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Sunday 14 July 2024

Art

Sado Ali Warsame: An Icon of Art and Politics

6 May, 2024
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Sado Ali warsame
Sado Ali warsame
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(I)

Sado took the stage at the National Theater in Mogadishu on January 21, 1989, during a state event celebrating the media. She sang her famous song “Land Cruiser” in front of a large audience, including President Mohamed Siad Barre and his government officials. More than one hundred and fifty Land Cruisers were parked in the theater lot for Somali officials and dignitaries.

During the tumultuous 1980s, Somalia grappled with a multitude of challenges. Armed rebellions erupted in various regions as a response to the government’s policies. The refugee crisis, which initially emerged after the 1977-1978 Somali-Ethiopian war, reached unprecedented levels, exacerbating the country’s woes. The devastating combination of drought and the refugee crisis exacerbated an already dire situation. Inflation skyrocketed, forcing the country to rely heavily on international aid to meet the basic needs of its population. The government’s influence waned, with its authority largely confined to the capital city of Mogadishu, which was plagued by chronic water and electricity shortages.

In the midst of this turmoil, the Land Cruiser emerged as a symbol of privilege and wealth.

The lyrics of “Land Cruiser” criticized the extravagant spending on cars while the population suffered, questioning the value of such vehicles in a city lacking basic utilities.

After the performance, a chilling silence descended upon the theater hall. With surprising grace, Sado boldly confronted the politicians in attendance, mocking their policies and luxury cars. That evening, a group of members of the notorious National Security Service (NSS) stormed Sado’s house and took her to a center affiliated with the agency in the Behani neighborhood, where she was detained.

Sado defiantly challenges the oppressive policies of the ruling regime even from behind bars. During her interrogation, she boldly interrupts the investigator with demands for basic necessities. “It’s sweltering in here. Can’t you turn on the air conditioning?” she demands. The investigator coldly responds, “The electricity is out.” Unfazed, Sado persists, “I'm parched. Can I at least have a glass of water?” The investigator, growing irritated, asks his assistant about the water situation. Sado, incredulous, questions why she was arrested in the first place. “Did my song not simply reflect the reality you see before you?” The investigator, flustered and agitated, orders Sado back to her cell.

Despite the deceptively simple lyrics of the song, it struck a chord with the masses, echoing a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the state of the nation.

Ironically, Sado was later honoured as the Best Female Artist at the 1990 New Year’s Gala held by the Radio and Television Corporation as the Best Female Artist based on the letters of the public who voted for her.

(II)

Sado's artistic journey began with a fateful encounter in Mogadishu with Professor Saeed Saleh Ahmed, a renowned expert in Somali literature and art at Lafoole University. The professor vividly recalls their first meeting in October 1973, during the casting for the play “Tusmo iyo Tawaawac” by the esteemed writer and poet Muhammad Ibrahim Hadrawi. Hadrawi was in Rome at the time, engaged in the screening activities of the Somali film “Dan iyo Xarrago.”

During the casting process, a role became vacant after an actress withdrew from the crew. Professor Saeed’s friend then introduced him to a young woman in a modest room in the Hodan neighborhood. As he entered, he was greeted by the melodious sound of a man playing the guitar, while the young woman sang with passion. When asked if she wanted to perform on stage, she simply replied, “Yes.”

Despite being canceled by official state order before its scheduled showing, the play marked Sado's first true immersion in the world of art. It was during rehearsals at Lafoole that she had her initial encounter with a vibrant community of artists and poets. This experience led to the formation of lasting friendships and collaborations that would endure for decades.

Sado joined the Waberi artistic troupe in 1974 with the nomination of the poet Muhammad-Ali Kariye; the director of the National Theater in Mogadishu, Muhammad Issa Abdi; and the director of the National Theater in Hargeisa, Idris Duale.

On January 6, 1974, Sado sang Cunnaabi in collaboration with artist Musa Ismail Qalinle (“Cunnaabi” is a name given to a type of popular women’s necklace), which was the first song she performed on stage during her artistic career. From that moment on, her artistic output soared effortlessly. In a short span of time, she emerged as one of the most influential female voices in the local art scene. She showcased numerous musical plays in various cities across the country, as well as in Russia, North Korea, Nigeria, and other countries. 

Her fellow writers and poets, including Muhammad-Ali Kariye, Mahmoud Abdullahi Singub, and Saeed Saleh Ahmed, all attest to the unparalleled artistic prowess of this remarkable woman. They marvel at her extraordinary talent for effortlessly memorizing lengthy sung poems and interpreting their profound meanings with unique skill. Her performances are a masterclass in emotive expression, as she seamlessly weaves together her sweet voice, captivating facial expressions, and dynamic body language to bring her roles to life on stage. It is clear that she is a true virtuoso in the world of performance art.

(III)

Sado possessed a mesmerizing beauty: standing tall, exuding grace and strength, with almond eyes and a smile that could charm anyone. Through YouTube clips showcasing Sado’s performances in the 1970s and 1980s, one can witness the undeniable elegance that defined her, along with her daring fashion choices that pushed boundaries even in a time when Somali women enjoyed more freedom in their clothing choices.

