The Current Rewind: Aan WadaMidnimayno Minnesota

The Current Rewind
You know great music when you hear it. But do you know where it came from? Host Andrea Swensson and the team bring you original reporting on Minnesota music, fording scenes and decades to put unsung stories on the map. (MPR Graphic)
Aan WadaMidnimayno Minnesota
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Ask most casual Minnesota music fans about the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis, and they'll probably tell you about the folk and blues hippie scene of the '60s and '70s. These days, the West Bank is home to a thriving Somali population, and several Somali-Minnesotans are famous throughout the diaspora for their own music and poetry. In this episode, we learn about music and community from our Somali neighbors.

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The Current Rewind is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Culture Heritage Fund.

Transcript of Episode 4 — Aan WadaMidnimayno Minnesota

[🎵"I Am Part 1/Welcome to Cedar Riverside" by Aar Maanta & Friends 🎵]

Abdirizak Bihi: Sometimes you will see 20 or 40 school buses lying in front of Cedar Cultural Center, or sometimes 10, will all these young people of all races and cultures coming to see a Somali legend, a Somali vocalist.

Andrea Swensson: The West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis, also known as Cedar-Riverside, has a complex history. Ask most casual music fans in Minnesota about the West Bank, and they'll probably tell you about the folk and blues hippie scene that sprung up in the '60s and '70s, led by legends like Spider John Koerner, Willie Murphy, and Paul Metsa.

In recent years, the West Bank has evolved to incorporate rock and punk at the now-defunct 400 Bar and Triple Rock Social Club, underground hip-hop at the Red Sea, and funk and reggae nights at the Nomad World Pub. The Cedar-Riverside area has also long been in flux, and the population has transitioned from Scandinavian and Eastern European immigrants to East African immigrants, primarily from Somalia, who now call the neighborhood home.

Andrea Swensson: Did you know Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the country? Despite this historic shift, the white culture that dominates Minnesota hasn't done a very good job of getting to know the music being made in our Somali community. This disconnect is even more jarring when you consider just how successful some of these stars have become.

[🎵"Winging It" by Lazerbeak 🎵]

Andrea Swensson: I'm Andrea Swensson, and this is The Current Rewind, the podcast putting music's unsung stories on the map. For this episode, we talked to some of the movers and shakers from the Cedar-Riverside community, to learn about the unique opportunities and challenges facing Somali artists in Minnesota. We also had the opportunity to speak with the U.K. artist Aar Maanta, who has close ties to Minnesota and shared his perspective as an international visitor.

Near the corner of Riverside Avenue and South 4th Street in the West Bank is the studio for KFAI, a volunteer-run, non-commercial radio station, founded in 1978, that features a broad mix of programming in several languages. Every Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. Central, a local Somali activist named Abdirizak Bihi hosts Somali Link Radio, an hour-long community affairs show. There are two other Somali shows on KFAI--Salah Barre's Somalida Maanta and the multi-hosted Somali Public Radio, both airing on Sundays--but Somali Link Radio is the only English-language Somali show.

Abdirizak Bihi: My radio show, the first day I started was February 3, 2017. And the reason that I started is, I do Somali cultural presentations for a lot of neighbors who don't know much about the community, so there's a lot of negativity out there. I decided to do this radio in English, and that would save me a lot of resources and time. But I learned it's the only English-speaking Somali radio in the whole country.

KFAI, for a long time they were interested to find a Somali program that speaks English. I wasn't aware of that. So one day I asked my friend, Al, who is the editor and owner and founder of McFarlane Media, such as Insight weekly newspaper. He's a kind of elder in the Somali community. So I asked him, "Could you help me get a show at KFAI? Because I'm trying to do something different." And he talks to Leah Honsky, who's the manager there. I sat down with them, and they told me, "You want to do Somali programming in English? It's like we've been looking for you."

Andrea Swensson: The show is one sliver of the vibrant Somali cultural scene in and around Cedar-Riverside. Mr. Bihi is so popular, and the community so tight-knit, that he says he likes Minnesota winters, because everyone's so bundled up that he can hurry through the neighborhood without stopping to say hi to everyone he passes.

Abdirizak Bihi: You know everybody. You know the elders. You know the young people, the mothers, the fathers, the children.

