Monday, May 7, 2012

Abdullahi Qarshe (Somali: Cabdullahi Kharshee "Father of Somali music".


Abdullahi Qarshe (Somali: Cabdullahi Kharshee, Arabic: عبد الله خارسهي‎) (1924 - 1994) was a Somali musician, poet and playwright known as the "Father of Somali music".


Qarshe was born in 1924 in the Somali expatriate community in Moshi, Tanzania. In 1931, at the behest of his family, he left Tanzania and settled in Aden, Yemen for his education. It is in Aden where Abdullahi had his first encounter with cinema and radio playing western films and Indian and Arabic music, which inspired him to buy a lute to accomplish his new goal of creating music in the Somali language.

Qarshe was the inception of the modern Somali music, and the first generation were Ali Feiruz, Mohamed Nahari and others.

An innovative musician, Qarshe often employed a wide variety of instruments in his art, such as the guitar, piano, and oud. He was also known for his poems and his theatrical work at Mogadishu and Hargeisa venues.

In addition, Qarshe was a member of the pioneering Somali musical ensemble Waaberi.


As Somalia's foremost musical group, Waaberi spawned many popular artists who would go on to enjoy successful individual careers and shape the face of Somali music for years to come. Prominent members of the band included

Abdullahi Qarshe

Ali Feiruz

Fadumo Qasim Hilowle

Hasan Adan Samatar

Hibo Nuura

Hussein Aw Farah


Maryam Mursal

Mohamed Aden Da'ar

Mohamed Suleiman Tube

Omar Dhule Ali

Saado Ali

Salaad Darbi

Salaad Maxamed Sahardi

Seinab Haji Ali Bahsan

Abdikavy Abdullahi Botan

Kinsi Haji Aden


The first major form of modern Somali music began in the mid-1930s, when northern Somalia was a part of the British Somaliland Protectorate. This style of music was known as Xer-Dhaanto, an innovative, urban form of Somali folk dance and song. This period also saw the rise of the Xaaji Baal Baal Dance Troupe, which became very influential over the course of its long career.

Somali popular music began with the balwo style, which was created by Abdi Sinimo. This style began in Dilla, and then spread throughout the area. It was a mixture of modern poetry and Somali dance music.

Cabdillahi Qarshe rose to fame in the early 1940s as part of the qaraami style. Many qarami songs from this era are still extremely popular today. This musical style is mostly played on the kaban (oud). The first somali kaban players were: Ali Feiruz, Mohamed Nahari, and others in 1950s.

During the Siad Barre regime, music was suppressed except for a small amount of officially-sanctioned music. There were many protest songs produced during this period.

Interview with the late Abdullahi Qarshe

(1994) at the Residence of Obliqe Carton

in Djibouti

Mohamed-Rashid Sheikh Hassan

mrsh: Let us start with the basics. When and where were you born?

aq: I was born in Moshe, Tanzania, in 1924.

mrsh: People know you as Abdullahi Qarshe, but what is your real


aq: Oh, yes, that is true. My real name is Mahmud Muhammad, and

Qarshe was the nickname of my father. He was a businessman and

trader in the livestock business in East Africa. He was regarded as a

frugal man and was fortunate in business. We were five brothers and

one sister. We lived in a big house on the outskirts of Moshe.

mrsh: Tell us more about the background of your family and the reason

your father moved to Tanzania.

aq: My father emigrated from Sanaag region in what was at that time

called British Somaliland. In those days, emigration (tacabbir) was popular.

Men used to travel for work and a better life, but it was not an

easy task. Those who emigrated to East Africa, my father included,

went through southern Somalia first of all, then proceeded to Tanzania.

They had to travel by road or foot through harsh and unfriendly

territories. Some of the migrants died along the way, and my father

was one of the fortunate who survived.

In the Sanaag region, my father’s family lived in the Maydh district.

They were involved in the fish industry and the exportation of livestock

and animal hides, as well as timber, to the Gulf countries. My

family was also a religious one, as they were the “keepers of the

shrine” of Shaykh Ishaaq.


mrsh: So your family were the muruud (keepers) of the shrine. Likewise,

I come from a muruud family and I am familiar with the system.

aq: Yes, we were the muruud of Shaykh Ishaaq, therefore we were very

well respected because of this role and position. With regard to Tanzania,

my father died in 1931. My mother refused to marry my father’s

brother, who lived in Tanzania with us, so she sold all the family property

so we could move back to Somaliland. First of all, we arrived at

Aden, Yemen, and remained there for some time. Then we traveled by

boat to Maydh, then from there by road to Cerigavo. We lived there for

two years, then we returned to Aden, which eventually became our

permanent home.

mrsh: What was your first engagement, meaning did you follow your

father’s footsteps and enter business or did you go to school?

aq: My first engagement was to study the Quran. While we were in

Tanzania, there was a Quranic teacher who gave me private lessons in

Quranic studies at home. During the two years that we were in Cerigavo,

I was sent to a madrasah (Quranic school). Apart from the Quran,

I also had my first experience with Arabic language there.

