By: Abdirahman Ahamed Shunuuf, Mohamed Ahmed Shunuuf and Mohamoud Ahmed Shunuuf
Singer, composer, musician, teacher and Revolutionary, Mohamed Mogeh “Baban” is acclaimed not only for the purity of his voice, said by many to be the best in all Somali speaking areas, but also for his integrity, revolutionary zeal, teaching ability and his efforts to maintain high artistic and social ideals in his music. Mohamed Mogeh believed the role of the artist is to be a pioneer, and to do this, he should devote all his work and his life to the people and humanity of his time. Mohamed Mogeh’s singing was never for self-satisfaction or personal enjoyment. Mogeh articulated the responsibility of the singer to be the creation of new, healthy values for both future and contemporary people, so that society can evolve, while at the same time grounded on the normal and social values of the generations past.
Mohamed Mogeh grew up at a time when singing was not used as a profession. “Barkhad Cas” dominated the generations of the 50’s and early 60’s and “Abdillahi Qarshe” was the giants whose nationalistic songs dominated the airwaves. However, neither of them worked for the “Radio hargeysa”. Abdillahi Qarshe worked for the District Commissioner (DC) in Hargeysa, and “Barkhad Cas” the poet of Somali Nationalism refused to work for radio station hargeysa. Mogeh’s profession was not singing, it was rather teaching in schools. In the early 60’s Mogeh was the lead singer in a play performed by the Somaliland Teachers Union. The play emphasized the value of education and schools. The opening song included this verse:
We are like the moon that illuminates a dark world.
We provide Education as a gift to the schools.
Mogeh at an early age of his adult life knew his role in society was to educate the masses as is clear from the song mentioned above. He could never have composed and sung his later famous patriotic/nationalistic songs without having an honest love, deep seated feeling and a clear and visible commitment for his nation and people. His songs always had a message. It was impossible for him to have left London, England in the late 70’s, when most Somali intellectuals were moving to bigger and better pastures in the Diaspora. He joined the liberation struggle in Ethiopia without an undying faith and love for his people. Mogeh’s revolutionary songs attracted thousands of students and youth to the liberation struggle spearheaded by the Somali National Movement (SNM).
In order to fully understand Mogeh’s deep commitment against military rule and his fearless stands, the following story by one of his close friends and co-singer Faisel Omer Mushsteeg is illustrative. Faisel says, “In 1970 all the civil servants were forced to go through a one year course in “Xalane” a military camp near Mogadishu. The function of the training camp was to “re-educate” the civil servants to their new environment (military dictatorship) and end “civil society”. Mogeh composed a poem or “Afar_leey”, a smaller version of Somali poem. I also added a few lines to the “Afar_leey”. Others in the camp also added a few lines of their own. The military officers in their version of “the big brother is watching you”, heard about it and immediately informed their superior officers. They in turn informed the president, Siyad Barre. Siyad Barre became furious and instantly called for a general meeting of all civil servants in the camp. He wanted to know the person who composed the poem. To the dictator’s utter surprise, Mogeh raised his hand and took credit for the poem. Apparently, that was not enough for the dictator, so he asked to recite the poem. Mogeh recited the poem in its entirety, including the lines we added to his original pieces. The poem went like this:
Do you know that the food I eat does not have any nutrition?
Do you know that I take orders from an ignorant soldier?
Do you know the person I blame is you!
Ma ogtahay anfacadaan cunna ma laha iidaane?
Ma ogtahay Askari jaahilaan amar ka qaataaye?
Ma ogtahay qofkaan eersadaa adiga weeyaane!
The president of Somalia went crazy and ordered the officers to immediately put him behind bars. Mogeh stayed behind bars for the duration of the training period. It took me and some friends of mine to perform a pro government play during the closing ceremony of the training, which was attended by the dictator and his ministries. At the end of the play, we went to the President and asked for a clemency of our fellow artist. He accepted our plea, but warned all of us to stay out of political songs and anti-government activities”.
Mogeh’s political consciousness began to grow and mature. In 1971 in a visit to Djibouti a small Somali inhibited area which was under French colonial rule at the time Siyadd Barre accused him of fomenting trouble and put him in prison again. When he was released later on, he sang a song demanding and explanation for his incarceration. He says:
“If I visited Djibouti on a holiday,
an area stolen from us,
since I did not break the law,
why was I imprisoned?”
Somali laga xadday
haddii aan xaggaa tagay
maaan jabinin xeerkee
maxaa laygu soo xidhay”
Mogeh knew the difference between singing for your people and nation singing for a regime. He recorded two songs for the two radios in Mogadeshu and Hargeysa in his whole life as a singer; which spans nearly three decades of being number one. The song he recorded for Radio Hargeysa was a love song called “Mar Aan Xalyato Toosoon”, When I Woke Up Last Night”. The love song that he recorded for Radio Mogadishu was a patriotic song dealing with education and schools called “Waanada Macalinka” or “The Advice of the Teacher”. As we have mentioned earlier, Mogeh’s musical career span nearly three decades of being at the top.
Besides being a singer, teacher and revolutionary, Mogeh was also a great stage actor, for he was the leading singer and actor in “AQOON IYO AFGARAD”, the famous play written and directed by the Great Somaliland poet and play write Hadraawi in 1972. Mogeh believes in integrity and deep commitment to his people’s values and culture will hopefully be imitated by the young artists of today, so that his life will not be in vain. Mogeh was murdered by the enemy of Somaliland people in June 1984, fighting the good war against the military dictatorship.. Mogeh has been gone for more than 17 years, the distinctive sound and his prophetic lyrics resonate with a force still seldom rivaled.Mogeh epitimises Somaliland culture and his music became the anthem of a displaced generation and the power behind his voice and lyrics remains to this day. He left a daughter and two grandsons who live in Addis Abba Ethiopia. Somaliland misses its own favorite son deeply. In the summer of 1999 the Somaliland people, in recognition of Mogeh’s vast contribution to music and songs of Somaliland, named a new suburban residential area in Hargeysa as ” Mohamed Mogeh”. This is an acknowledgment to Mogeh’s commitment to the preservation of Somaliland culture through his music and songs.Mogeh’s legend lives on in all who sing and listen to Somaliland music today.