SOMALILAND: Faransiskiyo Somaliland - Sahra Halgan Trio
Sahra Halgan and her bandmates succeed in both creating enjoyable songs as well as shining a light on her homeland
Hailing from the unrecognised state of Somaliland, formed in the brutal civil war that Somaliland and its neighbour Somalia endure to this day, Sahra Halgan’s music speaks of the pride she feels in her national culture, as well as the influences she has picked up from her time as a refugee in Europe. Halgan grew up in a culture where a woman singing on her own is frowned upon, but nevertheless she persisted in pursuing her passion. At the age of 16 she began to work as a nurse for soldiers fighting the government of Mohamed Siad Barre, where she was able to sing without being bothered. Eventually she fled to France, living in Lyon for many years. In an interview with The Japan Times, she said something I found rather poignant: ““When you flee to another country, you feel guilty… and then when I had a chance to help my people I felt I had to show what’s going on in Somaliland.” Fleeing a civil war understandably creates feelings of survivor’s guilt, and as such, her desire to promote and raise awareness of the culture of her native land can be understood as a method through which she can do something for her country and its people who do not have international recognition. She uses her music as a canvas, with which she can not only create fascinating and beautiful music, but also as a political tool of soft power to remind the world of Somaliland and its right to self-determination.
“When you do look into [the album] a bit deeper, what you hear is a musical representation of the nation she comes from.”
The music itself is fascinating to listen to; at the same time, it can be enjoyed passively. Halgan and her bandmates have taken influences from jazz and pop and combined it with typically African and Somali sounds. The opening track, Dagal, has a jazz-style bass guitar opening, before the electric guitar comes in and plays a riff that sounds Middle-Eastern, which creates a pleasant sort of musical fusion. The following song, Hobaa Layoow Heedhe, similarly uses western instrumentation – if you were to isolate the backing track it wouldn’t sound too dissimilar to a blues rock song – but the style of singing is typically African in its call-and-response pattern. We follow on to Anigoo An Diidayn, which begins with some kind of traditional string instrument, perhaps an oud, and as the song goes on Halgan introduces guitars which merge seamlessly into a mix of rock guitars and Somali-style ululation. This is just a taster of what the album is like, because in fact, you barely notice these technical details when the album gets into full flow. It just plays out without calling much attention to its quirks (well, ululation aside, which is deliberately striking and draws attention to itself). But when you do look into it a bit deeper, what you hear is a musical representation of the nation she comes from. A country desperate for international recognition and therefore stuck between modernity and post-colonial struggles, this balance of tradition and forward-thinking is found in the music as well.
The album is a short one, at 11 songs totalling 35 minutes long, which means the album leaves you wanting more by the time it is over. It also shines a light on a part of the world that I knew very little about, and therefore, the second part of Saira Halgan’s agenda has also been manifested. As a collection of good songs it works, and as a tool with which to open people’s minds and teach them about Somaliland, it also works. She is a passionate singer, full of emotion, and you can hear that passion perfectly on a song like Somaliland, which once again shows her dedication to showing her country to the world. By making it accessible with its fusion instrumentation of guitars, ouds, tablas and drums, she allows herself to be opened up to a wider audience than if she just played the traditional songs of her country. I really enjoyed this album, and I hope that Sahra Halgan is able to continue making music in this style in the future.