Andrea Swensson: But at the end of the day, he enjoys his reputation of being on the move.

Abdirizak Bihi: I remember one elder who was an immigrant at that time and needed services, was saying, "How can I get Bihi? How can I get hold of him?" Sometimes they need a ride to the public housing. Sometimes they need a ride to the hospital or maybe interpreter or some other service. So they say it's hard to find him. Then another elder says, "No, it's never hard for me to find him. I stand on one corner of Cedar-Riverside and then I run into him because he's always walking around."

The same thing with our elected officials who live around here. You run into city council Abdi Warsame all the time. You run into Ilhan Omar all the time. Mr. Noor — I run into him every day because he lives just up here.

Andrea Swensson: The Cedar-Riverside area has been home to immigrant communities ever since Minnesota became a state. After Native inhabitants were forced to sell off land to the U.S. government in the mid-1800s, European immigrants flooded into Cedar-Riverside.

By the late 1800s, the area was filled with nightlife. Dania Hall, which has since burned down, hosted Scandinavian-American performers for almost a century. The Swedish term "Att ga pa Cedar," which means Going to Cedar, or To walk on Cedar, became shorthand for "to get drunk."

More recently, Cedar-Riverside has become a center for Somali refugees. Siad Barre's Somali government underwent ugly contortions in the 1980s and committed genocide, killing tens of thousands of Issaq citizens. In 1991, the country broke out in civil war. Many Somalis fled their homeland, finding their way to refugee camps in Ethiopia before moving to countries like England, Canada, Sweden, and the United States. Because of its many voluntary agencies — like Lutheran Social Services — Minnesota became a common destination for refugees.

Abdirizak Bihi comes from Somalia's capital city, Mogadishu, and refers to Cedar-Riverside by a newer nickname: "Little Mogadishu." He's lived in the neighborhood for twenty-one years.

Abdirizak Bihi: I love it. I'm very, very proud of my neighborhood. We've got Somali businesses, East African restaurants, Asian restaurants, mainstream restaurants or coffee shops. We've got everything that a city needs, so we are a little small city. We've got three mosques, one church. We've got bars, that some of them are 100 years old.

Palmer's Bar and Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque is a mosque and a bar that are next to each other. We are the only spot like that. A lot of people don't know what Cedar-Riverside is, or some of them, they have a negative thing. But this is where I raise family, and this is where I spend most of my time working, and it's as safe as it could be. The only issues we have is that young kids from other neighborhoods do some bad stuff sometimes around here.

I'm glad that I have a huge amount of resources in terms of people, like partnering with working through Emerge, city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Mixed Blood Theatre, Cedar [Cultural] Center. It's all about relationships. Augsburg, KFAI. It's all about different components that support the vibrance of our community.

We are in West Bank, where even having a street sign is politics. So we are in the home of politics. The heart of politics. So we are a community that really votes. When we educate our community about certain politician or certain candidate or about certain issues, and the elders — everybody — agree, then they don't just vote. They make sure that the neighbors vote.

Andrea Swensson: In 2018, Minnesota's 5th district — which includes all of Minneapolis and some suburbs — overwhelmingly elected Ilhan Omar to the U.S. House of Representatives. She is the first Somali-American to serve in Congress, and many Somali people love to gush about her accomplishments.

Abdirizak Bihi: When I started the radio we had a different name. The first name was Somali Radio That Speaks Funny English. I remember Ilhan Omar saying, "This is perfect for me because I speak funny English." She's amazing.

Andrea Swensson: In addition to politics, Mr. Bihi invests lots of time in music. And he's not the only one.

Abdirizak Bihi: If I'm with five people, one is working on his record. It's common at the stoplight, someone will stop you and shove their CD at you and say, "Tell me what do you think of?" So music is a big part of the Somali culture.

It was and is still common for weddings to have musicians hired to play your wedding, and depends who that musician is. Here I found some weddings — they hire some Somali legends who are now Canadian, that they even pay for the ticket, for the hotel, for the fee to have him sing at their wedding.

Alana Horton: Artists often perform at weddings, and then there are shows, but they're not at music venues. It's sort of like a promoter will rent a hotel and there'll be just pretty much a Somali community event featuring a singer in those hotels.