When we settled in Aden, I entered a madrasah that was established

by the Somali community. I was not really interested in continuing my

Quranic studies, but my mother shuttled me to many madrasahs to reignite

my interest somehow. I do not understand why I was bored,

because I was not only a good student but a popular one as well. I even

became a classroom assistant (kabiir). Another of my father’s brothers,

who resided in Aden, married my mother and thus became our

guardian. He was a very good man who commanded the respect of all

the Somalis of Aden. I believe this was related to the title of muruud

inherited from my father.

After I lost interest in religious studies, I was attracted to the secular

British schools in Aden. I requested that my uncle take me to one of

these schools one day. However, when this day arrived, we left the

house and walked some distance, but I felt that my uncle had other

plans. On our way, various friends of his offered him a ride but he

refused, saying that we were not going far. Suddenly, he stopped and

faced me, and said, “Abdullahi, I really want you to study religion and

I do not approve of you going to the British schools. If anything happens

to me, then you will be my successor. This is what I wanted to tell

you along the way today.” Then I replied, “Why did it take so long for

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you to tell me this?” Thus, I respected his wishes and entered a

madrasah where I finished the thirty parts of the Quran.

mrsh: So you read the whole of the Quran? Amazing! This is the first

time that I became aware that Abdullahi Qarshe, the composer and

musician, read the whole of the Quran!

aq: Indeed, not only did I read the whole Quran, but I also studied

Arabic grammar, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and other Islamic subjects,

as I was supposed to be heir to my uncle, the head of our muruud

family. One day, my elder brother called to advise me that my previous

conviction to go to school was better for me than following the

muruud way. I went to a British school for a while, particularly night

school. However, again I became completely bored with formal learning

and I became more enticed by music. So instead of spending my

time on learning and schooling, I spent many hours watching Indian

movies, primarily to listen to accompanying Indian songs.

mrsh: Was that, then, the beginning of your career/interest in music,

or what Somalis more generally call fenn?

aq: Yes. Also, my interest in music came about because of another

event. During the Second World War, the British authorities in Aden

established a radio station. Among the foreign languages broadcast

were Hindi, Arabic, and Somali, which were given half an hour airtime.

Both the Hindi and Arabic programs included music, but the

Somali broadcast did not. A newsreader called Mahdi Eleeye read the

news that was followed by classical Somali poetry (gabay) and took the

remainder of the time. When Arabs visited Somali cafes, they would

ask them, “Don’t you have your own music?” As I said earlier, my

taste for music was first inspired by Indian music, and later I realized

that broadcasters in the Arabic department were also using some

aspects of Indian music and incorporating it into their melodies.

Hence, I thought of doing the same, but at that stage I could not play

any instrument. As far as singing was concerned, I used to sing religious

songs at some gatherings, so I knew that if I could play the lute, I

could sing along with it. One day, I saw a man in the market selling a

lute and I wanted to buy it. Once I acquired the money for one, I

approached the seller and out of the corner of my eye noticed another

young man who also coveted the instrument. I pleaded with him to let

me buy it. He was kind enough to do so and, thus, I took immediate

possession. Now, where could I put this lute? I could not take it home

since having one, according to my family, was tantamount to blas-

Mohamed-Rashid Sheikh Hassan


phemy! An idea came to mind: I put it in a box and approached a family

friend and told him to pretend that it belonged to him. This was so

that he could leave it in my home, and if anyone discovered the lute,

then I could not be blamed. This friend did exactly this. Then, when

the time for my departure to Somaliland came, he collected the box

and brought it to me at the port before I embarked on my journey to


mrsh: So what followed?

aq: I arrived in Hargeisa and stayed with a family friend called Mahmud

Abdi Arale. Abdi Sinimo’s belwo was already making an impact

on the urban population. However, there were only a few musicians

and they were either Arabs or Indians inspired by the new Somali

genre of the belwo. There were two main characters: Ina Beenaale, an

Indian, and Abdo Yusuf, a Yemeni. They played basic instruments, the

most important being the violin. They invited me to join them, so I did,

but I was not yet really proficient in playing. We tried to create softer

lyrics than classical Somali poetry and accompany it with music. In the

beginning, it was not easy, and our band consisted of a mixture of

clapping, the tambourine, and drumming. For instance, we wanted to

inject some music into Elmi Bowdheri’s famous love poetry, and formulate

songs. Where the alliteration was not feasible, we added Arabic

or Hindi lyrics. At this stage, I wanted to earn some money and make

use of the educational skills I acquired in Aden. Thus, I applied for a

clerical post in the British colonial administration and succeeded. As a

result, I was transferred first to Burao and then later to Berbera. It was

in Berbera that I started to focus more on practicing my lute, after I met

an elderly man named Bakri whom I asked to teach me the basics of

the instrument. We agreed that he would teach me in exchange for a

daily portion of khat. Ina Beenaale and Abdo Yusuf were not willing to

do the same. I suppose they were afraid that I would steal the limelight

from them, since I was the first would-be Somali musician and composer.

mrsh: What was the first piece of music that you composed?

aq: At this stage, I was not in a position to write music, so I used the

melodies of old songs. However, the first composition I wrote was for

the song “Ka Kacay! Ka Kacay!” (Wake up! Wake up!). This was 1948.

mrsh: This must have been a crucial period of the mobilization for

independence in Somaliland, when the territory entered a new phase

of national consciousness.

