By: Abdirahman Ahamed Shunuuf, Mohamed Ahmed Shunuuf and Mohamoud Ahmed Shunuuf
Xodeydi is the indisputable king of Oud. A musician, songwriter, and an exceptionally talented composer and arranger; Xodeydi can be characterized as the father of Somaliland music. If ever there were a Somaliland hall of fame he would have been the first person to be inducted. He is the guru and patriarch of Somaliland music and song. He is without a doubt a master instrumentalist that other Oud players can emulate and learn from new chord fingerings.
Furthermore, he single handedly kept the Somaliland music from the vampire grip of western music. He kept the music on the move for the past forty-five years: creating new songs and making new innovations on the old songs known in Somali as the “Qaraami songs.” He is also the person behind the sudden surge of the Oud during recent years.
Thanks to him, Somaliland has vast number of musicians, singers, songwriters, and poets who are Oud devotees in Somaliland and in the Diaspora. Xodeydi can also be characterized as one of the key persons behind the most famous band in Somaliland during the 60’s and 70’s called Barkhad Cas.
It was the most creative group in Somaliland music world with the finest singers, songwriters, and the best composers, arrangers, musicians and poets. To Somaliland music lovers, they were similar in their devotion to music and talent to the African American Jazz greats, such as Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, and last but not least Lady Day or Billie Holliday.
The Barkhad Cas band included, for instance, Mohamed Mogeh, Ahmed Mogeh, Ahmed Ali Drum, Faisel Omer Mushteeg, Ahmed Mohamed Goad, Sahra Siyad, Abdulla Sagsag, Abdi Qayes, Abdirahaman Hassan, and Xodeydi. This era is known by many Somaliland critics and intellectuals as the Golden Age of Somaliland Music and song. Many cultural critics give credit to Xodeydi with keeping the art of Oud playing, alive, during the dark years of Siyad Barre’s dictatorial regime in Somaliland. Siyad Barre’s government-run radio used to play marching band type of music 24 hours a day. They called this type of music “revolutionary.” When Barkhad Cas Band refused to perform this type of music, they were branded as counter- revolutionaries by the authorities and banned from the airwaves. Therefore, they went underground and recorded their music on cassette tapes.
Barkhad Cas’s music and songs were also banned from performing on the two national theatres in the country. Also, anyone caught carrying the so-called seditious music was thrown into prison by the notorious National Security Services (NSS.) Many fans who were unaware of the government’s ban, were caught and thrown into prison. Despite the terror and fear that was unleashed by Siyad Barre’s notorious Secret Services, Xodeydi and his co-artists kept on singing and creating, until they literally began to dominate the entire music industry in Somaliland and the Diaspora.
Since many of the artists were thrown in jail so many times and tortured the underground cassette tapes became a hot discussion topic among the people of Somaliland.
The underground music was in such great demand that when someone from Somaliland visited abroad, the first question to be asked was whether he was carrying any new tapes from home. In those days whether Xodeydi played old songs called Qaraami or whether he performed modern songs, his music was just phenomenal, hypnotic and down-write infectious.
GENIUS IN SESSION
The songs Xodeydi played in the 60’s and 70’s catapulted him into Somaliland mainstream popularity, rare for diehard Oud players. For years the tapes he collaborated with his band would have remained in the Top #1, on Somaliland Billboards’ charts, if Somaliland had Billboards at the time.
Listening to those tapes, one is taken by not only the addictive beat of his Oud, but one is equally smitten by his style of music. He always brought unflagging energy and alert musicianship to the songs. His Oud lines moved through all the music as a non-stop, countermelody tumbling in, to the singer’s voice, plunging lightly to catch up a rhythmic change, humming along as a second opinion on a solo or vocal line, nudging the music towards the next bend.
