It was the concert of the year for Somali music fans in Minnesota: Suldaan Seeraar headlining the Target Center in his first North American show. The Somali artist, who was born in Ethiopia and now lives in the United States, enjoys a massive international following, with tens of millions of YouTube plays for his hit songs like “Xamar Bila,” “Axdi Dhowra,” and “275.”
The timing was right. Thousands of Somalis gathered in Minnesota at the beginning of July, coming from across the state and around the world for a slate of events surrounding Somalia’s Independence Day. Suldaan’s highly anticipated July 2 concert drew over 5,000 attendees: a huge turnout and boost for the Somali cultural scene in Minnesota.
Friends Ridwan, 20, and Aisha, 21, attended the show with a handful of others. On their way to the concert, they told Sahan Journal that they were excited to see Suldaan visiting their home city.
“I’m very proud of how far we’ve come. I’ve never seen a Somali person come to shut down the Target Center and I’m so proud of Suldaan and everything he’s done,” Aisha said.
“I’m excited to see Suldaan,” Ridwan added. “He’s for the youth. We’re out here trying to listen.”
At the same time, complaints about the concert circulated before, during, and after the Target Center show: The venue was too big and undersold; Suldaan could have used more supporting artists and acts; the schedule left some ticket holders stuck outside the venue.
The concert also created a social media flurry for a totally unexpected reason: Crowds booed Representative Ilhan Omar when she took the stage to congratulate Suldaan.
Sahan Journal spoke to the concert’s promoters and organizers, representatives from the venue, and frustrated local musicians, and asked about the show’s successes and disappointments.
In a phone call a week after the show, Sahan also interviewed Suldaan himself about the concert, his ties to Minneapolis—and, alas, the incident with Representative Omar.
At the end of that conversation, Suldaan revealed some exciting news for his fans: He says he’s booked to play another concert in Minneapolis at the end of the month. (More on that, below.)
A star on YouTube, Suldaan books his first North American show
While growing up in Jigjiga, the capital city of the Somali Region in Ethiopia, Suldaan, 30, discovered his talent for singing. His career took off in 2014; by 2018, he’d started touring regionally and performed in Somalia and Kenya.
From there, Suldaan has gone on to tour countries like Malaysia and Turkey, giving him international exposure. Although Suldaan has played on multi-act bills in front of 100,000 fans in Kenya and Ethiopia, the Minneapolis show was the largest one that he’s headlined and his first show in North America.
“Anytime that I’m putting on a concert, I try to make the next one better than the last and put some time in,” Suldaan told Sahan Journal. “We were expecting a good turnout because we got the planning together early and a lot of people made it out.”
Looking back at his career progression, Suldaan added, “Stockholm was the biggest concert, then London took that title, then it was Minneapolis that took that title.”
Suldaan may have been the draw for the Target Center show. But a Kenyan-born artist and promoter was instrumental in booking and promoting the event.
DJ Challo runs Tantrum, a downtown Minneapolis nightclub that spins African dance music. He met Suldaan in Europe, in 2020, and opened the conversation about booking a Midwestern show. Challo recalls that he sat down with the Target Center team in early 2022 to pitch them on the event.
“We did the discovery meeting with them so they could understand who we’re bringing, who the exhibitions are, the demographic, and stuff like that,” Challo said.
“I’ve been in events for a long time and one thing I’ve always wanted to do is shine a light on African artists. I wanted to put Suldaan on a platform and bring him towards the mainstream.”
Somali Independence Week promised to attract out-of-town visitors to parades, community events, and family gatherings.
Challo partnered with Somali Week organizers and MJ Mohammed, the owner of Urban Skillet, in Uptown, to put together the show in just four months.
Suldaan fans stranded outside the concert
It’s possible that the shortened time frame contributed to logistical problems that played out inside and outside the venue.
Event organizers suggest that over 5,000 people bought tickets for the event—a huge turnout for the Somali music scene. The capacity at the Target Center, however, is almost 20,000. When Suldaan took the stage around 9:30 for his first set, the massive venue remained fairly empty.
Not helping matters here were the challenges many ticket holders experienced getting into the venue. Some fans arrived late and missed the 11 p.m. end time; others had trouble redeeming their digital tickets through mobile apps.
Although sympathizing with their complaints, Challo stated that the event was clearly advertised to end at 11 p.m. “I’m getting backlash, the artist is getting backlash. But on the flip end, there are people who didn’t get tickets but were there,” Challo said.
The assistant general manager of the Target Center, Amy Rahja, recognized some of those challenges in an email to Sahan Journal.
“Target Center was honored to host Suldaan Seeraar’s first performance in North America. Target Center makes every effort to communicate with ticket holders in advance of each show. A Know Before You Go is emailed to every digital ticket purchaser that outlines the steps for accessing tickets and we post the same details on our social media platforms and website.”
Ilhan Omar encounters an unfriendly crowd
Outside of confusion around the ticketing, the most widely reported part of the show occurred during the latter half of the concert. That’s when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar took the stage with her husband, Tim Mynett. Abdirahman Kahin, CEO of the popular restaurant mini-chain, Afro Deli, also stepped into the spotlight for the award handoff.
The crowd met the congresswoman with a mix of boos and cheers. After a few efforts to address the crowd about the award being presented, Omar handed off the award to Suldaan and exited the stage.
A week later, Suldaan didn’t dwell on the awkward scene. “I want to thank my sister Ilhan and others, including Kahin, for presenting the award,” Suldaan said. “There’s a Somali proverb that says you can’t control a mouth that’s not yours. But I deeply regret that some people chose to do that. They meant to present me with the award, and I want to thank her for it.”