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aq: You’re right. There was the wind of change of nationalism, which

as a political force inspired many people, including the educated few.

Political organizations, such as the Somali National Society (SNS) and

the Somali Youth League (SYL), were formed and were popular. The

SNS established branches in the main towns of the protectorate, such

as Hargeisa, Burao, Borama, Erigavo. It started as a welfare organization

and later developed into a political party, the Somali National

League (SNL). At this time, the belwo became very popular, to such an

extent that the religious establishment became very nervous about it.

For instance, one night we were practicing and playing songs in a private

house in the Zakata Lire quarter of Hargeisa. When dawn broke, a

well-known religious personality called Shaykh Ali Jawhar made the

call to prayer and followed it with a warning directed at us to stop

these “songs of innovation,” as he called them. When this story

entered the city, the public’s disgust with us grew even more. They

changed the term Belwo into Balaayo (evil).

mrsh: Were there not any sympathetic groups?

aq: Some of the more educated appreciated the fact that the belwo itself

had developed Somali literature and art in general. Among them was

Yusuf Haji Aden, a teacher who had already contributed several

nationalist songs. He suggested the change of the term Belwo to Heello,

so as to rid it of the evil stigma. Yusuf Ismail Samatar, another teacher,

supported our cause.

During this time, the former District Commissioner of the National

Frontier District (NFD), Mr. Reece (also known as “Kamakama” by the

Somalis), was transferred to Somaliland. His arrival coincided with the

building of the first churches in Hargeisa. I had heard that Reece had

been an oppressive colonial character in the NFD. I did not know how

it came to me, but I decided to compose a song, which became the

well-known song “Ka Kacaay! Ka Kacaay!” (Wake up! Wake up!):

Ka kacaay ka kacaay ka kacaay! Wake up, wake up, wake up!

Ka kacaay ka kacaay ka kacaay! Wake up, wake up, wake up!

Ka kacaay ka kacaay ka kacaay! Wake up, wake up, wake up!

Ka kacaay ka kacaay ka kacaay! Wake up, wake up, wake up!

Ka kacaay ka kacaay ka kacaay! Wake up, wake up, wake up!

kalhore nujabnee We have been defeated before

kaftankii ma jiree T this is no time for joking

Koroley la gubyay Koroley has been burnt to the ground

kufaceen la dilyay Our people have been killed

And the infidels have increased in number.

kufrigii badayay.

mrsh: What other songs did you compose after that?

aq: “Ka Kacaay! Ka Kacaay!” was not so serious. I think the first one I

wrote was “Garta naqa” (Sort out the Claims):

Gadh baan leeyahay oo I am a grown man

Guddida ma galee But I am not consulted by the elders

Gugaygu ma weynee I am still young

Garta naqa. Make your own judgment

Labada gelin gaalaa i dirata Morning and afternoon I serve the


Habeenki ma gam’ee And at night I remain sleepless

Garta naqa. Make your own judgment

Wax kaa gooni ah oo Something that is a part of you

Aan jidhkaaga gelayn oo But yet detached from you

Aan kaa gaabinayn And that cannot be reconnected

Garta naqa. Make your own judgment

Gabadha cishqiqeedi baa i gel oo I’m overwhelmed by the love of this


Wax ba ku gudban ee But I am barred from her

Garta naqa. Make your own judgment

Haddaan guursan lahaa If I married her

Gob weeyaan She would be a most suitable bride

Haddana ma geeye ee Yet she is out of reach

Garta naqa. Make your own judgment

These songs were composed in 1948. As I mentioned earlier, I was

working as a clerk for the British Protectorate police force from 1948 to

1949. The police force had a musical group called Band Boys, in Mandera.

I was interested in becoming involved in this group and I asked

another clerk, a friend of mine who was working in Mandera, if we

could swap our posts so I could work there. He agreed. I wrote a letter

to the authorities regarding this transfer, which was accepted. Some

people thought I had been transferred as a punishment for my song

“Ka Kacaay! Ka Kacaay!” In reality, however, it was I who had asked for

the transfer.

mrsh: While you were in Mandera you composed a love song, didn’t


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aq: Oh, yes. The song was for the girl I married and who became the

mother of my son. However, she remarried later on, so I prefer not to

revisit this song.

mrsh: I remember the song myself. It started like this:

Intaanan dhiman dhahay dhahay Say it, say it, say it, before I die


Aqalkay ku jirto iyo agta u dhowee The house she lived in and its


Maandheera oo idil way udgoontahay And the whole city of Mandera

exude a fragrant smell

Udgoon dhahay dhahay. Say it, say it, all are fragrant.

