursal: The legendary Maryan Mursal, a woman of many firsts, is singing here at The Cedar Riverside Cultural Center as a part of their Midnimo series. In this song, Maryan sings out for her country, spanning every city across the Somali region. The live performance and her magnetic personality shine as bright as her diraac. Before I ever went back home, I used to listen to this song and felt secondhand nostalgia. Now, I understand–home is always home, regardless of how good or bad it is.
Movies and documentaries
Limit to Submission: This documentary was produced in 1980 by the late Dr. Hussein M. Adam, the founding father and president of the Somali Studies International Association. Born to a Somali father in Arusha, Tanzania, Dr. Hussein was the first iteration of a Somali born in the diaspora grappling with questions around identity, culture, and belonging.
His resume stands for itself and he dedicated his life and scholarship to the Somali people, culture, and land. Enjoy this slice of his scholarship and check out his written work. A trailblazer and pioneer, Dr. Hussein’s legacy lives on to this day through the lives he touched and the work he produced.
Somalia: The Forgotten Story: I grew up in the shadows of Somalia’s negative political perception, and we have all been marked by that narrative to this day. In the beginning of this documentary an uncle said, “We are not known for the things we know about ourselves.” This piece produced by Al Jazeera offers Somalis a voice by sharing their stories with the world. It’s important to know what is out there to counter and add nuance to the narrative. Rooted in the motherland is also vital to have a glimpse of life there at a time when many did not think humanity thrived in the motherland.
Birth of the Somali Nation Documentary–Dhisida Qaranka Soomaaliyeed Dokumentari: This brief documentary has amazing footage from Somali life before the war. It probably was produced by the government at the time, but the contextualization and imagery of Somali historical moments such as the rural literacy campaign of 1972-75 are amazing to witness. Something that always strikes me about this era is that we saw all of society–men, women, and children–in any footage from that time.
Beenay Wa Ruun (Lies are Truth): If you tell the same lie long enough, it becomes fact. This play, which came out in the 1980s, is a hilarious but reflective insight into Somali life in the capital city during this time. The film deals with diaspora returnees from the Gulf and modernization and globalization when society was still so fragmented.
There are so many famous Somali singers and figures in this film: Ahmed Mooge, Sahra Ahmed, Abdulqadir Jubba, Amina Abdillahi (Hodan Abdirahman’s mom), Saalax Qaasim, Faynuus Sh. Daahir, Sanguub, etc. May God’s mercy be bestowed on those who have passed on. Everytime I watch this, I laugh at something new.
Dhalinyaro: This beautiful film is a rare glimpse into teenage life in Djibouti. Although based in the port city, it’s a beautiful coming-of-age story about three girls from different backgrounds navigating what their life will be after high school. It’s a teenage story but also a human story, and a great way to see and understand an aspect of Somali life that is not sensationalized.
It was also great to witness the cosmopolitan aspect of Djibouti. Any one of the characters could be someone you know, and the director did a great job of making sure the film was accessible to the community.
The Lost Art of Somalia: This short documentary shows the work and dedication of one man to preserve art pieces from Somalia. The narrator once owned Golol Gallery, a first-of-its-kind art gallery he opened in Mogadishu in 1987. This emphasis on contemporary art offers a glimpse into culture at that time from a painting perspective.
Since we don’t have much art from Somalia before the war, the work of this narrator is vital to showing a Somali nucleus in the diaspora. I really enjoyed the emphasis on using art as a way to encourage dialogue.
These texts below offer aspects of Somali history, society, and experiences that we don’t normally see. They are all in English, which increases accessibility for those curious to learn more!
The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed: This novel was the first text I read about Somali women written by a Somali woman. The weight of that is not lost on the reader’s experience. In this historical fiction, Nadifa takes us to Hargeisa in the 1980s as the political situation is deteriorating across the country. This book focuses on three women of different generations and backgrounds, and the ways their paths cross. It’s a beautiful novel that gives us a glimpse into life during a tense political time.
Maps by Nurrudin Farah: This story, the first in a trilogy, focuses on pan-Somalism, identity, and belonging. While I love discussing these topics amongst people I know, reading how socio-cultural expectations affect one’s life throughout history is a beautiful way to remember the nuance of identity, culture, and belonging.
The Cost of Dictatorship by Jama M. Ghalib: One of the longest-serving Somali statesmen, Ghalib writes about his tenure throughout the Barre government. A fascinating personal tale of a poignant time in Somali history.