Andrea Swensson: Alana Horton is the director of marketing and communications at the Cedar Cultural Center, a nonprofit music venue that sits just off the intersection of Cedar and Riverside Avenues, which has become a hub for both local and international music. Since 2014, the Cedar has put on Midnimo, a residency program for Somali artists.

Alana Horton: Midnimo is the Somali word for unity, and it's also the name of a program that the Cedar has been doing since 2014. The Cedar has always done what we might call "world music." We have a mission to promote intercultural appreciation and understanding through global music and dance. But until 2012 the Cedar had never been presenting or having Somali artists on our stage, despite having this mission and being part of a community that was so — it was a Somali community, and yet we weren't having those artists on our stage.

Midnimo as a program has a couple aims, and one of those is to bring some of these international Somali superstars to the Cedar, and then also use that as a way to build bridges between the Cedar and our neighborhood, between different generations of Somalis in the diaspora, also between a white Minnesotan community and the Somali community, and using music as that bridge to create unity, which is what the program is named for.

Since 2014 we have now presented 10 artists, which is huge. We haven't just presented artists — it's not like the artist flies in and does a show. One of the main things that's a part of Midnimo is doing residencies, which is where the artist comes in and is part of the community and is going to classrooms in particular. Midnimo was started as a program of the Cedar and Augsburg University. Since 2016 we've also been bringing those artists to outstate Minnesota, so to St. Cloud and Mankato. In St. Cloud, when we started, those finale performances were maybe drawing 100 people. The last finale concert we did with Aar Maanta in St. Cloud actually sold out.

Andrea Swensson: Live Somali music does have an audience in Minnesota. The Cedar can be configured as a seated venue, with a capacity of 450 people, or standing room only, which allows 625.

Abdirizak Bihi: We are so happy to have the collaboration and be part of Cedar [Cultural] Center, because that's where we bring our music back, and bringing our music back means we are establishing the roots for Somali-American kids — their roots that a lot of people don't know because a lot of young people, which is the majority of our community, don't know much about Somalia or Somali culture. They don't know much about their music. So to have a venue like that, it really gives them that your past is not only civil war or extremism and destruction, but your past was good for 5,000 years, and you have music as old as you.

Andrea Swensson: As beautiful as it is to see people piling into the Cedar to celebrate live music, not every artist's journey to Minnesota has been easy. Aar Maanta shares his story after the break.

[🎵"Winging It" by Lazerbeak 🎵]

Andrea Swensson: So far, we've heard from West Bank community members Abdirizak Bihi and Alana Horton. Now, we'll hear from a musician who has made the journey to Cedar-Riverside.

Aar Maanta: My name is Aar Maanta. I'm a Somali musician from the U.K. I am currently artist in residence of the Cedar Cultural Center. We've just released a children's album, and so I was the artist-in-residence from 2018 to 2019. It was very challenging times.

Andrea Swensson: Aar Maanta is one of the most recent Midnimo participants, but he was actually supposed to have come to Minnesota a lot earlier.

Aar Maanta: I was supposed to be here sometime back in October 2017, and then because of the visa issues it took about six months. I was the only one who was singled out. My band members are not all Somali. I'm the only Somali in the band — of the ones who came here with me. We have different backgrounds, but we all have European citizenships — we have a French guitarist, an Italian bass player, have South African/English keyboardist, and an Indian/Scottish drummer. We all went to the embassy.

Everything was approved, but then when we left the interview they sent an email and told me that they need to do more background check on me. They approved it after three months. But it was too late by that time to do the program.

I'm a law-abiding citizen. I don't have any skeletons in my closet. I don't have any hidden issues or anything like that. So why me as a Somali have to be treated like that?

Alana Horton: We have never successfully brought a Somali artist from the continent of Africa. All of the artists that we have applied for visas for have been artists who are already residing in and have citizenship in England or Canada. Even so, legislation like the Muslim ban has created an atmosphere where a visa is delayed due to additional administrative processing. That's what happened when we tried to bring Aar Maanta in 2017.

Andrea Swensson: Even before the Trump administration took office, Somali musicians could be hard to book. But over the last few years, things have grown far harder for Somali artists who want to play in the States.

Kara Lynum: My name is Kara Lynum. I'm an immigration attorney based here in St. Paul. I do family-based immigration, humanitarian immigration.

