"Wadajir Means Together" - Creating A New Album of Somali Music

For Give To The Max Day, we’re giving you YOU a gift - a free download of a brand new album of Somali traditional songs and new compositions from Wadajir Riverside Band! Read more about the band, and check out a video for their piece “Matthew’s Song” below.


Click  to listen to Wadajir Riverside Band’s debut album!

Click to listen to Wadajir Riverside Band’s debut album!

Wadajir is the Somali word for "Together." The Cedar brought this band of Somali-American musicians and Augsburg students together as part of our program called Midnimo, and united them with producer Greg Grease of astralblak to record a full studio album of original music.

Some Wadajir RIverside Band members felt “original music” meant composing new music from scratch, while others thought that Somali qaraami songs recorded for the first time with live instruments made the music original. As a result, the album contains both kinds of songs!

Qaraami, as described by Rahma Rose the group’s singer, is traditional or “older style” music. Qaraami songs start with lyrics and use complex poetic forms, alliteration and layered meanings. Many songs tell a story about love on the surface but have deeper messages and political subtext laid between the lines.

Civil unrest that began in Somalia in the 1980s led to a Civil War in 1991, and during those years highly-regarded government-funded music schools were closed and radical religious leaders spread the idea that music was forbidden by Islamic law. Legendary singers, poets and musicians fled Somalia and landed in refugee camps or countries scattered around the world. A new generation was raised without music training, and renowned bands could not perform or rehearse. Throughout the Somali diaspora, there is a thriving tradition of singers backed with electronic instrumental tracks, however live instrumental traditions have been slower to revive.   

Wadajir Riverside Band Singer Rhama Rose performing at the 2017 Global Roots Festival

Wadajir Riverside Band Singer Rhama Rose performing at the 2017 Global Roots Festival

In Minnesota, which has the largest Somali-American population in North America, music and the arts of Somali are being revitalized through the lens of new generations and experience. The Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, called “ Little Mogadishu” and home to The Cedar Cultural Center, Augsburg University, has provided a rare and welcome opportunity to bring students and expert Somali musicians together.  The members of Wadajir Riverside Band are excited to share this music through their first studio album.

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How the band started:

Wadajir Riverside Band is Emerson Badio on trombone; Nathaniel Gillen on guitar; Abdirizak “Harbi” Kahiye on drums/percussion; Cleo Knickerbocker on keys; Pearl Lockwood on sax/flute; Ben Richer on keys; Rahma Rose on vocals; Abdisalam Salayman “Najax” on oud; Jarod Schiebout on drums; Matt Simon on sax; and Matthew Zyla on bass.

Harbi on drums at the 2017 Global Roots Festival

Harbi on drums at the 2017 Global Roots Festival

Wadajir Riverside Band’s expert drummer, Abdirizak “Harbi” Kahiye had been working with Augsburg music students and faculty since 2010 through collaborations with music professor Bob Stacke’s group “Bob’s Band.” Bob’s Band has backed legendary Somali artists such as Deeqa Bilan, Dalmar Yare, Hodan, Maryan Mursal, Jubba, Aar Maanta, North American Super Stars and Dur Dur Band as part of Midnimo.

Formed as a program formed as a partnership between The Cedar and Augsburg, Midnimo (the Somali word for “Unity”) features Somali artists from Minnesota and around the world in residencies and events that increase understanding of Somali culture through music. Midnimo is reviving and preserving Somalia’s rich musical traditions while fostering social connections between generations and cultures across Minnesota.

Meanwhile, in 2016, a group of Augsburg music business students who called themselves The Great Dains were brought together as a backing band for qaraami singer Rahma Rose. Rhama was opening for the legendary London-based Somali singer Nimco Yasin for Midnimo shows taking place in Mankato, Paramount Center for the Arts in St. Cloud and The Cedar in Minneapolis.

“It was at the beginning of the Fall Semester of 2016, and there was a combo of really talented musicians that came in to do a workshop with my quintet on what the process is like to be a backing band to a Somali vocalist. I had no idea how to play what I was hearing because my ear was so trained in a Western mindset.

Somali music does not have even section lengths, nor does it follow western theoretical rules. But as I was reading the transcripts of the songs I was learning for the first project, I started to realize how much it actually made sense to me as a jazz musician. Jazz is all about improvisation, changing up feelings and rhythms in songs and having a conversation with the brass player or vocalist. Somali music is similar in many ways.

As the keys player, I often respond to the vocalist with a melodic line after they are done with a verse. The music had funk influences, and once I got past my awkwardness with asymmetrical phrase lengths, I started to understand the music a lot better. The music is composed to fit the poetry, the lyrics, and we are there to help tell the story.”                  

- Cleo Knickerbocker, Keys

In Fall 2017, Augsburg students Pearl Lockwood, Ben Richer, Emerson Badio, Minneapolis-based Somali oud player “Najax”, singer Rahma Rose and Harbi joined five of the original Great Dains to became Wadajir Riverside Band.

The Band at Minnesota Orchestra’s International Day of Music

The Band at Minnesota Orchestra’s International Day of Music

Since then, Wadajir Riverside Band has played at the Minnesota Orchestra’s International Day of Music, the City of Minneapolis’ celebration for the opening of Samatar’s Path, the annual fundraiser/fashion show of The Sisterhood Boutique, and the year-end celebration of the Pan-African Student Association at Augsburg.

Wadajir Riverside Band released their debut album on November 15th, 2018. Keep your eyes peeled for a release show in 2019!

 Your support powers projects like Wadajir Riverside Band and Midnimo, which are helping to revive and preserve Somalia’s rich musical traditions and unite Minnesotans of all cultures.

Give today to keep the gift of music going strong at thecedar.org/donate