Two music sets, big hits, a hard stop at 11 p.m.
Suldaan donned a light blue denim outfit as he first took the stage. DJ Cash and DJ Naciim warmed up the crowd. Then, greeted by cheers and a sea of cellphone lights, Suldaan ran across the stage.
Suldaan played some of his popular hits like “Yarta Raadiya” and “Ahato Noo Ahatay” and pointed to different sections of the audience, where fans sang along, word for word.
After a few more songs, Suldaan left the stage for a break that roughly lasted a half hour. During the break, DJ Flavio and Challo took the stage to spin their turntables and keep the crowd engaged.
Ultimately, Suldaan returned to the stage around 10:30 pm, now wearing a red jacket and dark jeans. This set lasted just a half hour and included favorite hits such as “Xamar Bila” and “275.”
Suldaan lowered his mic during his second performance to give the crowd a chance to belt out the lyrics. The singer even pointed the mic to a young woman in the crowd whose voice had gone hoarse from a night of singing, but still enthusiastically finished the lyrics with Suldaan.
At 11 p.m., the show ended just as quickly as it had started: The venue lights turned on and the crowd dispersed. Suldaan then exited the stage without a farewell.
But many Suldaan fans were satisfied to have seen the star on stage. Ahlam (@ahglam_ on Instagram) had helped promote the event in the weeks leading up to the show.
Afterward, *she reflected, “It was a great way to bring our community together. We’ve had a few rough summers and a few rough years. It was great to see everyone in a good light and there were no issues and no incidents.”
A big stage for Somali music—but not for some local acts
Some Somali musicians on the local scene say the Target Center show represents a missed opportunity.
“Everybody that I talked to said that the concert could have been better,” said DJ Yasmeenah, a Twin Cities-based artist and member of the Acme Collective. “I even know people who traveled for this concert and they said it just felt all over the place,” Yasmeenah said.
In June, Yasmeenah DJ-ed the Minneapolis stop of the national AFROPUNK music festival. And she recalls that she was an early collaborator on Suldaan’s Minneapolis concert planning.
Yasmeenah met with Challo and his partners in May at his nightclub, Tantrum, to discuss how the show would come together. She recalled speaking up at that meeting: “This is going to be a very culturally and creatively impactful event for the Somali community so the investment in it should be taken seriously.”
Yasmeenah says the promoters didn’t pay enough attention to the production. During the planning, she stated that local artists should be part of the show and get paid for their contributions. She also suggested that Suldaan be given a rehearsal space, dancers, and side acts to boost the production. The promoters ignored or shot down these ideas, Yasmeenah said.
“It’s always men like this who have access to money and popularity, who get to put on these events like this for our community and not give it what it deserves,” Yasmeenah said. “Moving forward I would like to see more Somali women in charge of these kinds of things—period point-blank.”
After feeling left out of the process and unsure of her compensation, Yasmeenah backed out.
Challo maintains that he worked to create an inclusive planning process for the Target Center show, pulling in many community members and artists. But not many kept the communication going, he said.
“We wanted the experience to be a good experience so we went above and beyond to get good production and a good venue. And what could be better than the Target Center?” Challo said.
East African musicians face rejection from local music venues
Headlining the Target Center is a milestone for a Somali musician. Challo suggests that he tried to book a popular midsize venue, but faced rejection from the owner and its national promotion company.
“The challenge is that venue owners overlook these types of artists because when they look them up, they don’t see anything,” Challo said. In other words, national promoters want to see that an African artist has filled other venues before agreeing to book them. “Now that we’ve done it, and we’ve done some deeper numbers, the next time we go to the [venue] they might listen,” he said.
Saturday’s concert served as a sort of proof of concept that Somali artists can succeed live—beyond playlists and streaming platforms.
Encouraged by the turnout to his show, Suldaan shared a word of encouragement with other Somali artists hoping to one day perform at a venue like the Target Center.
“Anyone can get to this point, but everyone needs to have the will and believe that they can do anything,” Suldaan said. “If you say to yourself, ‘I can’t do this,’ it won’t work out. No one’s got a head start on this. We all took 9 months to be born.”
Suldaan opens up to Sahan Journal
Sahan Journal first approached Suldaan’s management a month before the show, hoping to set up an interview. A week after the Target Center concert, Suldaan’s schedule finally opened up and he fielded a phone call at the Airbnb, in Bloomington, where he’s been staying while he’s in the Twin Cities.
Suldaan arrived in the United States on May 16, 2022, to be with his wife, Amun Abdi, in Columbus, Ohio. The two married in May of 2018 and have a two-year-old son together. He sounded distracted on the phone, jumped off the call for a moment, and then called back from what seemed to be a quieter room.
Speaking in Somali, Suldaan expressed his gratitude to the thousands of attendees who made it to the show and explained that there’s a sense of family with Somalis around the world.
“The concert went down beautifully and I want to thank everyone who turned out,” Suldaan said. “To the beautiful audience who attended the concert, I want to thank you as well.”
Suldaan revealed that he’s staying in the Cities for a couple of weeks. Both Suldaan and his wife have family in the Twin Cities, and they spent the recent Eid holiday together. He has another reason for sticking around, too: He wants another crack at performing for his many, many fans in Minnesota.
Amun says her husband plans to perform on July 30 at another large venue in Minneapolis. At press time, representatives of the venue tell Sahan Journal that negotiations for the booking are ongoing. Look for an announcement soon.
Correction: This piece has been changed to reflect the correct pronoun for Ahlam, a Suldaan fan and digital creator.