The girl you sing about, wasn’t she the daughter of Abdullahi Abi


aq: Yes, she was. We agreed to marry each other, but then I realized

that she was promised to another man. Also, financially I was not

ready for marriage. When I heard that her family had set her up with

another man, I rushed to my kin members in Hargeisa for help, so that

they would approach her family for her hand on my behalf. Among

the prominent members of my family were two civil servants, Mahmud

Abdi Arale and Ali Said Arale. They particularly questioned my

eligibility for marriage. They asked me how much money I had. I said,

“One hundred dollars.” They laughed at me and said that they could

not possibly approach her family if I was in this sorry state. I said to

them that I had already made my own decision. I would propose

directly to her family myself and either be accepted or rejected. If I

were rejected, then they would be humiliated. After a heated debate,

Mahmud Abdi Arale interjected and said that Abdullahi would fulfill

his threat and bring shame (ceeb) if they did not comply. So the next

day, they accompanied me to her house with the dowry and the marriage

was agreed and completed. However, I still had to meet the

expenses of the second stage, when the bride moves into a house with

her husband. I was lucky because at that time I recorded some songs

with a company in Aden, which was owned by two Somalis and an

Arab. They suggested that I become a shareholder, but I retorted that I

required the money immediately for my marriage expenses.

mrsh: What were the songs that you recorded for the company?

aq: I really do not remember, but they were some of the oldest songs

that I recorded. In London, one day, a Somali woman played these

songs for me on a gramophone. I asked her if she knew the singer, and

Mohamed-Rashid Sheikh Hassan


she replied “yes.” I told her that the singer was me, but she insisted

that the voice was that of Abdullahi Laangadhe (Abdullahi with the

limp). Then, I told her that that was my old nickname because of my

leg injury.

mrsh: By the way, what happened to your leg?

aq: People often say that an evil wind affected it, but in fact it was the

result of a mosquito bite, which happened to me in Tanzania about

two years before I returned to Somaliland.

mrsh: When did you marry and did you have any children?

aq: I had a boy in my first marriage. His name was Artan. I took the

name from the play called Cartan iyo Ceebla because he was born when

my performing group was involved in this play.

mrsh: Back to the world of music and songs. Now we have Abdullahi

Qarshe, married in 1950 and working in Mandera. What followed


aq: While living in that village, I composed several songs and some of

them had no names. Soon, I resigned from my job and decided to

return to Hargeisa. I got a job at Radio Hargeisa, where I had a dual

responsibility: I was an administrator as well as a news broadcaster. In

addition to that, during after hours, I used to write music and play

with available musicians.

mrsh: Let us now focus on the plays that you either produced or coproduced.

What was the first play in which you participated?

aq: I forgot to mention something earlier. When I was at school in

Aden, I asked my teacher if I could join the end-of-year play. He said

that, unfortunately, there was no character with a limp for me to play,

so I was a little disappointed about that. However, he said that if I was

interested, I should hang around the rehearsals.

The first play in which I performed was in Burao, and was written

by Yusuf Ismail Samatar. Somaliland plays used to originate in schools

at the end of the school year, not from professional groups. Samatar

pioneered a new genre in the production of the play. He incorporated

Somali, Arabic, and English into a play he wrote. The Arabic part was

about revenge. The English part commented on the British authorities

and the public. The Somali section was a critique of those who were

anti-belwo or anti-heello. Samatar included some of the administrative

clerks of the protectorate in his play, and a prominent character was an

interpreter who could not speak English properly. For example, he did

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not competently convey the wishes of the public to the authorities, nor

those of the authorities to the public.

Afterwards, the Somali civil servants’ official Union Centre became

the new location, a kind of salon, for exchanging ideas on production. I

produced a play called Waano Aabbe (The Advice of a Father) and I was

not satisfied with the acting, but otherwise it was a decent creative

effort. Thereafter, I thought of forming an artistic group, so subsequently,

I created Walaalo Hargeisa (The Hargeisa Brothers).

mrsh: When was Walaalo Hargeisa formed? Tell me a little about its


aq: It must have been the beginning of 1955; and the group was drawn

from ordinary artists and civil servants. Of particular note was an

Indian artist who played the flute with extraordinary flair.

mrsh: He must be Mr. Rao?

aq: Yes, it was Rao, an artist of the highest order, who was my right

hand. Walaalo Hargeisa became a talented and select group of artists

who were to raise Somali modern music to new heights.

mrsh: If we look at many of the lyrics of that time, they sound rather

frivolous. For instance, let us take the line: “Silsilad gubatay, Siraad xaajay,

Sariirta ma noo goglaysaa” (A scattered and broken necklace, you,

Sirad Haji, will you prepare the bed for us?).

aq: True, the early songs were too playful, but still amusing — for

instance: “Sidii Talyinkii, Tacliin badan ee, Maryama tiijar ee, Take my

self!” (Like the Italians, one so educated is she, Maryama the teacher,

Take my self!). Another example is: “Naftaydana hoo, Naftaadana keen,

Ha la isku tumee, Tib ii keen!” (Take my soul! And give me yours! Let

them be as one, to crush them together, bring me the pestle!). In addition:

“Hablaha dhaanka wada, Ma a dhuuntaa, Mid uun dhexda ma iska

duubaa” (Shall I lie in waiting for, one of the girls collecting water?

Shall I snatch one and wrap myself around her like a snake?).

The next two examples are more serious: “Guduudo Carwooy, Gugii

la arkaba, Allow yaa gashaanti kaa dhigaaa” (By every year that passes,

Dear God! If only you could be made young again!); and “Sidii cir ku

hooray, Meel cusub loo, Cadceeddi u soo baxda ayaad tahay” (You are like

lush nature, showered by rain and graced by the sun).

mrsh: After forming Walaalo Hargeisa, what was the first play that you

took part in?

