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Growing up Canadian-Somali: a tale of two soundtracks

28 Sep 2017

In the run up to our birthday and release of our second print issue, we’ll be posting articles focusing on this year’s theme of ‘HOME’ . They will feature content centred around our experiences relating to what home means for us as women and non binary people of colour, in a personal and political sense. Tickets for the print launch on Friday 29 September are sold out, but you can pre order the issue here.

“God knows it
Pure mind and pure soul I possess, he knows it

People change, I’m not surprised
Devil’s working overtime”

‘Madiba Riddim’ – Drake

It’s a summer day; my Tidal playlist ‘LIVING SO FULLY’ is set to shuffle, and ‘Madiba Riddim’ by Drake plays. Instantly, I feel that music – all the sounds that pass through our ears; land on our skin; touch our souls – comes to us as at the moment we need it, the moment we’re ready to receive it. On the next track, SZA says “I get so lonely, I forget what I’m worth” and I’m reliving memories of all my failed attempts at love.

Music simply means the different sounds that connect with us, on a deeply personal level. In this varied and nuanced life, the soundtracks to our lives are constantly changing, as are we. As an overtly emotional person, I’ve always connected to sounds and the feelings they evoke on a spiritual level – and yes, I realise how phony this may sound. At age four, I was filmed at a cousin’s birthday monopolising the entire dance floor to a Whitney Houston song. Whenever a family member sees me dancing, this scene is often quoted. Yet, for so long my lifelong journey with music has been tumultuous, as I’ve navigated from loving it to worrying about my love of it.

“I wonder which came first? Did I fall in love with the sing-song voice of Sheikh Sudais… [or] MuchMusic’s Rick Campanelli?”

Often, when this worry begins to bubble over, I wonder which came first. Did I fall in love with the sing-song voice of Sheikh Sudais (renowned Imam of Masjid al-Ḥarām in Makkah) that played on cassette in Mama’s 1998 ‘Mystic Teal Corolla SE’? Perhaps it was on Sundays as a child, watching MuchMusic’s Rick Campanelli introduce the latest pop hits at my aunt’s house, after Islamic School – before my brother and I went home to our TV without cable? I’m not sure, but I know that I felt something, deep in my soul, when I heard these different sounds. I still feel this way, even more strongly now that my body has learnt to move in tune. Now that my soul has learnt to meditate and reflect when Mama plays that same Sudais, only now on CD or through her iPhone.

“there was a twinge of guilt as I listened to the radio when my mum was out doing errands”

As a first generation Canadian-Somali, it used to confuse me that my mother would ever tell us that music was supposedly “haram”, but if we held one of our regular dance nights and played Michael Jackson, she’d be the first person to propose a dance-off. In my youth, there was a twinge of guilt as I listened to the radio when my mum was out doing errands on the weekend. I used to feel upset that I was ever made to feel guilty for my love of music, because I knew my mother had grown up surrounded by sound and dance. I moaned about the injustice of having been raised by her in this way, in a way that made me feel guilty at all. My mum was raised in the 70s as a cultural Muslim in the land of her parents, grandparents and ancestors, yet cited seeing the original film Grease in an open air theatre near Somalia’s coastline as a favourite memory of her youth. While I, raised a first-generation Canadian-Somali in 90s Ottawa with kids who looked nothing like me, in a more conservative Muslim household, was told that “devil’s music” and the Qur’an could not hold real estate equally in my mind.

As a child, I couldn’t understand how profoundly exhausting it is for any human to discard the history of their experiences – the sights, the smells and especially the sounds – as those sounds easily transport you to an earlier version of yourself. Today, when my younger sisters play Bruno Mars, Mama tells them that Bruno’s songs are her current radio favourite because of the disco tinge. Sometimes when she’s scrolling through her Facebook feed, and she comes across a video overlaid with the classic Somali tunes of Magool, Somalia’s Hoyadii Fanka (Mother of Artistry) she smiles and bops along; and I smile too.

Now, I can understand that there is no dichotomy in the sounds of her life or that of my maternal home; only that these sounds have grown and evolved, as my mother has too; that as the leader of our household, her four children have been fortunate enough to witness the beauty of her journey. Hence, in our home, five times per day we recite verses of the Qur’an in a melodic tune. At night, we dance to Canadian favourite, Drake, and we laugh as we try to emulate (badly) the Somali tradition of buraanbuur – a poetic form and dance style, most often composed by women. Finally, I see no struggle. Only a life lived fully, differently and at a fast pace with the songs playing on shuffle in the background.