Pop music and Somali-Americans: “The Somali Beyoncé” and beyond

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Q: What kind of music do young Somali-Americans listen to? Are there Somali or Somali-American pop stars?

A: Like most immigrants before us, young Somali kids try to fit in rather than stand out. More likely than not you’ll see the car next to you on the road with the window down and loud rap music blaring out. Our young boys wear baggy clothes and imitate rap stars like 50 Cent, Young Money, and Lil Wayne. They adopt a lot faster than their elders, or their older siblings. This of course creates a huge rift between the young population and the older generation. Among the many things that divide them is music, clothing style, religion of course, and almost everything that is perceived as an Americanization.

I would definitely say they listen to American music, but more specifically pop, R&B, and rap music. I’ve never met a single Somali person listening to country music, but I am sure I will meet them someday, and I will stop turning my country music off when I suspect a Somali person is nearby.

The next crowd, Somali girls in their 20s and early 30s, listen to a wide mix of music, such as popular artists like Toni Braxton, Brandy, Michael Jackson, and Brian McKnight, to name a few. Now I don’t want to generalize a huge population of people, but we are divided in our choice of how we live and what music we listen to.

For example, some of us—including me—really don’t give a crap about culture or how things used to be, how you “should” live and whatnot. Some of us just want to think for ourselves and would rather have no defined boundaries other then those we create for ourselves.

I would include myself as part of the younger population and I listen to about 80% American pop, R&B, and some days country. I like listening to the Dixie Chicks when I want to tell the world to get off my back. I listen to 10 percent Somali, 5 percent Japanese pop music, some Indian music, and a little bit of West African and jazz—which I recently discovered.

Now, the next part of the question: Are there Somali or Somali-American pop stars?

This part is tricky. If you mean pop star like a mainstream American pop star, we have this artist named K’naan. He’s technically Canadian as he lives in Toronto, and he’s become a lot more popular in the last few years. His song “Wavin’ Flag” became Coca Cola’s official anthem for the 2010 World Cup. I’m a bigger fan of “Dreamer” and “Does it Really Matter,” though. He’s put out a couple of albums, both of which are worth listening to, and I’d recommend him to anyone who’s into pop/rap music. 

We also have a lovely Canadian female singer named Amaal Nuux. People talk about her as “the Somali Beyoncé.”

There are also a lot of Somali and Somali-American pop stars that produce movies and albums and are big in the Somali community, including those that just want to think they’re big. I heard some people calling themselves “wijixum,” which badly translates to “ugly face” or “bad face.” I don’t know why they are called that but they are mostly okay singers, and sing at weddings, conferences and festivals. We have our share of famous singers, and since you’re reading this online I’ll list them here so you can pull up YouTube and listen to them:

Khadijo Laba Dhagax

Sado Ali

Hibo Nuura

Hassan Adan Samatar

Fadumo Qasim  

Mohamed Tubeec

Halimo Magool

These certainly aren’t the only seven Somali musicians. If anyone reading this feels I’ve left out someone important, feel free to leave it in a comment. Non-Somalis, read the comments for more great Somali artists!