Andrea Swensson: Kara also hosts a great podcast called Immigration Nation. While researching this episode of The Current Rewind, we found it nearly impossible to understand Executive Order 13769, often referred to as the travel ban. So we decided to ask an expert.

Kara Lynum: I call it the Muslim ban because I think then-candidate Trump said a lot of things that make a lot of people believe it was against Muslims. He did add North Korea and Venezuela to the third iteration of the ban.

The ban started somewhat famously in January, 2017, the week after he was inaugurated he signed a straight ban. Then a couple months later Trump signed a second version of the ban because there were so many problems with the first one, and it got knocked down in court right away. It was still horrible and still wasn't legal, so by September 2017, then they did a third ban. That's the one that survives today.

The current countries are Somalia, Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Venezuela and North Korea. It's not all immigrants from all of those countries, it's certain categories from some of the countries, and all people from some of the countries. Somalia it's all, both non-immigrant and immigrant visas. In June 2018 the Supreme Court said it's constitutional. You gave us just enough reason to think this is not based solely on religion, therefore it survives. So to this day now in 2019 we still have this ban in place.

In practice what this does is it separates families. They're stuck overseas, or they're waiting for a very long time to reunite with their family. For students or people who want to visit, it creates this really lengthy application process. Now we know from the small amount of information that we have about the waivers of the ban, you're very unlikely to ever get a visa to come to the United States. You probably want to start thinking about, "Is there another country where I can visit or go to school?"

We know that for Somali nationals up until for the fiscal year 2018, only 195 applicants — of thousands — were granted a waiver. So of all banned countries — everyone that was banned — as of May 31, 2018, out of over 33,000 applications only 768 — their waivers had been "cleared", meaning the waivers had been approved. We don't know if that means that many visas were actually issued.

Andrea Swensson: Because of his British passport, Aar Maanta finally made it to Minnesota. In the summer of 2018, he worked on his children's album with local Somali students. He has returned twice, most recently this March, when he sat down with our producer, Cecilia Johnson, and talked about the deeper roots of Somali musical history.

Aar Maanta: Somalis were known to be the nation of poets before colonization, so before the 1800s and so on. This was historically documented, even, by a British explorer: I think his name was Richard Burton or something. He went in the early 1800s and he found that every three people he met, almost one was always a poet. With Somali songs, the message is the most important thing.

That particular socialist government, which existed in the late 1960s to the early 1990s, that government used to use music to convey their messages. Obviously some propaganda songs. When you write Somali songs, there are strict rules that have existed for a very long time. People who are into poetry will know something called alliteration, and also allegory.

Huhroon: Basically my grandma was a poet, and in my household my mom would always have Somali poetry.

Andrea Swensson: Huhroon is a nineteen-year-old musician, poet, and model from Minneapolis, and he's now based in New York City.

Huhroon: Also back then they didn't read or write, so it was all these messages and stories and traditions were only being carried on through oral history.

Andrea Swensson: Many Somalis who've set down roots in Minnesota tell similar tales. One of them is Twin Cities teacher and activist Zeinab Ahmed Omar, who emigrated from Mogadishu to Canada. In 2008, she moved to the U.S.

Zeinab Ahmed Omar: Before the civil war, Somali music was part of my life, especially my mother was a singer-songwriter. She was very much embedded into the music. I remember as a young child memorizing her lyrics and singing with her. So it was part of my life.

We grew up in a single parent household, so my mom was always the breadwinner in our family, even back home because my father was out of the country most of the time. He was a student. So my mom had to make it somehow. So she started a catering business. In the afternoon she would finish all catering — everything would be finished — either she would come pick it up, or they would drop it off.

So then she would have neighbors, they would come over for tea, and there was this guy. He would come, and he would sing. He had a guitar and he would record her, and that's how she started singing. Before she used to write, but that's how. One time he said, "Try it, I want to hear your voice!" She did it and he was impressed, and then ever since he started recording her. I think my mom, that's how she was able to give birth to seven children without losing her mind, because as we all know how crazy that can get.

I remember being around that, and when the civil war broke down, the music kind of stopped for a bit. Now it's returning, but it was a period where it stopped, because the country was in turmoil. There was not a lot of happiness that was going on. We were going through poverty. People were dying. So now that the country has cooled down and now that we have a government, it feels like it's returning — that music's back.

