On August 18, 2022, the renowned Somali poet, Abwaan Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame, also known as “Hadraawi,” which means “Master of Speech,” passed away at the age of 79. Sometimes called the “Shakespeare of Somalia,” Hadraawi penned hundreds of poems and songs throughout his career. His poetry is forever sealed in the legacy of Somali popular music (hees, heello). Sung poetry is an important historical medium for confronting Somali political and social issues. Hadraawi’s oeuvre includes a broad repertoire, from love songs to laments of war. Many of his poems criticized the Barre military regime of Somalia, which led to a five-year prison sentence for the artist beginning in 1973. Several of his most famous songs and epic poems were composed from jail.
Harvard’s Archive of World Music (AWM) holds a collection of over 500 representative tapes of this popular music dating from the 1950s-1990s. Many of the song lyrics in this collection were composed by Hadraawi. In Somali popular music, the lyrics are often considered the most important aspect of the song, and many songs are known less by their title and more by their first poetic line.
Listen to one of Hadraawi’s famous poems, Wayeel dadow, part of the AWM’s Somali Songs Collection, set to music and performed by Mohamed Mogeh Liban in 1972. The first line begins, “Walaac anigoo ku seexday [I worried while I slept]…” a song about two brothers who deceived one another, a metaphor for the ill-fated unity between British and Italian Somaliland territories. After efforts to join under a single government fell apart in the late 1960s, a military coup led by the Barre regime filled the vacuum of power. The change was initially welcomed by many Somali people, yet killings, mass arrests, corruption, and fascism remained the status quo. Artists like Hadraawi were important in documenting the history and zeitgeist of the Somali people during this tumultuous time.
Read more about his poetry in Somaliland News.
Contributed by Joe Kinzer, Curatorial Associate for the AWM
*Thanks to Ismail Hajji for his notes on this post.