Author: archiveofworldmusic

Hudeidi, the Somali “King of Oud”: Celebrating a Musical Life Claimed by COVID-19

Spring 2021 marks the one year anniversary of Ahmed Ismail Hussein Hudeidi’s death as a result of complications from COVID-19. Since that time, the world has lost over three million people to the virus.  Hudeidi can be heard throughout the Archive of World Music’s Somali Songs Collection of approximately 500 audiocassettes comprising a range of popular music from the 1950s-1990s.

Who was Hudeidi?

A man dressed in a suit holding a lute.

Ahmed Ismail Hussein Hudeidi (1928-2020). Image courtesy BBC World Africa, 2020.

Born in Somalia in 1928, Hudeidi spent a significant portion of his childhood in Yemen. It was here that he learned to play the Arab lute known as the oud, or kaman/kaban in Somali, a type of short-necked plucked chordophone that is ubiquitous in music of the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT). Although symbolically tied to the MENAT, the oud is an important instrument in myriad genres and styles throughout the world, especially in Muslim societies such as Somalia.

When Hudeidi came of age, he moved back to Somalia and also spent time in Djibouti where he sometimes clashed with authorities for singing political songs. He made significant contributions to genres of hees, or Somali sung poetry. His boldness and virtuosity made him well-known amongst Somali musicians and audiences. Throughout his career, he accompanied some of Somalia’s most famous vocalists, such as Magool and Sara Ahmed, and worked alongside other lauded oud players, such as Omar Dhule, and composers such as Abdullahi Qarshe.  Here is a video of Hudeidi and Qarshe together in a Somali television interview, which concludes with a performance by the oud master:

One of Hudeidi’s most famous compositions was a song he wrote for his brother:

Uur Hooyo (Mother’s Womb) (AWM SC 12263)

(translation by linguist Martin Orvin, SOAS 2012).

Mother’s Womb

You, the abundant light

That my eyes graze on

Do not take me lightly

You who shared My mother’s womb

You born of my father’s back

Who shared the breast

We weaned from the same I shall never forget you… 

Qaraami (Love Songs)

Hudeidi is one of the most revered accompanists of qaraami (love songs), which form a large portion of the AWM’s Somali Songs Collection. The above song exemplifies the broad nature of the “love” theme in such music, which can include love of family, nature, or Allah (God), in addition to romantic love.

Celebrated and active until his death, Hudeidi collaborated with contemporary artists in traditional and hybrid genres throughout the world and in his London home, where he settled later in life.  One notable collaboration was with Aar Maanta, the British-Somali singer who reimagined Hudeidi’s famous song mentioned above, Uur Hooyo:

Music Across the Indian Ocean

Hudeidi’s work exemplifies the cross-cultural fusion resulting from centuries of trade relationships between Muslim societies connected by the Indian Ocean, an “Afro-Asiatic seascape” comprising “the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal [that] is framed by Madagascar, the Horn of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Southeast Asian archipelago, and Australia” (Byl and Sykes 2020:395).

Map with red lines indicating connection between countries over ocean.

Map of Indian Ocean trade network   (Szczepanski 2019)

Having spent a significant portion of his early years in Yemen, Hudeidi learned the fundamentals of the Arabic melodic modal system, known as maqamat, which he applied to Somali genres and carried with him in his world travels. Although many Somali oud players adopted elements of Arabic maqamat and taqasim (solo melodic improvisation) in the development of Somali genres, Hudeidi studied these elements extensively during his time living in the Yemeni port city of Aden.

In his adult life, he was as much a teacher as performer, known for offering  musical instruction, often free of charge, to students from around the world.  His home in London was known as an “informal music school” where he offered lessons, strong Yemeni coffee, and “a bed to anyone who needed it” (BBC World Africa, 2020).

In 2003, Hudeidi was interviewed by BBC London. In one of the few English language interviews available of the musician, he describes his love of the oud:

In honor of Hudeidi, below is a playlist of qaraami songs from AWM Somali Songs Collection. We suggest you enjoy with some strong coffee. For more on the wider collection, see this previous blog post.

(Each track contains the link to the song in the Archive of World Music and another YouTube video version.)

