Film-making Somali-Style


When it comes to entertainment, Yusef Yusef, better known as “Liban D.J” is the-go-to guy for Minnesota Somalis. He founded and heads Onkod Entertainment Inc., a small company that does music production,promotion and film-making, with two movies made.

Coming to America in the early eighties, Yusef first landed in
Washington D.C.’s Beltway area. Living with family and friends, the slim 38 year old man worked in night clubs, succeeding as a D.J. – earning the nickname “Liban D.J”. Minnesota’s growing Somali community enticed Liban to move to Minnesota where the largest concentration of Somalis in the U.S is located.

After a long struggle, Yusef started his company, renting a production studio in the immigrant-friendly, Little Mogadishu – as some call his-Lake Street neighborhood in South Minneapolis. Estimates of the number of Somalis here are as high as 70,000 to around 22,000. But irrespective of the numbers, Minnesota is a major hub for Somali entertainers. Liban the connection for celebrity artists and amateur singers, acting as a producer, promoter and sometimes broker.

“I wear multiple hats. I’m the guy who knows where things are” he

When an artist plans to tour Minnesota, Liban takes care of everything: renting the venue for the party, printing and distributing glossy flyers and setting up the audio-visual system for the performance. After mastering music production and promotion, Liban wanted to explore his ultimate dream: film-making.

“I’ve always wanted to make movies” he says “I love music, but it was a stepping stone to move forward”. His directing debut was “Flight 13”.

Unsure of the outcome, Liban got surprised by the results “It was a semi-success,” Liban says “I was very anxious about failure You don’t want to screw up your first shot. It is critical you get it right; it is all about first impression”.

Liban admits that film-making is a lot more complicated than music
production “Film-making is extremely challenging. Writing and learning it by heart is the hardest part!” LIban admits that film-making is a lot more complicated than music production> “But
I’m glad we were able to pull it together very well.”

“Flight 13” is a famous catch-phrase within the Somali community. It’s a reference to the uncivilized, unchanged and the underdeveloped person or behavior. According to a popularly rumored story, the term originated with one planeload of 500 Somali refugees to Minnesota from the notorious refugee camps in Kenya. Severely unfamiliar with modern technology, the refugees couldn’t flash the toilet or fasten the seatbelts on the aircraft. The phrase “Flight 13” is particularly famous among Liban D.J.’s target audience:young,urbane Somalis– a sub-group that’s fairly affluent.

Screening in the Twin Cities, Columbus, Seattle,Atlanta, Washington D.C, Toronto and other cities, “Flight 13” is out on DVD, selling briskly according to Liban, nationally and in Europe.

“Cayaariyahan 4.5” (“Sportsman 4.5”), Liban’s newest film is a
socio-political story about a captain in the National Soccer Team who falls in love with his coach’s daughter. The coach is appointed by the Somali Parliament with the help of a friend who’s a lobbyist. The film’s parliament is selected on a 4.5distribution method, like Somali’s parliament. In one scene a quareel over planning issues plunges politicians into a fistfight that erupt into a brawl–an instant replay of an actual events in Somalia’s Parliemnt last March. The couple’s love faces obstacles–including a scheme to embezzelment government money from the soccer team.

The cast of Liban’s films are almost always the same. Several
celebrity-style actors, like Adar Kahin and Shariif Jeeg, now living in Minnesota, with relatively new faces like Farhiyo Jordan
– a self-proclaimed beauty queen.. Both Liban’s films
were shot and produced in Minnesota and, although mostly in Somali language, include sizable English expressions.

“The English expressions are deliberately injected” says Liban
“Because our target audience speaks a blend of English and Somali and, therefore, is entertained by the cocktail” he says. Liban utilizes local media, especially the internet, to advertise for his films “because majority of our customers are young internet savvy men and women.”.

Financing his films is a challenge for Liban.“Flight 13” cost $5,000 and Liban convinced his cast to do “Sportsman.45” at their risk and hope for successful screenings.

“Members of the cast are my friends. We help each other. They know what I have” says Liban. In a cost-effective measure, Liban plays his films at midnight, the cheapest time slot available in less than perfect theatres. Luckily, young Somalis are night people..

Liban D.J, is already making his next movie called “ESL” – a
comedy of errors that results from Somalis struggling with a new
language. .

Abdirahman Ayent is a regional editor and columnist for Hiiraan Online.