Mohamed-Rashid Sheikh Hassan


aq: It was called Soomaalidii Hore iyo Soomaalidii Dambe (Somalis of the

Past and Somalis of the Present), and it coincided with the handing over

of the Hawd area to Ethiopia in 1955. The play was a lamentation of

this dreadful event and other similar happenings in Somali territories

still under colonial occupation. It started with a man who carried a

message about Italian oppression in the south of Somalia to a woman,

married and living in Berbera. The message contained a request from

her family in the south for her help. Subsequently, she convinced her

husband to let her leave and aid her people. When he asked her about

the welfare of their children, she replied that the fate of the country

was more important. The essence of the play was to inform the audience

about how the Somalis in the past fought for their country.

The play had only one song, called “Taah” (Sighing), which goes as

follows: “Intay adiga iyo arliga tahay, Asaanay laabi labo ahaanayn, agtayda

ha marin, ishayduna ayaynu ku arkin, Ha ii iman” (When it comes to you

and the country, My heart cannot be divided, Do not come near me,

And let not my eye fall upon you, Stay away from me!).

mrsh: Obviously, as a group (i.e., Walaalo Hargeisa), you were largely

defined by the historical and nationalistic era. Did this mean a neglect

of other themes such as love and romance?

aq: We thought about a plot that could combine love and Pan-Somali

sentiments. We wanted to take such a performance to Mogadishu,

Aden, and Djibouti. So the group produced a play called Cartan iyo

Ceebla (Artan and Ebla). Muhammad Said Guronjire (another major figure

of our group) and I composed new songs and music. We benefited

from already existing songs, such as “Jowhara Luula” and “Daawac,”

whose style we mixed with the new compositions.

mrsh: Was the idea for Cartan and Ceebla borrowed from the Arabic

love story Layla and Majnoon?

aq: No, not at all. It was an original Somali play and had nothing to do

with that.

mrsh: Can you capture for us the main plot of the play?

aq: A man is in love with a girl whose family had already made

arrangements with another suitor. Subsequently, the girl became possessed

with demons and the family tries every doctor and remedy to

cure her. One day, an old woman visits the family and declares that the

girl is not sick but merely in love. It was a story intertwining tradition,

parental powers, and individual autonomy.

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The next play was called Isa Seeg (Mutual Miss), and was of a greater

complexity. It had seven new songs; among them were “Nugul,”

“Damaq,” “Dankeli,” and “Wadaag.” The characters included a man in

love with a woman who, in turn, was smitten by a man who, in turn,

was attracted to another woman. It is a play full of pretensions and

deception. The play attracted a lot of praise from the public. One of the

memorable lines of one song was: “Wiilooy, Warsamo ku weheeshanayee,

Wiilooy, Ha is cunsiin waraabaha” (Oh tomboy! Warsame is your companion.

Oh tomboy! Don’t let the hyenas eat you!).

mrsh: I thought this was a political play.

aq: There was a lot of metaphor that could be interpreted as political.

For example: “Laba darran, Dooro la yidhi” (Between two horrible

options, I am condemned to choose) was understood as a reference to

the Djiboutian election of 1958, when the public was asked to vote

“Yes” for continued occupation by France, or “No,” which meant independence.

Among the main actors were Mohammad Ahmed, Omar

Dhuule (both playing women’s roles), Ahmed Ali Dararamle, Hasan

Geni (who took the part of a maid), and Abdullahi Jama Magalo (who

played the father of the main female character). Mohammad Ahmed

and Omar Dule assumed those roles because the public did not yet

approve of female actors.

The next play was titled Kibiroow! Kab iga Xuur! (Oh Ingratitude! You

have turned Me into a Pauper!). Despite the absence of any gabay or geeraar,

I think that this was probably the most important play that

Hargeisa Brothers ever performed. The story goes like this: The wife of

a working class man with a limited income comes under the influence

of a businesswoman. This businesswoman often brings her a variety of

clothes and other items and persuades her to buy them. Eventually, the

wife becomes fed up and tells the woman that she cannot afford to buy

any of her wares since she and her husband have a low income. The

businesswoman then says, “Don’t worry. I will lend you what you

need and you can pay me back later.” The wife buys more clothes. The

husband complains to his wife about her profligate and consumerist

expenditures, and tells her he will not pay any more. The businesswoman

tells the wife that if her husband cannot give her what she

desires, he does not deserve to be her husband and she must leave

him, demand a divorce, and have her dowry paid in cash. She suggests

that the money of the dowry could be invested in the khat business.

Mohamed-Rashid Sheikh Hassan


The businesswoman also suggests that the woman could attract other

men after her divorce.