Although, the Oud is supposed to be a solitary instrument at its best, when left to sing on its own terms, Xodeydi’s Oud is anything else but solitary. He makes it sound like ten different instruments in one. Once again, the Oud is supposed to be a soft-spoken instrument, which is at disadvantage to other instruments, but his Oud can be characterized as a band by itself. In fact, he is at his best when he performs alone with no back-up musicians and that is what makes him the genius that he is. His trademark is a ten string larger than normal Oud. He sometimes holds his Oud not only horizontally, but also vertically which makes it look like a Cello.
At the end of the 60’s and 70’s cassette tapes, Xodeydi usually paid tribute to his Aden- South Yemen, days by combining elements of his style with a style in which disparate elements-Nubian, Arabic and African rhythmic impulses – are molded into a distinctively Somaliland sound.
In concert, he resembles an aging Jimmy Hendrix, with an Oud instead of a guitar. His effortless plucking of the stirrings seem so simple but yet complicated. To the uninitiated, the sound of the Oud is so unfamiliar and different; but to the fans, the sound is smooth and sweet that it defies simple explanation. To many Somalilanders Xodeydi’s music is an affirmation of the tenacity, hope, strength, spirit and passion of the past, present and future generations. It also symbolizes the richness of Somaliland culture -song, music, poetry and dance.
FIRST FOOTSTEPS IN SOMALILAND
Xodeydi, who arrived on the Somaliland music scene four generations ago, from Aden-south Yemen, as a member of Walalo Hargeisa, was born in Aden to rich Somaliland parents. Legend has it that Xodeydi traded all of his inheritance money for an Oud which shows the importance he accorded to the instrument. Xodeydi became part of the Somaliland Aden community, who were involved with anti-colonial, nationalist discourse. It was during this time that he befriended some of the best known Somaliland artists who were living in Aden at the time. They included Abulillahi Qarshe, the father of Somaliland Nationalist Songs and Muhamed Ismail Barkhad Cas, the great nationalist poet and playwright.
He also met Qaassim, another great poet and nationalist of high caliber. Xodeydi once performed as Abdillahi Qarshe’s drummer in an anti-colonial play, written by Mohamed Ismail Barkhad Cas, and directed by Abdillahi Qarshe, who was also the lead singer. Soon after that, he met the late great Oud player and fellow Adense Hassan Nahaari, who taught him how to play the Oud.
Xodeydi in an interview with the British Broadcasting Company (B. B.C.) reminisced about the good old days. He remembered the first time he set foot on Somaliland soil. He said in the interview that he arrived in a small holy town called Maid located on the eastern coastal area of Somaliland. He talked about how he was brought to Diaxa another small town that had a boarding middle school.
He continued to say how he met at the time in the boarding school, an exceptionally talented teachers, including the great Somaliland poet Abdlsalan Haji Adan, Oral Historian and teacher Lumumba and the great poet and playwright Ahmed Suleman Bidde who was the School’s electrician.
According to Lumumba, when Xoheydeh arrived in the city, a big party was thrown in his honor. When Xodeydi found out that he was among fellow artists, he began to mellow and decided to play the Oud. That night, according to Lumumba, he opened his music adventures – an instrumental style that showcased his Oud prowess. Lumumba adds, “the music seemed to say, ‘Diaxaaxey’ and I began to sing along: “Adiga ee daryaaleh. Dia xaa xey.” “I began to hear once more and I responded to the music again and said, ‘dantida jiraa yey.’ We created a song right there and then, without any rehearsal. It was the greatest moment of may life.” In English translation it goes like this: “Oh! Diaxa you are the one who takes care of me. Oh! Diaxa you are the one who looks after me …”
Shortly after, the teachers and Ahmed Suleiman Bidde wrote a play together, primarily for the entertainment of the students in the boarding school. Xodeydi wrote the music for the play. The play became a hit for the students and the town’s people that the teachers decided to take the play to a much larger audience in the major cities of Burao, Sheikh, Berbera and Hargeisa. The play became a hit also in the big cities. It was during this time that he met the rest of the talented ten and distinguished artists of the Barkhad Cas group.