Sado’s dazzling presence on stage is partly due to her stunning feminine energy, which has always flowed spontaneously and without affectation. Her innate artistic talent only adds to her allure, making it impossible not to be drawn to her beauty and intrigued by her enigmatic nature. There is a unique sweetness that surrounds Sado, making her appear like an enchanting, playful princess who has stepped out of a fairytale. She exudes a magnetic charm that leaves audiences spellbound, wondering about the mysteries that lie within her.

The play Hablayahow Hadmaad Guursan Doontaan? (When Are You Getting Married, Girls?) was a sensational hit at the box office during the 1980s. Sado captivated audiences with her portrayal of a vivacious young woman who adored parties and social gatherings. She defied societal norms by prioritizing love and happiness over wealth, choosing a partner who could dance with her and revel in life's pleasures. Money held no sway over her heart.

In this captivating performance, Sado graced the stage in a sleek black jumpsuit, complete with short sleeves and form-fitting pants that elegantly reached the middle of her legs, cinched together with a striking white belt. Her short, wavy hair, dyed a copper hue, was swept back to reveal her radiant face. Adorned with delicate hair band and light-colored accessories, Sado exuded an aura of sophistication and grace.

As she moved with enchanting coquetry and fluid, rhythmic motions that synchronized perfectly with the music, Sado mesmerized the audience with her undeniable charm. Despite causing a stir with her daring costume choices, Sado’s performance in that play remains etched in the annals of Somali artistic history as one of the most breathtaking and unforgettable moments ever witnessed on stage.

 

(IV)

The essence of Sado’s personality is not solely found in her singing and theatrical abilities, her stunning beauty, or her captivating grace. While all of these attributes undoubtedly contributed to her brilliance and individuality, it was her intricate and multifaceted character that truly set her apart. Critics struggle to confine her to a narrow, predefined framework, as she possessed a depth and complexity that defied categorization.

The Somali poet and art critic Ibrahim Osman Ahmed says in this context that Sado was characterized by a peculiar balance between the soft feminine side and the roles that men usually play in Somali society. During this era, female artists often found themselves confined to performing songs penned by men, focusing on themes of love and patriotism. Meanwhile, their male counterparts took center stage, crafting melodies, composing songs, writing poetry, and producing theatrical masterpieces. In the vibrant art scene of the seventies and eighties, women played a significant role alongside men. However, despite their active participation, the dichotomy between gender roles in Somali artistry during this time was persistant. Sado defied the norm and emerged as a trailblazer. She stood out as one of the few women in her era who not only composed poems but also contributed her creativity to the literary and artistic movement. Sado’s talent knew no bounds as she not only penned the lyrics but also crafted the melodies of several songs, including the hauntingly beautiful Yaa Kuu Warrama (I wish you had heard the news) and the soul-stirring Naftaydaa Kuu Jirraban ( My soul is tormented for you).

The series of poems known as the Deelley and the Siinley flourished, sparking debate on thorny political and social issues. The state took notice of the widespread impact of these poems and called upon a select group of poets and artists from the nation, such as Muhammad-Ali Kariye, Muhammad Ibrahim Hadrawi, Abdel Qader Hirsi “Yam Yam”, Ahmed Farah Ali “Idaajaa”, and others to respond to the poets abroad. Initially, the poems all relied on metaphor, puns, and non-explicit poetic images in their criticism or defense of the state. Sado participated in the Deelley chain with two poems she wrote: Kaa Qaad Dadwaynuhu (May the people unseat you) and Diiwaanku hay dhigo (Let the history remember me).

Sado carried a rebellious spirit that was difficult to tame throughout her busy life. Therefore, When a group of poets aligned with the state dared to use crude tactics to attack the clans, painting the conflict as a tribal war between the Darod and all other clans, Sado stood firm. Alongside a brave collective of artists and poets, she boldly denounced the politicization of art and literature, refusing to let tribal hatred poison their creations.

Despite being the sole woman among forty courageous individuals who spoke out against this injustice, Sado found herself unjustly targeted by the regime. She was swiftly arrested and thrown into a dark cell, where she endured six grueling months of captivity. This marked the first clash between Sado and the oppressive regime, foreshadowing the struggles that lay ahead.

Years later, Sado would once again find herself in the crosshairs of the regime. This time, it was her powerful performance of the song “Land Cruiser” on the national stage, in the presence of the head of state, that sealed her fate for the second time.

Sado’s fearless defiance of the regime shattered the misconception that all female and male artists of the Waberi band were mere puppets of the state. She fearlessly led the charge with her artistic voice, championing positions that her peers in the artistic community dared not speak of, without caring about the potential repercussions.

Sado sang about the agony of love, the sweetness of passion, and the joys of life, but she also sang for the homeland and the people, and she spoke about the unspoken, and about the pain that was exhausting the body of the Somali nation. In addition to her famous song “Land Cruiser,” Sado sang for the Somali northern regions when it was bombed by state planes in the late 1980s, and she also sang for the victims of the indiscriminate shooting of the audience at the sports stadium in Mogadishu by the presidential guard on July 6, 1990, when the crowd whistled in disapproval at the sight of President Mohamed Siad Barre in the stadium.

Sado returned to Mogadishu from America, where she settled after the outbreak of civil war in the early 1990s, hoping to contribute to the process of rebuilding the nation. Her deep sense of patriotism led her to become a member of Parliament. But her tragic assassination in July 23, 2014 marked the end of a remarkable life dedicated to art and activism. Sado is an artistic icon who always sided with her people during their darkest hours, and presented a unique model worthy of study, critique, and celebration.