The Poet and The Man: Mohamed I. X. Warsame (Hadraawi), published by Ponte Invisibile and The Poetry Center: This book translates the work of the great Somali poet, Hadraawi, into English. This book gives background on the socio-political climate of each poem and then includes the poem in English and Somali. Often, as an oral society, the background and reasoning behind things in Somali culture isn’t written.
This book gives readers an opportunity to understand what Hadraawi was experiencing and living through his poems. Poetry and free expression also led to his imprisonment, which makes this volume of work even more crucial to appreciate.
The Sea-Migrations/ Tahriib by Asha Lul Mohamed Yusuf available here: In a sea full of men there is Asha Lul, one of the lone female poets whose delivery and composition garners everyone’s attention. Asha Lul is a Somali living in exile in Britain. Although she immigrated in 1990, she is still marked by migration and disconnection as reflected in the book’s title.
This collection of poems is in Somali and English, and was written in conjunction with the British poet Clare Pollard. The collection was named the 2018 Poetry Book of the Year by the Sunday Times.
Africa’s First Democrats: Somalia’s Aden A. Osman and Abdirazak H. Hussein by Abdi Ismail Samatar: Abdi Ismail Samatar, a University of Minnesota professor, spent decades researching the lives of the Somali politicians Aden A. Osman and Abdirazak H. Hussein. The latter, Abdirazak, also lived in Minnesota at one point in his life. The dedication to sharing these men’s stories and their formative years shows readers how they chose to govern.
This is a must-read for anyone interested in gaining a different perspective of Somali political leadership and what the early days of independence were like. In the spirit of Somali Independence Day, take a look at this text.
Yaxye Yeebaash: A Hargeysa-based poet, doctor, language instructor and content producer. He runs a motivational series on YouTube, “Sirta Nolosha,” coined after Hadraawi’s poem, which highlights issues in society through dynamic storytelling.
He is a young man with an old soul, and is always encouraging youth not to run after instant gratification and societal forms of power, such as being a minister or finding validation from your tribe. He encourages youth to seek an existence that is valuable and meaningful to each individual. This emphasis sets Yaxye apart as a true positive social change agent. Follow him on Instagram @YaxyeYeebaash.
Abdirahman Fiili: A Mogadishu-based songwriter, poet, and communications professional. He is currently the director of marketing for the Somali National Theater, which had their first film screening in 30 years under his leadership. He has written songs that we all love, including the most recent sensation, “Yaarta Raadiya,” sung by Suldaan Seraar. He also worked with Jae Deen to publish his first full-length album in Somali, “Guest of Somalia.”
He also runs a YouTube series, “Akadamiyada Nafta,” which is a motivational series produced in Somali. He’s also the author of “Damal,” a book of poems. Follow him on instagram @beingfiili.
Anisa Hagi-Mohamed: A Minnesota-based teacher, linguist, graphic designer and an overall amazing human being. She has combined her love for language and graphic design rooted in culture to produce Kalsooni Cards, the first Somali and English affirmation cards. The emphasis on mental health and open and honest conversation fuels a lot of her activism.
Aziz Farah: A Toronto-based information technology project manager by day, Somali cultural teacher by night. He is the Somali teacher we all needed, but we’re too ashamed to seek. Aziz has combined his logical and creative side to produce infographics and other visual materials teaching the Somali language and cultural heritage.
With deep humility and consideration, Aziz brings aspects of Somali life–from nomadic culture to the diaspora–to his audience. The Somali language is so functional. For example, the word for your mom’s sister is different from the word for your dad’s sister. Using infographics, Aziz makes this a bit easier to follow and understand. Follow him on twitter @AzizFaarah.
CODKA UBAX: This Somali podcast led by Ismaaciil C. Ubax, a writer and cultural custodian based in Hargeysa, offers an opportunity to connect with language, culture, and storytelling. His podcast focuses on social issues, featuring community activists and poets (abwaans). This offers a bridge between the traditional and contemporary changemakers of our society.
As a writer and storyteller, his well-known series, “Waa Layga Guursaday” (My Beloved Married Off), allows bashful and private people an opportunity to share their stories of love and heartbreak. As the podcast’s host, Ismaaciil goes between the homeland and the diaspora and bridges the gap between both. You can also watch the podcast on YouTube!
Astaan TV: Astaan TV is a Somali-based media conglomerate that has instilled a sense of pride in Somalis everywhere. They are keeping the arts and cultural scene alive across the Somali territories by consistently producing musical performances. Music was a huge part of Somali society before the war, and it’s great to see it making a resurgence. I spend too much time watching Astaan music videos. The space promotes popular artists such as Dalmar Yare, Khadar Keyow, and Khalid Kaamil, who have all performed live shows in their studios.