Andrea Swensson: For many people who fled the civil war, the path to a "better life" can be dangerous- — which some of Aar Maanta's music reflects.

[🎵"Deeqa" by Aar Maanta 🎵]

Aar Maanta: There are two songs that I'm really proud of. Both songs come from real life stories. And one particular song is called "Deeqa," which in English means "suffice." It's also one of the most popular female Somali names, and it was also the nickname of Somali Airlines.

That song was in response to the struggles of Somali people when they can't fly and they're always under suspicion just because they happen to be American citizens or European citizens. I did the video for that particular song in response to European immigrations — they used to interrogate me. I used to take notes of what they asked me, and then we ended up reenacting. When I did that video, I think it was nearly nine years ago. To this day I get people emailing me and telling me the significance of that song, and how a member of their family was able to relate to that song, and this is how they treated us all.

The other song is called "Tahriib," and it's been translated to "Dangerous Crossings."

[🎵"Tahriib" by Aar Maanta 🎵]

Aar Maanta: I sang this song in response to a family member of mine ended up in a detention center in Libya. He was a victim of human trafficking. A boat sank off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea. I think quite a lot of Africans died in that boat — it was nearly 500. So I released that song — an a cappella version — and it just talks about the specific struggles of these people. We did a video and it had thousands of shares within a day.

Eventually the United Nations reached [out] to me, and they've asked me if I wanted to become a high profile supporter or goodwill ambassador. And then they invited me to go to Egypt, where I met victims and survivors of human trafficking and also dangerous crossing. The UN decided to use my song as their theme campaign for anti-human trafficking, and also to warn the youth and anyone who is going to do secondary migration, just to warn them about the dangers and so-on. We recorded my song. That was in December of 2016. And we re-recorded my song in five different languages: Arabic, Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya, and we also did it in Somali, which was the original song.

Andrea Swensson: As you might be able to guess from "Tahriib"'s spread across the world, YouTube is a huge distribution platform for Somali music.

Alana Horton: One thing that I've been really inspired by in therms of the community, is it is really a flourishing musical ecosystem that exists outside the idea of labels and the ways music is dispersed and the ways artists are cared for by the community. It's totally a different model from what I've seen. The main place where people are finding and consuming it, much I would say Western music industry, is still YouTube.

Aar Maanta: Social media, especially YouTube, has its negatives, but it also has a lot of positives as well. Sharing your videos — not necessarily even music videos — sometimes even my visits — I used to put them on my YouTube channels when I went to the refugee camps so that people can see, regardless of where you are, you could see what you've been up to. It's very important.

Alana Horton: One of the cool things is that we had a lot of Somali media at that show, so BBC Somalia and Voice of America Somalia were both there and put out videos. So the reach on those videos has already been viewed like 100,000 times. It's reaching farther than just the people that were in the room, and I think that's an important thing to remember too. What we do here in Minnesota does have these ripple effects out much farther than this state or this country. It really does touch on a community that is global and connected through the Internet and through YouTube and through videos and devices — that it is a very close connection.

Andrea Swensson: Using the internet to connect Somalis around the world, Aar Maanta's generation has become a bridge between the poets of old and the young artists growing up in the diaspora. Sisters Siham and Iman Hashi, who perform as pop/R&B duo Faarrow, fled to Toronto with their family at ages four and five. In 2019, they performed at the Cedar and toured Minnesota via Midnimo. While visiting, FAARROW were backed by Minnesota funk and Afrofuturist band Astralblak, as they told The Current's Marla Khan-Schwartz.

Iman Hashi: We love working with them. It's only been a few days, but it's already coming together. We love our energy. I think it was so great that The Cedar and Midnimo brought us together because our energy is very in sync.

[🎵"I Don't Belong To You" by FAARROW 🎵]

Andrea Swensson: Faarrow are part of a second generation of Somali artists in North America who are embracing Western pop as a birthright, alongside traditional Somali music. In fact, they were the first Somali women to sign with a major U.S. label, Warner Bros.

Marla Khan-Schwartz: How did you guys feel about being the first Somali women signed to a US label?

Iman Hashi: We felt amazing and I remember we were allowed to go to Atlanta because that was the only place we had family. And things just happened very quickly. It's almost like the universe was carrying us there and we were able to secure a record deal very quickly.