The play depicted how a poor but decent family was corrupted and

then destroyed by the influence of an intruder who used self-serving

intrigue and deception.

mrsh: Now we approach 1960. So what followed?

aq: In 1960, we produced a play that we already discussed, Gardiid waa

Alla diid (He who Refuses Justice, Refuses Allah). This play coincided with

the 1960 election for independence in Somaliland. The play predicted

the outcome of the election and what political parties might win. In

fact, we put forth that the SNL/USP would win the majority of the

seats and the results confirmed our intuition.

mrsh: Were you and your fellow artists, the Hargeisa Brothers, supporters

of those political parties?

aq: Oh, yes, Walaala Hargeisa were fully involved in the political

process for independence. However, there were other artists, such as

Osman Mohamed (“Ga’anloo”) and Ali Fayrus, who supported other

parties such as the NUF (National United Front). Among the songs in

this play were “Aan maalno hasheena Maandeeq” (Let us milk our shecamel

Maandeeq), “Waa Mahad Alle” (Thanks be to Allah), and “Geeskii

Afrikaa gabyoo, wuxuu yidhi” (The Horn of Africa Recited Poetry and


mrsh: Was this play written by Balaayo ‘As (Barkhad ‘As)?

aq: No, it was written by Sahardiid Mohamed, who also composed

some outstanding love songs.

mrsh: When Somaliland achieved its independence on June 26, 1960,

followed by the July 1 union of Somaliland and Somalia to make the

new Somali Republic, what was the state of the arts in Somalia?

aq: On June 27, 1960, the majority of Walaalo Hargeisa and I hired a car

and went by road to Mogadishu to take part in the momentous 1st of

July celebrations. At that time, in my opinion, there were no artists of

our caliber in the South. Only small groups of traditional dancers participated

with us in the celebrations.

mrsh: What about artists such as Ali Malehan, Hilole Maalin, and


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aq: These artists were there but their production skills were not as

sophisticated as ours, nor did they compose the same standard of

songs and music as we did.

mrsh: During the 1960s, two of your songs stood out. One was

“Lumumba Mana Noola Mana Dhiman” (Lumumba is neither Alive nor

Dead). The second was “Dugsiyada Ogaada u Aada” (Be Alert to Education

and Go to School!). Could you remind us of some of the lines of

the first song?

aq: Oh, yes: “Lumumba mana noola mana dhiman, Labada midna ha u

malaynina, Inu maqanyahay ha u moodina, Laba midna ha a malaynina”

(Lumumba is neither alive nor dead, Don’t think that he is either, for

his spirit is with us, Don’t think he has disappeared. Don’t think that

he is either, for his spirit is with us).

mrsh: How did this song come to you?

aq: One day, I came out from my house and saw a crowd listening to

the radio in front of a tea shop. The news was about the crisis in Congo

in 1962. The U.N. forces had just intervened in the civil war, ostensibly

to save the Prime Minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, who was

arrested and later assassinated by his opponents. “Lumumba mana noola

mana dhiman” had a kind of Pan-African sentiment because of

Lumumba’s nationalist vision and courage.

mrsh: Could you remind us of some of the lines of the song that underscores

the importance of learning?

aq: “Aqoon-La’aani waa iftiin la’aan, Waa aqal iyo ilays La’aan, Ogaada

ogaada dugsiyada ogaada, U aada u aada dugsiyada u aada, Walaalayaal u

aada dugsiyada u aada, Indhaha aan ku kala qaadne, ifka ugu ilbaxsanaane,

Ogaada, ogaada dugsiyada ogaada.” (Ignorance is darkness. It is a house

without light. Be aware! Be aware! Be alert to education! Go! Go! Go to

school! Go to school, my people! Go to school! Let us open our eyes to

the wonder of knowledge, and let us be the most educated and civilized!).

mrsh: I cannot recall the name of this other play, but it was about the

Northern Frontier District of Kenya. Do you remember it?

aq: It was called Indho-sercaad (Elusive Reality). This was a most important

political play, with rich melodies and lyrics, performed by Walaalo

Hargeisa. When we played in the capital, Mogadishu, it attracted huge

publicity and audiences. For example, the first Prime Minister of the

Republic, Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, requested that we perform the

Mohamed-Rashid Sheikh Hassan


play one night for the diplomatic community in Mogadishu. The Commander

of Police, General Mohamed Abshir Muuse, invited us to do

the same for the police force. It is often said that this play was a source

of inspiration during the war between Somalia and Ethiopia over the

****** territory in 1964.

mrsh: Had the standard of Somali plays and songs improved when

you moved to Mogadishu? If so, what was your role in this?

aq: Immediately after the July celebrations, I moved to a hotel in

Mogadishu. I had little money and was waiting for some return on my

recordings to pay for my expenses. A group of artists from Mogadishu,

including Abdi Muhumad Amin and Ahmed Naaji Saad, who had

already established a musical group called Kaah, asked me to join

them. So I did, and subsequently moved from the hotel to private

accommodations. Later, we all became members of Radio Mogadishu

dramatic arts group and produced more songs and plays together,

with good instruments and recording equipment. When I wrote the

Lumumba song, many people who didn’t know me became more

interested in my work.

mrsh: So the Lumumba song raised you to new heights and status?

aq: Remember, I was not only a musician, but I had been a known

administrator and broadcaster in the British Protectorate of Somaliland.

I could have pleaded for my job back, but I didn’t ask the new

government and no one offered to reinstate me.

mrsh: The lyrics and accompanying music for the national flag,

“Qolaba calankoo waa cayn” (Every Nation has its Own Flag), must be

your most important nationalistic composition. True or not?

aq: The music for the flag was meant to be the national anthem.