BARKHAD-CAS ERA: A PERFORMANCE OF A LIFETIME
When an entire group of people is attacked by its government the group fights back sooner or later. One of the best means of fighting back is to create dignified images within that group. And musical instruments and singing becomes the most potent forces against injustices and oppression. Being able to sing your own songs and play your own music without hindrance, is also the [beginning of empowerment and control of your own destiny.
Control over the music and songs of others or their culture, exerts control over the way the others are regarded and influences the way society treats them. For instance, during Siyads Barre’s dictatorial rule of Somaliland, Somaliland radio stations depicted the Somalilanders as anti-revolutionaries . This created in the minds of Somali the notion of the ‘others.’ Songs, such as the infamous ’sama diido dibin baa ku degan laa ku ku deli doono’ or ‘he who refuses good behavior a trap has been laid to kill you’ or ‘the worst people are those who have their belly full.’
These songs and others encouraged a degree of generalized hate that made: 1) the detention without trial of Somalilanders, 2) Killing and looting of their property, 3) the firing of seventy five Director Generals and 4) the forceful closure of all boarding schools in Somaliland in the 70’s, more nearly acceptable to the general public.
On another level, the radio repeatedly identified the inhabitants of Somaliland and their party, the Somali National Movement (the party that won Independence for Somaliland) as Qudomiis or filthy carcass. This was a tag that branded them less than human and therefore an easy prey by the military force in Somaliland to shoot and kill people suspected of being members.
It was that period of generalized fear and intimidation of the artists by the authorities that Xodeydi arrived in Hargeisa and plunged himself into the fold of Barkdhad Cas, where he rightfully belonged. Ever since, his arrival in Hargeisa, the music and song of Somaliland was never the same. The group performed a couple of plays and recorded hundreds of tapes together. It seemed as if the group and Xodeydi were made for each other. For instance, watching him and Faisel in action makes one lose both time and space, especially, when Faisel sings his signature song Subceys.
During the 1960’s, the song was a vibrantly radical work, at once unsettling and impish, with a voice comprised entirely ululation vocal sounds, yelps, squawks, shouts, drumming and whistles. Made up words Arabic and gibberish were mixed into the Somali words too. The audience jumped into the action too, to reward Faisel and Xodeydi with their own assortment of yelps, shouts and encore or ‘peace’ in Somali.
When playing Subceys, Xodeydi’s notes sounded not like a shimmering sustained harmony, but like a rippling rhythmic motive, eerily dry and tingling. Xodeyedeh who looked like someone in a trance, makes the playing so simple and a deep emotional sensibility runs through his playing, however, pristine and refined with the melodic twists and turns of the tune that he seems to be singing along with the music. This performance is not only full of colour and seduction, it is also brilliant and thought provoking. At the end of the song, one can hear in the background the audience exhaling and roaring for encore or ‘peace’ in Somali.
Today Xodeydi is widely seen as a revivalist and a hope for the future of the Oud. He is best described as a veteran serving as a mentor to a younger generation of artists, and at the same time consciously using his fame in order to draw attention to older Qaraami, traditional music, thereby strengthening the Somaliland music and song. Without Xodeydi the younger generation would not be able to become aware of their musical heritage especially the Qaraami.
The musical legacy of Xodeydi has been a central theme in Somaliland’s music enthusiast circles over the past four decades. Issues that face the artists now, such as cultural commodification, ownership of Somaliland’s music and the direction of the music, are important items that all Somaliland artists and fans alike, have to tackle in the coming years.
For now, our coverage of this genius musician provides a long overdue recognition for one of Somaliland’s favorite sons. Our hope is simply that the attention will prove to have served as a catalyst for enhancing the prestige, honor and status of a long forgotten living legend who deserves a national symbol to be named after him, such as the Hargeisa theatre. We also believe that his tapes should be collected and put into the Somaliland National Museum for posterity, because his pioneering work has not yet been fully explored.