Positivity, spirituality, and soul health are just a few of the things that FAARROW attempts to inspire with their music and art. Sisters Iman and Siham Hashi (whose names translate to “Faith” and “Arrow,” therefore creating FAARROW) were born in Somalia and forced to flee in 1991 to escape civil war, they eventually settled in Toronto as refugees. Only a year and a half apart, Iman and Siham have always been very close. As they entered their teens, they realized their passion for music and started to write and produce their own sound.
Drawing on a variety of genres such as hip hop, pop, and world music, and backed by a heavy drum beat, FAARROW’s sound is, much like the artists themselves, a unique combination of powerful and whimsical.
Music as protest
FAARROW are critically engaged with their place in the current political climate in the United States, and are unafraid to confront the injustices they see on a daily basis. In a 2017 performance at SXSW in Austin, Texas, the sister duo performed as part of the “ContraBanned” showcase that highlighted artists from countries affected by Trump’s travel ban. Through their music, podcast, and brand, the sisters have intentionally addressed aspects of their identities that allow them to engage with minority and oppressed people around the world. They balance their own experiences with their position of privilege, engaged with humanitarian efforts including their positions as United Nations Spokespeople for the U.N. Refugee Agency and aid organizations.
Fighting oppression through podcasts
Their recently released podcast POWHER, encapsulates idea of “the divine feminine energy” that Iman and Siham project daily. Every episode relates back to the idea of body, soul and mind connectivity, and with this concept, the sisters fight the oppression that Muslim women of color face in the U.S. today. The podcast is a moment of intentional reflection in which they look towards the self for healing and project positive vibes into the universe.
A Brief History of Somali Music
FAARROW follows in the footsteps of many Somali musicians and artists stretching back hundreds of years.
Nation of Poets
Somalia’s rich musical history includes poetry and folklore mixed instrumentation and musical elements shared with other Islamic, Arab, and African traditions. As an oral, nomadic culture, the emphasis of music was, and continues to be, on poetic lyrics and verses. Often called the Nation of Poets, Somalia has cultivated a tradition of leadership in poets and singers who put great emphasis on sharing their skills and knowledge of the art form with the next generation.
Somali poets and musicians have a played a major role in several aspects of society, including the protests of the 1950s that challenged the regimes of corrupt local and colonial powers. In the wake of independence from British and Italian rule in 1960, the newly established Republic of Somalia recognized the power of artists’ voices and formed several government-supported music and dance troupes to forge the regime’s national vision. Among them was the Waaberi Group. Waaberi, meaning “Dawn,” featured the most talented singers, musicians, and dancers in the country. Singers performed with live instrumentation, highlighting the importance of live music in the Somali tradition.
1970’s - Civil War
The 70s and 80s were an especially fertile and innovative period in the history of Somali music. The global rise of funk and disco brought in horns, guitars, and keyboards for a funky, pop sound, giving rise to a booming night club scene in Mogadishu and Hargeisa. Despite these global influences, Somali music remained uniquely its own, with a continued emphasis on poetic lyrics and deep roots in traditional musical forms. A number of traditional instruments, namely the reeme (roaring drum), shagal (metal hoe-blades), shunuuf (ankle rattles), shambal (wooden clappers), malkad (flute), and sumaari (double clarinet), while often reproduced on keyboard synthesizers, are sounds that continue to shape Somali music today.
As political instability increased in Somalia, artists’ lives were among the first to be impacted. As vocal leaders who often spoke out against corruption and oppression, their lives were in danger and their work was censored. When civil war broke out in 1991, many artists and families fled Somalia. The chaos and instability that has reigned in the decades since has nearly destroyed much of the country’s music traditions. Live performances and instrumentation, once so central to the practice of Somali music, has suffered the most in the wake of this conflict.
Today, Somali music flourishes around the globe as Somali musicians of the diaspora build careers in other areas of Africa, the United States, Canada, the UK, and across Scandinavia. Among these are Cherrie, Amaal Nuux, and FAARROW, all young women artists of Somali descent who live and work around the world. Cherrie is a Swedish rap, soul, and pop artist whose parents left Somalia to escape the civil war. Amaal Nuux and FARROW’s sisters Siham and Iman Hashi moved from their birthplace Mogadishu to Canada and have made their careers as soul and pop artists.
In the international diaspora, most Somali singers work with Somali producers to create electronic backing tracks that they take on tour or to perform weddings and cultural events. There are very few live Somali bands anywhere in the world, though FARROW’s recent collaboration with Astralblak is contributing the slow revival of live performances. The emergence of YouTube in the early 2000s has created a platform for these artists to share their music publicly, freely, and throughout the world, without the need for a market-based industry to record and distribute their work. Many artists forgo albums to release singles through videos on YouTube and independently promote their work through social media channels. The most popular artists’ videos receive hundreds of thousands of views practically overnight and are growing a global audience for Somali music.
Midnimo Means Unity
Somalis in Minnesota
Minnesota has become home to North America’s largest Somali diaspora community . The evidence of a thriving Somali community is visible around the Twin Cities, from North America’s only museum dedicated to Somali culture on Lake Street, the Somali Museum of Minneapolis, to The Cedar’s own neighborhood that has been nicknamed “Little Mogadishu.”
What is Midnimo?
Midnimo, the Somali word for "unity," is a program that brings Somali musicians from around the world to Minnesota for residencies and events that increase understanding of Somali culture through music. Launched in Minneapolis in 2014 by The Cedar and Augsburg College, the program has now grown throughout the state in partnership with Minnesota State University, Mankato Department of Music Performance Series and The Paramount Center for the Arts in St. Cloud.
FAARROW in Minnesota
Faarrow has spent the last month in residency with Midnimo in the Twin Cities, creating and connecting with the surrounding Somali community. Catch them live at The Cedar this Friday, April 5th!