by Ugaaso A. Boocow - Our crib was a very traditional Somali household. These days, I’m not sure how you’d define that, because most Somali folks I know have hyphenated identities, but when I was growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s in Toronto, my grandmother, who raised me and gracefully stood in for my young divorced parents, had in her house all the artifacts and ointments, sounds and smells of a Somali immigrant’s crib.
Our house phone seemed to ring forever in a long-distance tone heralding emergencies of family members in Xamar; Persian carpets were stretched across the living-room floor strewed with embroidered Turkish divans and silk tasseled bolsters; a florid velour prayer rug awaited the pious in a corner facing East; framed verses of Quran were hoisted on the walls; an orange air-freshener called al-Rehab Bakhoor stood next to a silver electric incense burner atop our olivewood television armoire emitting twirling wisps of uunsi; and in the kitchen—Lord have mercy!—boiling pots and simmering saucepans were always on all four burners, going at the same time, cooking canjeero, dalac-bilaash, bariis, and hilib ari, the aroma of burnt cumin and coriander drifting out into the apartment’s hallway and staying like stale cigarette smoke in the fabric of my clothes for ages.
Me and my grandmother were like Nastenka and her grandmother in Dostoevsky’s White Nights, and even though my grandmother wasn’t strict with me, she’d have bouts of fiercely hollering out my name as if she was in the midst of a natural catastrophe to simply reassure herself of my presence in the house, my exact physical location in the house, and also to signal when she needed me to get her something from somewhere in the house, and at times, I swear to God, this something would, in fact, be nearer to her than to me. And although the idiosyncrasies of my grandmother’s generation are slowly receding, we still have one fundamental thing in common: the gabayo and qaraami songs unspooling from old cassettes in a radio on our granite kitchen counter from my childhood.
I recently completed reading the memoirs of my favourite living writer—Gabriel García Márquez’s Living to Tell the Tale. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 from the Swedish Academy to a backdrop of Béla Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and he wrote, “I would have preferred one of Francisco el Hombre’s spontaneous romanzas from the fiestas of my childhood.”
A year ago today, my favourite singer, Kinsi Xaaji Aadan, died in Hargeysa, Somaliland. Kinsi’s music was the backdrop of my childhood, and if I ever win any major award, I’d second Mr. Márquez’s motion, and request one of Kinsi’s qaraami songs.
Kinsi Xaaji Aadan Aw Xuseen began her musical aspirations in the city of Burco, her hometown, in 1973. Her voice seemed to come from the spine, someplace deep and powerful, and at times it was hoarse and almost masculine like Toni Braxton’s, and within a few short years of success in Burco, she relocated to Xamar, and joined a troupe called Kooxdii Onkod. The head of Onkod was the multi-talented poet Axmed Saleebaan Bidde, and obviously he penned most of her eminent songs: “Xareedda Laguma Wacnaado,” “Wajiyaal is Xasuusta is xusuusta,” “Soo Noqo,” “Caashaqa Ma Baran Weli.”
Her first song was written by the patriot of a poet, Cabdi Bashiir Indhabuur, and was a duet with the late molasses-voiced singer, Siciid Mire Xaydar of Kooxdii Heegan, “Dhabta Miyaan Ku Saaraa.” It must be one of the most beautiful, stunning love songs out there.
But there is one song out there in her sea of gorgeous songs written by the poet Aadan Tarabi Jaamac called “Yuuflaha Qabow.” The peculiarity of this song, and it’s probably because I used to listen to it when I was a child, is I really slip into it: I feel it, and it feels as if I’ve lived in this place called Yuuflaha Qabow and I’m looking back with longing. I guess that’s what a good song is supposed to do: it takes you away!
Through her iconic music, Kinsi Xaaji Aadan has touched millions of lives and has shaped the Somali musical landscape. The renditions are innumerable, and before she died she gave an interview to Cali Xaraare of VOA Somali, stating in Somali, “Renditions are for competitions, and after auditions an artist needs to find their own style.” I think an era of fierce creativity, stage presence, and genuine style died when she died.
Ugaaso A. Boocow | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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