Although it was not adopted officially, the song remained in the public

domain as the national anthem. The great composer, Hussein Aw

Farah, my co-producer and one of the founders of Walaalo Hargeisa,

wrote the lyrics and I composed the music. We started working on it in

1955, after we saw the new national flag. The color and design of the

flag was the idea of a man called Awale Libaan, who sent his idea, in

1954, to the committee that was overseeing the design of a new flag,

who then accepted it. In 1960, on the eve of Somaliland’s independence,

a British band arrived from Aden to rehearse for the celebrations.

I was asked to produce a tune that was fit for the occasion. I

played “Every Nation has its Own Flag” for them. Then the conductor

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said, “Do you have anything else?,” so I played the tune of another

song called “Dhulkayaga” (Our Land), and they chose this one for the


mrsh: Regarding your only trip to London, when was it and what were

the reasons for it?

aq: I traveled to London in 1961, and the main reason was medical

treatment for my leg. First, the Soviet embassy in Mogadishu suggested

that I go to Moscow. However, perhaps the Somali Government

was not in favor of that, so they found an alternative, and I was offered

a one-year music scholarship and medical treatment by the British

Council in Britain.

mrsh: During that year in London, did you compose and play any

music or meet any foreign artists?

aq: In 1962, there were disastrous floods in East Africa, particularly in

Somalia, and there was a charity organization collecting money in London

for this emergency. I participated with other artists to raise money

in aid of the victims. On another occasion, I played at the BBC World

Service’s Somali Section, at Bush House in London, in celebration of

the second anniversary of the Somali Republic. This was arranged by

the Somali ambassador and the staff of the Somali Section.

mrsh: What other places have you visited?

aq: Many. I visited China, Sudan, Yemen (many times), Egypt, Kenya,

Zimbabwe, Iraq, Italy, France, and Nigeria.

mrsh: You mentioned earlier a connection between Somali and Indian

music. You have visited and performed in China, and China built the

National Theatre in Mogadishu. Is there any affinity between Somali

and Chinese music?

aq: Definitely. There is a hint of Chinese melodies in Somali music.

Some female members of our later Waaberi group, such as Hibo

Muhammad, Fadumo Qasim, and Dalays and Maryam Mursal, sang

several Chinese songs in Beijing when we were on tour there. Similarly,

the Chinese orchestra played a Somali song by Huriyo in praise

of Mao Tse-Tung, for which I had written the tune. However, Chinese

music is more multidimensional—they even play classical European

music, which we don’t.

mrsh: Did you write a tune for a song in praise of Chinese foreign minister

Chou en-Lai when he visited Somalia in 1962?

Mohamed-Rashid Sheikh Hassan


aq: That song was written by the incomparable Ali Sugule.

mrsh: The Somali people and others regard you as the “Father of

Somali Music.” Is this how you see yourself?

aq: No. There was always music: for weddings, lullabies, watering animals,

working, dancing (shurbo), night dancing (sacab habeenkii la tumo),

exorcism (saar). All these existed, so one can only say that there were

no musical instruments to accompany them. One cannot say, therefore,

that I am the “Father of Somali Music.” Even modern music was in the

air at the time of Abdi Sinimo, who is widely regarded as the genius

who formulated and organized it into the belwo and thus took welldeserved

credit and honor for it. Perhaps, I am the first Somali to set

Somali songs to the music of the lute (kaman).

mrsh: Did you ever meet Abdi Sinimo?

aq: I met him in Djibouti in 1956, when we performed our first play.

mrsh: What did he look like?

aq: We sat together and conversed about how the belwo emerged. He

was neither tall nor short, neither fat nor thin, but on the slim side. He

was brownish in tone and you could tell he was an artist by the way he

walked. He used to go to the barber and have his hair cut, all except a

bit on the crown of his head.

I asked him how the belwo came to him. He said that once, whilst he

was driving his truck, he came into a desert area. The truck ran into

some difficulty and he had no spare parts. Other trucks approached to

help, but they had no spare parts either. This situation, in which people

are eager to help you but are unable to, gave rise to the belwo. Abdi

Sinimo told me that in the solitude there was something of inspiration,

and he just started to sing the following lines: “Balwooy, Hooy belwooy/

Waxaa I baleeyay baabuur/Waxaa I baleeyay Borama.” (Abdi Sinimo

was going in the direction of Borama and came from Djibouti. He

envisaged his friends in Borama having a nice time.) As we know now,

these few lines gave rise to the modern Somali heello.

mrsh: You recorded an interview for the BBC Somali Service while you

were in Britain in 1962. In this interview, you said that Somali music

does not need many instruments. What did you mean?

aq: What I meant was that the music that needs many instruments is

often one that has a written form like Western classical music. In written

music, each musician plays a certain tune in order to produce an

orchestra. On the other hand, Somali music is not as yet written. There-

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fore, it is more beautiful when played with basic traditional instruments,

such as the lute. Numerous instruments could result in cacophony.

