Written by: Abdirahman Ahmed Shunuuf, Mohamed Ahmed Shunuuf and Mohamoud Ahmed Shunuuf
Sahra Siyaad is known as “The First Lady of Song.” She was discovered in Somaliland’s “Independence Garden Theater” in Hargeisa during an amateur night contest. The singer made her first recording cassette with the famous singer Ahmed Mogeh in 1969, and went on to appear with some of Somaliland’s best recording artists, including the renowned “Barkhad Cas Group.”
In 1971, she was the only female singer to perform with the male vocalists in the group. The “Barkhad Cas Band” which toured the entire country and catapulted her to fame. From that concert on, she set the standard for Somaliland female singers. Famous Somaliland vocalists, such as “Shankaroon,” emulated and copied her style of singing, which later made her a superstar in her own terms.
When she first sang with Ahmed Mogeh in 1969, the song became number one in Somaliland, and remains a collector’s item to this day. (The song is called “Jaalahaa Waalaal,” and was about a friend, Ahmed Mogeh, soothing his female friend, Sahra Siyaad, by reassuring her that her lover still loves her.)
During the following years, Sahra sang again with Ahmed Ali “Drum,” a song called “Shacni iyo wanaag.” She made music history at the time, because she was the first Somaliland female vocalist to release two recordings in a row.
Again in 1971, she fulfilled her ultimate dream of performing in one of the most memorable concerts ever put on stage. She was the star performer since she was the only female among the talented singers. Her hit single, “Allah Caagoor Boogseexeh” or “Allah is the only one who cures illness,” was a metaphor for the life and times of Mohamed Ismail Barkhad Cas, the great nationalist poet, playwright, and songwriter. Since the whole concert was a tribute to him, the song depicted the last days of the poet’s life.
The song in English:
Didn’t the masses and the youth
Is it because of my illness?
That they stop saying Hi?
Allah curses all sickness
But you begin to wonder
About people’s intentions fully
When you are in need!
Mohamed Ismail Barkhad Cas died of tuberculosis at the tender age of thirty-three. Most of his close friends believed in the misguided notion of catching the disease through simple exchange of greetings. Therefore, they abandoned him entirely, leaving him to suffer alone in an empty hospital bed.
Sahra with her hauntingly sensual, sexy, raspy singing voice, mixed the sadness and grief, and brought down the house when she performed the song for the audience. In her stunning, emotional, and powerful voice, she radiated so much feeling and conviction that the audience mistook her for the poet she represented in the performance. It was one of the best performances by a female vocalist in a long time. Her style, stage presence, and singing ability made her a superstar. The song was so powerful it left many people to wonder and ask questions about her health status after the concert. She must have been too convincing in her role, for people to ask such questions!
Sahra collaborated again with Ahmed Ali “Drum” in another beautiful song called “Maad ee yoo Laamaanaan,” or in English, “Can you be my partner?”
The lyrics in English:
I was waiting for you
All day yesterday
You are connected emotionally to me
Through umbilical cord as well as the backbone
From the corner of my eye
I catch a glimpse of you
And turn quickly shying
Can you be my partner?
Sahra Siyaad did not record any more songs ever since her friends and fellow artists fled the country in the late 1970’s and ‘80s. She now lives in the northwest area of Somaliland, near the city of “Geeleeley,” perhaps waiting for a reunion someday!
When Sahra Siyaad sings Somaliland songs, she instinctively puts her emotions into the lyrics, giving her a visceral, earthy, coarse singing style. In addition, she turns her emotions sometimes into turbulent personal dramas, brimming with love and heartbreak. A good illustration is the song mentioned above, that she sang during the “Barkhad Cas” concert. The song was arranged to tell the story of one woman’s ups and downs in the ‘roundabout’ search for a lasting relationship. At the end of the song, one felt that Sahara put all her singing ability into it, and a rare practical sensibility that grasps the downside of love emerges. She is at her best when she sings sad songs, or in other words when she sings the blues that is Somaliland Blues.
During the concert and later, she found herself lionized as the spokeswoman of a nation. But the mantle of courage rested heavily on a woman who had never intended to do anything but sing. Her sweet but strong voice evoked a land where song and poetry has a life-saving ability to the hearts of all people. She sometimes sang with a slinky Qaaraami feeling, but she also summoned up a thunderous force.
Radiating hope, however, was not easy for her because the man “Barkhad Cas” that she was playing, was a man to whom sickness, burden, and loss were a way of life!