Contributed by: Joe Kinzer, Senior Curatorial Assistant @ Archive of World Music

 

A Trunk Full of Love Songs: Somali Songs, 1955-1991: The Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali Collection

♥Happy Valentine’s Day!♥ An appropriate day to highlight a collection of (mostly) love songs in the Archive of World Music:

When the Somali popular music expert Maryan Omar Ali first met historian Lidwien Kapteijns in person, she brought with her a trunk full of love songs and other sung poetry. Maryan spent her life carefully curating this collection to represent the most productive Somali (and some Djiboutian) songwriters and artists from the 1950s, when Somalia was fighting to gain independence, through the 1990s, when political instability and civil war plagued the struggling nation. The tapes collected from this period now form part of the Archive of World Music, where preservation and repatriation efforts are ongoing. Let’s take a glimpse into this important collection of Somali songs.

Some of the tapes in the collection (photo courtesy AWM).

In 2017, Ahmed Samatar, a professor of International Studies at Macalester College, and Lidwien Kapteijns, a professor of history at Wellesley College, began depositing the first batches of around 500 audio cassettes recordings of popular songs recorded in Somalia between 1955 and 1991, collected from radio broadcasts and privately circulated cassettes by the life-long collector of Somali popular songs and leading expert on the subject, Maryan Omar Ali.

Maryan Omar Ali (photo courtesy of Lidwien Kapteijns).

Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali (1977-2011) spent her life collecting and curating Somali  sung poetry—songs of love, war, despair, and patriotism.  As a child in Somalia, she was immersed in the world of singers, poets, and musicians, growing up in a community with some of Somalia’s most famous artists. She attended rehearsals, brought refreshments, and eventually became a leading advocate for Somali arts and culture, a pursuit that lasted a lifetime.

The primary genre in this collection is known as hees or heello, a modern form of sung poetry accompanied by, depending on the era, hand clapping, frame drums, and other musical instruments, such as the electric piano/synthesizer, organ, guitar, end-blown flute, clarinet, saxophone, violin, and Arab lute (kaman in Somali or ‘ud in Arabic). Other notable genres include qaraami and praise songs for the Prophet. Many of the genre names used to refer to Somali songs overlap in their usage depending on a number of factors, including time period.

Most of these recordings are songs of the nationalist period (1955-1974), a period after which the military regime (1969-1991) became increasingly oppressive. During this time, the emergence and success of the popular song had much to do with the roles the radio stations in cities like Mogadishu and Hargeisa assumed in the period leading up to and following independence, in addition to the Somali government’s investment, albeit meager, in the cultural production of poets, playwrights, singers, and musicians.

Somalia is unique among East African countries in its cultural unity through language. While the country is and has been fraught with political disunity, culture has bound them together. The songs in this collection reflect this unity and the importance of song in times of political and social struggle.

Maryan Omar Ali was born in Djibouti and grew up in neighboring Somalia.

One of the most important functions of popular music in the tumultuous decades from the 1950s to the 1990s involved the ability of artists to weave together tradition with modernity in the face of change and instability. Many artists used popular songs as a call to action against tribalism.  Some of the songs preached unity through themes of Qaranimo, or Somali nationalism, calling for allegiance to the state. Other songs spread ideas of uniting under Islam, charging individuals to look toward the ‘umma (global Islamic community) as a solution to clan rivalry and civil war.

Photo of Lidwien Kapteijns (courtesy Wellesley College)

Another important component of the songs in this collection is the presence of powerful female voices in a patriarchal society. In her book, Women’s Voices in a Man’s World: Women and the Pastoral Tradition in Northern Somali Orature, c. 1899-1980 (1999), Lidwien Kapteijns writes about the nuanced ways in which poetry, including sung poetry and the popular songs of this collection, give voice to female subversion of this patriarchy, highlighting the importance of women in Somali society.  Many of the love and lament-themed songs that form the qaraami genre were frowned upon by religious authorities and conservative society, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Mixed gender dancing and socialization, women on stage, and themes of love and desire were viewed as irreverent. Thus, the women who made a living performing this music were particularly vulnerable to oppression. Pressing on, many singers throughout the decades, those such as Magool and Sahra Axmed–both featured in this collection–were heroic in their efforts to change conceptions of art, gender relations, and cultural unity. For more on individual artists and songs in the collection, and suggested readings and resources, here is a link to the finding aid to the Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali Collection.

 

Written by: Joe Kinzer, Senior Curatorial Assistant, Archive of World Music

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