On Monday in London, legendary Somali singer Nimco Yasin breathed a sigh of relief when she picked up her visa. Fadumo Ibrahim, The Cedar Cultural Center’s Program Manager, was waiting for her call. At 2am Minnesota time, she received confirmation that Yasin’s travel documents were in hand. Given how difficult it has been for Somali artists to enter the United States, the visa approval process was a major concern for Yasin and for the performing arts presenters working to bring her stateside.
“It was a huge relief to receive Nimco Yasin’s visa,” said Ibrahim. “After a visa denial last month for a Somali artist based in Sweden, we have been concerned about how travel restrictions might impact our Midnimo program.”
Midnimo, the Somali word for “unity,” is a program that features the world’s leading Somali singers and musicians in residencies and events that increase understanding of Somali culture. Launched in collaboration with Augsburg College in 2014, the program has now presented seven successful residencies and expanded throughout the state through partnerships with Minnesota State University, Mankato Department of Music Performance Series; The Paramount Center for the Arts in St. Cloud; and St. Cloud State University. Midnimo is playing a role in building intercultural unity and understanding in Minnesota, an area home to the largest Somali immigrant population in North America.
Yasin’s residency will take place from March 20 – April 15 2017 and will include opportunities for Minnesotans of all ages and backgrounds to participate in workshops, class visits and education programs, discussions, and performances. The hallmark of Midnimo is the opportunity for Somali singers and musicians of a variety of genres to perform with a live band – a practice that nearly died out in the wake of war in Somalia in the early 1990s. For this residency, Yasin will collaborate with Minnesota-based keyboardist deVon Gray (Heiruspecs, dVRG, Chastity Brown) who has assembled a band of established jazz and pop musicians to arrange, rehearse, and perform her music. The group will conduct performances and community-based activities throughout the Twin Cities, Mankato, and St. Cloud, with a public live finale performance in each city.
Nimco Yasin (pronounced NIH-moh Yah-SEEN) rose to fame as part of a member of the legendary Waaberi Group in the 80s. Waaberi Group, or “Dawn Players,” was Somalia’s government-sponsored music and dance troupe that included the most talented singers, musicians, and dancers in the country. With more than 300 members over its 30-year existence, the group was a source of national pride and toured the world multiple times.
Because of their status, artists were among the first to be impacted by increasing political instability in Somalia in the late 80s. Yasin fled Somalia to the UK in 1989, shortly before the onset of civil war which nearly wiped out the country’s rich artistic traditions. Since then, Yasin has rebuilt her career as a professional artist. Known for her striking voice and emotional love ballads, Yasin eloquently revives the vintage qaraami (or “Somali jazz”) sound that Waaberi was known for, while bringing it into a modern context.
As a highlight of her residency, Yasin will lead a workshop series that recreates the Waaberi experience where local Somali singers and musicians rehearse and perform a traditional song on stage at Twin Cities finale at The Cedar. This will be an opportunity for artists and audiences to experience a rare piece of Somali culture and play a role in keeping these traditions alive.
For a full list of residency activities in Minneapolis, Mankato, and St. Cloud visit thecedar.org/midnimo. Public finale performances will take place at the following times:
- Minneapolis: The Cedar Cultural Center on Friday, March 31 at 8pm ($20 Advance, $25 at the door; free for Augsburg staff, faculty, and students with Augsburg ID).
- Mankato: South Central College on Saturday, April 8 at 7:30pm ($15 Advance, $20 at the door; free with any student ID).
- St. Cloud: Paramount Center for the Arts on Saturday, April 15 at 7pm ($15 Advance, $20 at the door; cost includes handling fee; free with any student ID).