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"Qaraami": Roots Music Frozen in the Past Or a Vital Music Still Being Invented
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- "Qaraami": Roots Music Frozen in the Past Or a Vital Music Still Being Invented

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Editorial & Opinions

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Abdirahman Ahmed Shunuuf, Mohamed Ahmed Shunuuf and Mohamoud Ahmed Shunuuf

Imagine, a national Radio Station in which every musical segment is devoted to only one musical genre: Half century-old songs that hark back to colonial old days. Audiences would be startled, wondering why anything so antique was on the air; recording studios would chafe because they would want to promote more current styles; young people would want to hear more recent songs too. But when you visit Somaliland, the "Qaraami" songs are the only ones given airtime in Radio Hargeisa.

Unlike the rural blues in the United States, for instance, "Qaraami" in Somaliland is like "Rumba" in Cuba, which is still considered contemporary music in Cuba. Musicians and aficionados believe that the "Qaraami" is the (Quintessential) most appreciated music in Somaliland. Most of Somaliland's intellectuals who live in the country, can hardly wait for the government to sponsor an academic symposium on the "Qaraami", with musicologists and musicians giving papers on everything from "Qaraamiís" heavy influence on contemporary Somaliland songs, to its lesser-known African and Arab roots.

During the sixties and early seventies, a little known group called "Barkhad Cas" (The name of a legendary anti-colonial poet and father of the "Qaraami" Mohamed Ismail Barkhad Cas), revealed for the first time what "Qaraami" style was all about. They revealed, for instance, not a folkloric music being carefully preserved by holdouts, but a vital, unregimented music that is still being invented.

"The "Qaraami" is a process," said Faisel Omer Mushteeg, an original member of "Barkhad Cas" group. "The chemistry keeps changing, but itís all "Qaraami". A good example," he says, is "Subcis", which is an old "Qaraami" song that I wrote. But which I have recorded three different times. Each time, it sounds different, but itís still "Subcis".

The "Qaraami" appeared in the middle of the 20th century, when colonialism was thriving in Somaliland; colonialism continued in Somaliland until June 26, 1960 five days before Italian Somalia became independent from Italy. Unlike other parts of the Somali speaking communities, including Italian Somalia, who did not have any musicians, singers and playwrights; Somaliland had a number of bands, musicians, playwrights, singers and songwriters, who created "Qaraami", and held on to it until they were free from the Yoke of colonialism.

Through their "Qaraami", they developed music and songs that bemoaned problems - political, romantic, social, philosophical - and held on to community, independence and self-reliance. During colonial rule, Somaliland's artists never adapted scales and contours from British songs. Somali language and music were never replaced by the English of Somalilandís colonial rulers. Therefore, the music and the songs stayed Somali, never changing to western songs and music.

The "Qaraami" sound seeded virtually all the Somaliland music that followed in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. It made its way, diluted into 1990s dance music performed by the "Waanabes". In its traditional form, "Qaraami" is a soothing heartbeat rhythm, like reggae. It is a call and response between the singers, the "Oud" player and the percussionist. Like roots music everywhere, "Qaraami" now has to compete with the slicker, more accessible pop styles, performed by the "Waanabes."

"Qaraami has not been a favorite for some of the youth in Somaliland," said Faisel Omer. "Thatís because of the past twenty five years of our history, which has been robbed from us, by the continuous onslaught on our culture, music and song by the fascist military rule in Somalia which dominated the country."

Qaraami has strong survival mechanisms; because it had persevered for decades. In Somaliland, musical genres donít seem to have expiration dates. Old styles like the "Qaraami" have never had to be self-consciously revived because groups still play them as a matter of course. Qaraami is marked by the low-tech simplicity of its "Oud", hand drums and voices. Qaraami is by no means an archival genre, frozen in the past. The music has continued to evolve.

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