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|ISSUE 53 January 25, 2003||
"I am Swinging This Flower To You" Part IV
Essays on Somaliland Music by Abdirahman Axmed Shunuuf
Abdi Qeys: Singer-Songwriter/Musician, Poet And Playwright
Occasionally an artist has a moment that makes even skeptics think "O.K. maybe he is the best." Abdi Qeys achieved this in the late 1960'S, when he wrote a critically acclaimed play and performed hundreds of songs at the tender age of twenty something. The essentials fell into place, his songs highlighted only strengths, his voice never wavered, and his "Oud" player "Xodeydeh" flawlessly accentuated his songs.
What does it mean to say a single songwriter is the best? It's pointless given human being's idiosyncrasies. High standards can sometimes be a handicap. Abdi Qeys never saw himself as the best. Picasso, the great twentieth century painter, once said, "Good taste kills creativity." Therefore, a little shagginess that combats dull gentility is needed once in a while. Abdi Qeys used to mingle with the crowd. He used to hold conversations in stairways, restaurants, teashops, and hallways and in "Qat chewing sessions." As a result, he became one of the guys on the street.
But, Abdi Qeys was anything but an ordinary individual. He was so gifted as a songwriter that his songs were sought years after they were released in cassette tapes. Such skill and talent is burdening. That is why the singer used to disappear for days, visiting the Great Somaliland saint, "Sheikh Omar," who lived in "Haraf," a thirty minute drive from Hargeisa, to get away from it all, i.e. fame.
But again, Mr. Abdi Qeys demonstrates an invaluable gift as a songwriter: a genuine absence of ego. His most idyllic lyrics do not feel forced, because he tempers their poeticism with a conversational tone. Characters like his lover visiting him in a dream at mid-night or "Love" masquerading as a fellow traveler can express profundities because they have a plain side too. For instance, the following two songs come to mind (1) "Mar aad Xaaleyto ii Timid" or "When you visited me last night" (in my dream) (2.) "Umaleey Jaceyl Weli Jaar Ma Noqoteen?" or "Hey Omal, Did You and Love Ever Become Neighbors?"
When Abdi Qeys sings, his voice gains depth through his artfully straightforward baritone, the vocal equivalent of a baarcadeh, or Somaliland folk singer. His melodies are just as beautifully adorned too. The singer's humility allows for ambition. Like two other co-singer /songwriters, Faisel Omer and Mohamed Moogeh, he dwells on big, often difficult, moments in the lives of ordinary common people. By staying with them even as he flies into a metaphor, such as, (1) "Ubixii Baxaayow soodigan Abaarsaday" or "Hey! Blooming Flower. You Have Been Hit With A Drought" (2.) "Habar iyo Habeenkeed" or "Every Old Lady has her Day", he maintains equanimity.
As a songwriter who is widely admired for the beauty of his songs and his plays, his perceptive and communicative skills as an interpreter of love and the inventiveness of his ideas, he has the title of "The Father of Love." He also has the drawing power and natural ability to hold huge admiring audiences for hours while he is on stage. Such was the case during the "Barkhad Cas Performance," in 1971. The singer offered his performance as a tribute to Mohamed Ismail "Barkhad Cas", a Somaliland poet, playwright and anti-colonial nationalist, who flourished in the late fifties and early sixties. He saw a kindred spirit in the tribute.
Like "Barkhad Cas" his songs were about love and against oppression. And perhaps in the back of his mind was the hope that future generations of artists and music lovers will call him with equal generosity. The program could have stood on its merit without a unifying patron saint. Abdi Qeys was his own singer and not a recreation of a past style. When he began to sing, with "Xodeydeh," the great "Oud" player, doing his thing, his interpretation of the Somaliland repertory was admirably flexible, and although its overriding characteristic was bluesy or sad, some of the songs had a playful side too. His playful songs did not sit well with women nor did they suit all tastes. Some women thought he was using demeaning, lyrics to describe women. They cite some of the songs described below as examples:
Women are the ones who kill me
They are also the ones who breast-fed me
They are devils sent to distract men.
But I cannot stop seeing them.
I lost my respect
When I consulted
With a mind that
Was only fifteen years old?
You can either be patient with women forever
Or you can leave them alone forever
There is no other way to deal with them.
You are getting more beautiful by the day
And yet you tell me that you almost died!
Womenís mind is not that deep
Whoever consults with an arrogant rich woman!
Whoever goes to war
With a horse that was not
Trained for a war
But to his credit, Abdi Qeys was the one singer/songwriter who devoted an entire song in 1971 to the birth of his first born baby girl.
Hey! My first-born baby
You are from the tip
Of my heart and body
She is so soft tender
She has no muscles in her body
She has no heavy bones
Donít marry someone,
Who is not in love with you.
God shouldnít allow you to marry
Someone who is angry all the time
Donít live in misery and
Heartbroken in the rest of your life!
Abdi Qeys was also the first person lionized as a guru, king, and expert on "love," by fellow artists. For instance, Haji Gujis, one of the foremost songwriters, wrote a song in 1971 about Abdi Qeys claiming that people should consult with him when it comes to love. This created a larger than life picture about the artist and his songs.
That love is a spear
And that there is no other disease
Greater than love
Ask Abdi Qays
The mystic expert.
Although Abdi Qeys was proclaimed as the father of love and romance nationwide, it was his political songs that defined the entire decade of the 1970's. His first political song was written in 1969, a few months after the infamous coup in Somalia led by the military dictator, Mohamed Siyad Barre.
You are playing with flying birds
You are speeding away in the air.
While the masses are thirsty
You are in the midst of water.
Life has been good to you
If you are winning today
You cannot keep the victory for long
People always lag behind
When the real work comes
Nafseeh or (what goes around comes around)
Will come to our aid
Every old lady has her night
(Every dog has its day)
Following this coming of age period came another important period characterized by a question and answer series of songs known as the "Trilogy." The two great poets, friends, and political soulmates, Abdi Qeys and Mohamed Ibrahim Hadrawi exchanged this series.
The first song that they exchanged was a song called "Aakhiro" or "Heaven" in English. This was an inquiring, self-reflecting song about existence, Heaven and Hell, and the Cosmos, by Abdi Qeys. Mohamed Ibrahim Hadrawi answered these questions in a song called "AI Rahman." He basically used the Koran, the Holy Book of Muslims, to answer them. The Somaliland fans interpreted the song in a political context, arguing that the song was an inquiry into the whereabouts of the hundreds of political prisoners in Somalia.
The many good men and decent women
Missing because of you
Is hard to count.
That you have beautiful large eyed women
And a day of reckoning
That we have heard about it too.
That you are the flaming fire
Pain and suffering,
That you are the one that creates
Helplessness, we have heard it too.
To be continued on next issue