But I believe that there are many musical sounds in the Somali

language, some very ancient. If the tragic collapse of the Somali state

did not happen, perhaps we might have finally written our music and

preserved many musical sounds.

mrsh: Do you actually write music?

aq: No. I tried several times. While I was in Britain, I took a course on

the theory of music.

mrsh: Who do you think is the best Somali musician, in your judgment?

aq: I think it is Mohamed Saeed (Gu’roon-Jire). We started writing

music at the same period, and there was a healthy competition

between us. He produced delightful melodies and played the lute with

exceptional magnificence.

mrsh: What about lyric writers and playwrights?

aq: With regard to the lyrics, it must be the late Belaayo Cas or

Barkhad Cas, as people now like to refer to him. He was a supremely

original as well as a firm nationalist. His lyrics were largely about

Somali nationhood and the struggle for independence. As for playwrights,

I can say Husein Aw Farah, my co-producer, was the best of

our generation. Ali Sugule was impressive as well, but his plays were

mainly limited to politics. There are many songwriters, playwrights,

and musicians of later generations whose work I have not followed

systematically. I am sure there are stars here too.

mrsh: There are legendary women singers such as Magool, Maandeeq,

Hibo Muhamad, and Marian Mursal. Why don’t we have women composers

of music and songs?

aq: This is a good question and maybe they did not try. I am sure that

if they did, they could write music or play instruments like their male


mrsh: Let us focus for a moment on 1969, when the military junta

seized power in the Somali Republic. You wrote songs to welcome the

change but you also had a political opinion. Can you enlighten us on

your view on this?

aq: I was in favor of the change and I fully supported it. For example, I

put together a song for that historic moment, starting with: “Baga,

Mohamed-Rashid Sheikh Hassan


Baga, xoogayaga waan u baahnayne baga baga, Hadii uu baarlamaankii baguugaha

ka dhigay waan u baahnayne baga baga, Bishaara bishaara bishaara

bilatayee oktoobar, Bilkheyr dhaha bilkheyr dhaha” (Let it be, let it be, We

needed our armed forces, Let it be, let it be, If they abolished the corrupted

parliament, Let it be, let it be, Good tidings, good tidings, good

tidings, October has begun, Celebrate the good news, October has

brought a change, Celebrate the good news).

But, as you must know, this joy about the military take-over, which

I shared with many Somalis, did not last. My last songs prior to the collapse

of the Somali state were all banned from being broadcast by

Radio Mogadishu. Among them was “Ma Allaah baday suuqa madow,

Ma Allaah baday” (Did Allah condemn us to this dark alley, did Allah

condemn us?) I realized, like many others, the destruction that the military

caused the society, and the song was a reflection of such an agonizing


mrsh: Siyaad Barre escaped, in the belly of a tank, from the presidential

palace in Mogadishu on January 27, 1991. Where were you at that


aq: I was in my home, which was only a short distance from the presidential

palace, Villa Somalia. The fleeing Siyaad Barre and his bodyguards

passed in front of my house. Many friends took refuge with

me, so my house was akin to Abu Sufyan’s abode. I think people knew

that if they came there, they would probably be safe. In my house there

was the engineer, Saeed Antaana, who had the keys of the main studios

of Radio Mogadishu. He also belonged to Siyaad Barre’s kin,

which was, at this point, the target. The United Somali Congress of

General Aideed sent a cohort to my house to take Saeed Antaana to

open the national studios. I told them that the man was under my protection

in my house, and therefore I would not allow them to take him.

They said, “Abdullahi Qarshe, we know you and no harm will be

done. We only want Saeed to open the studio for us.” They did what

they promised. After few days, I left Mogadishu and arrived here in


mrsh: This is exile. How are you coping?

aq: First, the Djibouti Government promised accommodation and support,

but somehow this did not materialize. Later, some members of

my extended family group started to collect contributions, which

turned out to be a significant sum to support my needs. This was not

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my preference. I would have liked to have been helped by Somalis in

general rather than relying on a kin donation.

mrsh: Doesn’t this show the denudation of Somali nationalism

(Soomaalinimo) at this historical juncture?

aq: Very much so.

mrsh: What are your plans now?

aq: I have sent the family to Hargeisa and I am preparing to go to London.

With regard to the general question, the Somali people are now

passing a critical stage in their history. This is a time of destruction and

flagrant abuses. The consequence is less interest in nationalist songs,

the mainstay of my creative imagination. It is so disheartening that the

evil vanquished the good. Now tribalism or clanism (qabyaalad) and

the explosion of the gun (qarax) dominate the Somali social scene. In a

situation like this, we must seek refuge in Allah. My two most recent

songs take this direction. The following is a prayer for peace and harmony:

“Roonoow Rabbiyoow Rahmaanoow, Soomaalida u roonoow” (O,

benevolent and gracious God, extend your mercy to Somalis). It is a

song about peace and harmony.

mrsh: Given your outstanding contribution to Somali literature and

arts, and in conjunction with the independence movement, have you

been nationally honored?

aq: Yes, in 1959, even before independence, I was awarded a medal

together with other artists, at the Mogadishu celebrations. Moreover,

the military regime also awarded me medals on a number of occasions

—a silver one, a gold one, and one of copper. But more importantly,

for me, I have treasured the love and support extended to me by the

entire nation. Such is the greatest ambition of any artist.

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