Siham Hashi: The record label was like, "Okay, you are Somali refugees, you talk about it, but your music is pop. We don't get it."

This trip we really got to really be in the Somali community and see how tight-knit everybody is. We're from Toronto, and there are also a lot of Somali people there, but it's different. All the amazing businesses that are started here in Minnesota, and all of the programs and innitiatives.

Iman Hashi: We went to a buraanbur class. Buraanbur is basically traditional ceremonial drumming and chanting. It was so fun. We are from Toronto and there is such a huge Somali community and we had never been to a buraanbur class other than going to a wedding or a Somali party.

We went to the Sisterhood Boutique, which was really cool. It's a thrift store and a youth program. It's a women-run initiative. We just love thrifting anyone. We've never walked into a thrift store where Somali girls were working there, and it was run by a Somali girl.

Andrea Swensson: Making music wasn't necessarily something the Hashis expected to be doing, growing up. Some Muslims consider music to be haram — forbidden by Islamic law.

Siham Hashi: In high school, I was still in the mode of, "Oh my gosh, I cannot pursue music." Number one, I'm going to hell, and number two, I would be shunned from my family and my entire community.

Huhroon: There's some people who I know who won't even listen to music at all. They won't even do it because it's haram — you shouldn't be listening to it.

Andrea Swensson: Nineteen-year-old Huhroon struggles with the idea that music is sinful.

Huhroon: I feel like people do things that are so wrong and vile, and music is not that. I'm seeing whole different big issues going on in this world and people are tripping about music.

It's a clash between the younger and older generations, but it's crazy. In the older generation, they made music. In the seventies, Somalia had a huge disco and funk scene. They had something going on — like, people had their Afros picked and their ankle — it wasn't mimicking what was going on in America. It was heavily inspired by it, but the actual sounds were so different. I don't understand why the older generation would hate when even in their time they had it.

I was raised in a very religious household. I went to masjid four days a week, and I was in a program where they have you learn the Qur'an really fast.

Not every older Somali parent or adult, but a lot of them see us making music and stuff like that as us being rebellious and following a different path than the one we should be following. I don't get that. I feel like I'm having fun. I'm not being disrespectful to women. I'm not spreading a message that's a bad one. At the end of the day I'm an artist. I'm just making my art the way I want to.

Andrea Swensson: Huhroon started performing in the slam poetry scene. He's competed twice at Brave New Voices, a slam festival for young writers.

Huhroon: There's this open mic that happens at the U of M that the SSA throws — the Somali Student Association — and I remember going to the MSA shows and all these high schools would throw on shows where all their Somali artists would do their thing. Not just Somali artists, but they would also have a fashion show and a culture fest and things like that. So I would take part in events like that and go to those. It's really cool.

Andrea Swensson: In 2018, Huhroon released "Happy Birthday Haroon," a short song with a chill beat by producers Kwey and Ben Farmer. He raps about growing up listening to Lil Wayne and Kanye West. On other songs, he sings through Auto-Tune over crisp digital beats. A lot of his music is avant-garde, and his peers are underground musicians with strong followings on SoundCloud.

[🎵"Happy Birthday Haroon" by Huhroon 🎵]

Huhroon: There's a budding hip-hop scene, and there's people who are pushing it forward, and I'm so proud to be from Minneapolis. I'm out here all the time talking to people about what's going on, and people look at Minnesota as one of those states that isn't a big state that doesn't deserve the attention. But I think there's something happening.

Andrea Swensson: Last November, Huhroon performed his music at a showcase, sponsored by Red Bull Music Presents, in the Dinkytown neighborhood in Minneapolis. He was part of a bill of up-and-coming creatives in a number of fields, all of them Somali. The young Minneapolis DJ Yasmeenah helped organize the event.

Yasmeenah: It was me and Jake Heinitz's idea — Jake from Greenroom. I had run into him in Oakland in August, and we were talking about putting together something for Somali artists in the Twin Cities to just honor them.

So we did that. That show was really great. We had a whole bunch of Somali acts in the Twin Cities, but then we were also able to get some from out of town [...] We had Deka DJing, I was DJing. We had photography work by Fatuma Mohamud. She's really dope. 1991 Zine was there.

