I am a Somali mother of one, from Uxbridge West London, who has not written anything this long since leaving university nearly six years ago. Please stay with me while I explain the title of my article and the events that led me to write my first blog.
One Sunday afternoon last month I went shopping with my son to nearby Hayes, which is a west London town in the London Borough of Hillingdon with a diverse population. However, when you look closely the different communities of Hayes are often segregated, hardly mixing and only socializing with their own. What is more saddening is the fact that my community is even more segregated on the basis of gender, political, tribal and so on.
While on the bus and approaching our stop we heard familiar loud music and singing coming from the town centre, as I approached the stairs, through the window of our bus I could see the common bright colour dresses of Somali mothers and their children. Before I could make sense of what was going on I was literally chasing my son down the stairs, across the zebra crossing, before ending up in the mother of all Somali mother parties in Hayes town shopping centre.
I have only ever seen Aar Maanta in one of his videos, in a song called Saafi on the Somali channel Universal TV. For some reason, it was the only Somali song my son used to love watching. Perhaps it was the same reason why the mothers and their children at the event knew his songs so well. Nevertheless everyone seemed care free, dancing, clapping while singing along or videoing the joyful moment on their phones.
I was glad we arrived in time for the rest of his show. Unlike current Somali singers Aar Maanta looked comfortable singing live, sharing jokes with his audience and the group of traditionally dressed children that accompanied him. However, it wasn’t long before someone tried to disrupt our innocent family fun and turn it into a religious issue.
There was an elderly Somali man going around the crowd, blackmailing the mothers and pleading with them to stop their “haraam” forbidden activity. This was a test in which Aar Maanta came through really well. In between songs he directly addressed the old man “it is not forbidden to be happy, if you’re not happy with us you’re free to go elsewhere.” In no time the embarrassed elderly man disappeared. In my opinion this man and other disruptive men who always cause problems at Somali events are unhappy people who cannot see other people progress.
This event was part of Hayes Town Festival organised with the help of Sahan Society (a Somali mother and children centre in Hayes.) Hence, the large number of mothers and their children present. However, I could see more and more shoppers of different ages and ethnicity joining the street party, enticed by the cosmopolitan mix of Western and African sounds created by Aar Maanta and the diverse members of his band. In uniting us regardless of tribe, gender and age, Aar Maanta and the organisers of that event achieved what many of our politicians and community leaders could not achieve for many years. This is what integration was all about.
Later that day, after going home as a new fan, I found numerous articles about Aar Maanta online, most of which surprisingly were written by none Somalis. For example, Marloes Stofferis of STARAFRICA.COM called him A Somali Culture Shaper in London. Judging by his performance and the reaction of his audience that day I had to agree with her.
I would like to add in his support that Aar Maanta’s music is for the present as his name suggests (Mr Today in English.) It is modern Somali music to be proud of and to share with others. As a Somali mother, that day was a liberating experience and a culturally proud moment, where members of other communities saw us in a more joyful and positive light at least for thirty minutes.