Sunday 15 March 2015

Music, culture & politics: Somaliland at the Korzo in The Hague

Last night´s concert by the Sahra Halgan Trio at the  Korzo   Theatre in The Hague raises lots of questions.  It all added up to a fascinating evening of music, culture and politics, sponsored by the   Alliance Française  in The Hague.

First the music:  Sahra Halgan   was accompanied by 2 French musicians, Maël Salétes on guitars and Aymeric Krol on  percussion and kamala ngoni. Sahra has a wonderful voice which ranges from jubilation to powerful protest. Her fellow musicians are excellent: technically virtuoso and totally assured in this musical style. This was basically a presentation of their cd Faransiskiyo Somaliland, recorded recently in France. By the end of the concert the audience were on their feet, joining in the dance to the African rhythms and singing along to the call and response melodies.

I recognized the music as being very much in the style of other African music I have heard so my question was whether these songs were traditional or original? When I asked M Krol after the show as I bought the cd he said that all the music was original to the trio. I remembered that in the documentary Sahra Halgan pays tribute to a Somaliland elder musician called Abdul Nasir, saying that when she was young he taught her all the songs she knows. So I asked M Krol and he said no, some of the lyrics are traditional but others, and the melodies, are original to the trio. I am not sure how Mdme Halgan learnt the traditional songs as lyrics only and how she would have remembered them over 20 years in France, but if that´s how she sees it it´s fine by me. I suppose it is not important to get hung up on the matter of authorship in what is fundamentally an oral tradition of  music.

In the Q & A session after the concert one question was whether Mdme Halgan was influenced by English (I think the questioner meant American) blues or by French music. She replied that definitely not English, but yes, by the French musicians she worked with all those years away from home. She was very emphatic that when it came to singing she only sang in her own African language. 
Sahra Halgan describes herself  as a cultural ambassador for her home country, Somaliland. She has been resident in France for many years and recently decided to return to Somaliland. This is no small matter as the country is not officially recognized as an independent state by the world community: in 1991 it broke away from Somalia and declared its independence. Is Somaliland a country or a region?

Before the concert there was a showing of the informative and moving   documentary  made by   Cris Ubermann . He details Sahra Halgan´s difficult life in France and the challenges of returning to her home country. The documentary includes interviews with her 16 year old daughter, first in France, a European teenager full of admiration for Sahra Halgan as mother, singer and cultural ambassador; later we see her in Somaliland as a student of the American school, quite frank about the difficulties of adapting to boarding school and to dressing to fit the local codes.

Sahra Halgan describes her life in Somaliland in the documentary. She describes her achievements as an entrepreneur setting up a restaurant which employs 19 local people. Added to the normal difficulties of setting up a new business are the restrictions on women as owners and as bank account holders. She blames these restrictions on the international community´s refusal to recognize her country. Are these problems as a woman to do with the international community or more to do with the country´s own decisions on how it is to be run?

Was I the only one in the audience who was ignorant about Somaliland and its bid for international recognition? I notice on youtube there are numerous films about the diaspora returning to Somalia and the surrounding region, not just from France but also other European countries. There is also a UN mission to Somalia which, according to local reports,  is regarded as a threat to the continuance of Somaliland as an independent state.
Clearly there is a need for cultural ambassadors like Sahra Halgan to explain her view to the world.

Thanks to the Alliance Française in The Hague for this fascinating evening:  many questions were raised and some were answered, about Somaliland and its music, culture and politics.

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