Andrea Swensson: We asked Yasmeenah what percentage of the music she plays as a DJ is Somali music.

Yasmeenah: Honestly I would say like 10 percent. There have been a lot of times where I've DJ'ed in crowds where I'm the only Somali, and I like throw a Somali track in there and everyone's like, "Oh, okay." They're like grooving to it. There's just so much other music to play. I love Somali music and it's just as great, but it's like I feel like my experience being as a DJ too is like I don't want to get stuck in just one sound. I want to allow myself to gravitate toward other things.

I honor my Somali roots, and that's why it was so important for me to create a show like this, because it was like I want to do something for the community where we're honoring talent, and it's not necessarily focused on the story of Somali refugees and escaping war. I kind of wanted to leave all of this and [have] it be about these Somali-American folks making music and being passionate about creativity and art. But I will say though it is important for me to show other Somali girls that it is okay to pursue any role that it is that they want to do, because DJing is cool, but I want there to be more room for individuality. I don't want us Somali girls to be placed in a box. I want us to be everywhere because we just can be.

Andrea Swensson: As another generation of musicians grows up, Aar Maanta says he's rooting for the new kids.

Aar Maanta: Being misunderstood, and the media — especially the mass media — the fact that Somalis tend to be black and tend to be Muslim — just two factors that are under a lot of pressure from the media. I think as Somalis we also have the responsibility to counter that. I'm encouraged because a lot of young Somalis are actually doing that.

London has a lot more Somalis but is a lot bigger. But in Minnesota I think they seem more politically active now, socially more active now, and I'm also like hopeful for the younger generation.

Andrea Swensson: In recent years, there's been a few attempts to connect the predominantly white indie rock community with these rising Somali stars. In December of 2016, rock trio Low invited a supergroup called Ambassadors of Culture to perform at their annual Christmas show at First Avenue. The reggae-funk band was led by Holly Muñoz of the Aviettes and Somali singer Dalmar Yare, and paired white musicians like Martin Dosh, Don House, and Al Church with a troupe of Somali dancers.

Even so, these moments of cultural connection have been few and far between. There's still a lot of work to be done to desegregate our communities.

Alana Horton: Even that moment of just getting a little outside of the community too, and having people see just like a glimpse of what Somali music can be like and what it is is so important also and powerful. I hope that in the future that exchange and growth continues to happen. I want people to be coming to things like Somali Independence Day, which happens on Lake Street. I want people to check out the Somali Museum of Minnesota, or like the exhibition at the Minnesota Historical Society. I think it's our obligation as white Minnesotans to try to better understand our fellow citizens.

[🎵"Fond Memory" by Deka 🎵]

Andrea Swensson: The Current Rewind is produced by Cecilia Johnson. Michaelangelo Matos is our writer, Marisa Gonzalez Morseth is our research assistant, and Brett Baldwin is our managing producer. Our theme music is "Winging It" by Lazerbeak from the album Luther. Michael DeMark mastered this episode. Thanks to our guests: Abdirizak Bihi from KFAI, Alana Horton from the Cedar Cultural Center, Aar Maanta, Kara Lynum, Zeinab Ahmed Omar, Yasmeenah, and Huhroon. Thank you to The Current's Marla Khan-Schwartz for lending us her interview with Faarrow. And thank you to Deka, a Somali-American artist who offered us this gorgeous song "Fond Memory" to use in the podcast.

This is the end of Side A of The Current Rewind. We're going to take a short break for research and interviews and be back with more unsung music stories in a few weeks.

In the meantime, if you're enjoying The Current Rewind, please rate and review our show on Apple Podcasts — and spread the word to anyone you know who might enjoy it. We know there are lots of media options out there, so as a new podcast, we appreciate all the help we can get.

And go to to find transcripts, past episodes, and bonus materials, including a photo gallery of the West Bank and a YouTube playlist of Aar Maanta jams.

The Current Rewind is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. It is a production of Minnesota Public Radio's The Current.

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  • Photos: A tour of Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood With venues like the Cedar Cultural Center, Palmer's Bar, and Mixed Blood Theatre, Minneapolis' West Bank has become a hub for Somali music and culture. Cedar-Riverside resident and KFAI radio host Abdirizak Bihi takes us for a tour of his neighborhood, which he calls "Little Mogadishu."