Saturday, February 01, 2014

Tragedy of a Music Icon and the Shame of a Nation by Bashir Goth

Adduunyada nin dhoofiyo
Ninkii deggan dhulkii hooyo
Nin dhergiyo nin dhawr qaday
Aan dheef hayan
Dheddig iyo laboodbaa
Hawli kama dhammaatee
Qof waliba wixii dhibay
Dhafoorkay ku taallaa
(Whether you be a migrant
Or you stay back at home
Whether you live in affluence
Or you sleep on empty stomach for days
Whether you are a male or a female
The world never spares anyone of suffering
And everyone’s own misery and hardship
Can be noticed easily on one’s temples…

Widely known as the Somali King of Melody, Maxamad Saleeban Tubeec’s unique, modulate and soaring voice spoke prophetically of the fate that would befall the Somali nation and with it Somali culture of which music is its crown jewel.

After more than half a century of fame during which Tubeec has entertained, mesmerized, and moved the passions of the Somali people with his magical and inimitable voice in defiance of the ugly tyranny of the Somali people against his rights as a human being and a native citizen, he is now lying in a hospital bed far from home.  He said the doctors in Germany where has been taken for treatment confirmed to him that he needs a surgical operation, an operation that he cannot financially afford. The painful news came through a desperate appeal he made through a Somali TV channel, asking Somali people and the Somali government to assist him in meeting the hospital expenses so he can undergo this life giving surgery.

In any world, other than this surrealistic situation of Somalia, Tubeec would have been not only a source of national pride for his contribution to Somalia’s music heritage but also a wealthy man from the copyright and sales of his works. But is it no wonder that within the Somali context where there is no copyright and no respect for intellectual property that artists, no matter how significantly they contribute to the collective national memory of the people, would remain on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

As a person who grew up in the heyday of Somali music and literature in the 1960s and 70s when music rocked people’s passions with its magical melody, its powerful poetry, and its appeal to the ambitions and dreams of the young Somali nation, I could never have envisioned the day when the whole nation would collapse and Somali musical icons would suffer and die of negligence and anonymity in their old age.  

Hearing Tubeec’s pathetic condition, I travelled down memory lane and with the help of like minded people who preserved his music on YouTube, tried to relive the golden age of his music when he breathed the beauty of life into the hearts and souls of people who loved his music but wouldn’t otherwise treat him as an equal human being due to his clan. The days when his melodies symbolized everything beautiful in life and through it we all felt to be immortal. 

It was ironic that I encountered his famous lyrics which Somalis have through decades sang and may continue to sing even centuries to come to ring in every New Year. As we stand at the beginning of a New Year, 2014, it is painful and somewhat apocalyptic to hear Tubeec singing the powerful words of Hussein Aw Farah:

Waan heesayaayee
Sannad waliba hoodiyo
Hawl iyo dhibaatiyo
Wuxu hadimo leeyahay
Waa laga helaayoo
Hadhaw lagu xusuustaa
Kii noo hagaagee
Noqo loo hanweynyahay…
(I am going to sing
That every year
Brings with it what  
It has to offer
In affluence and in misery
And it is remembered
In what it gives
O New Year
Be one that brings us
Good tidings
To earn our admiration…

One couldn’t miss, however, and might even remember it with a nostalgic feeling how Tubeec spoke to our hearts and made us live life to the full with his song Waqti (Time) in which he admonished Time to stay away from him and let him enjoy his youthful days.

Hawshiyo dhibaatada
Dhallinyaro intaan ahay
Ha ii soo dhaweynine
Waxan ii dhammaynayn
Sharaftayda dhawrooo…
(While I enjoy my youthful days
O Time
Spare me  
From your miseries and sufferings
Let me enjoy my youthfulness to the full
Dare you not harm my dignity...)

Well indeed, Tubeec had a productive and beautiful youth as one of the most loved singers of his generation and a man crowned by the Somali people as the King of Melody. Tubeec was a born singer in every genre he under took. But there is no doubt that he first captured the heart and minds of the Somali people all over the Somali peninsula with his patriotic songs at the time of independence. It was Tubeec’s lyrics that dominated the airwaves during the celebrations for Independence anniversaries. I can recall how the feeling of the people soared with the hearing of Tubeec’s “Dharaartaan waxyeeladay Dhaqdhaqeen” (The Day I Cleansed Myself of Shame) which had become one of the indelible symbols of Somali independence:

Dhaaxaan gunimiyo
Dhibaato mutoo
Dhomaha la iga saaray
Dhinacyada ee
Dharaartaan waxyeeladii
Calanka dhidbay
Sow ma soo dhicin…”
The Day I Cleansed Myself of Shame Day
(“Many a time, I had suffered
Ignominy and harshness
And have been loaded
On both sides
Like a beast of burden
O hasn’t the day
Has come
When I cleansed myself of shame
And I hoisted the flag…”)

I can only imagine how much the words of this song rang bells in Tubeec’s inner soul for while he was passionately singing about the removal of the yoke of colonialism and oppression, he knew in the deepest parts of his heart that he and his family were still carrying the yoke of centuries old societal heinous discrimination and oppression that his voice couldn’t erase. But he still sang for the promise of the day with a great degree of patriotism and optimism. 

Another of his unforgettable independence songs was “Way Ahaataye Maaanta” (Yes, today we have done it”, a song with lyrics talking about the need for collaboration and cohesiveness in decision making between the leaders and the people, a message that has lost its way to the heart of the Somali people.

Hadba kii arrin keena
Ka kale aqbalaayaa
Ilaahii ina siiyey
Isagaa ku abaale
Way ahaataye maanta
Si wanaagsan u iida
He, whoever initiates an idea
And the one who listens and supports it
O Thanks to Almighty
Who bestowed on us such harmony
And unity of purpose
Yes, today we have done it
And we must celebrate it
With peace and gracefulness…”

Apart from his patriotic songs, Tubeec’s fame came from his dignified and serene voice, coupled with the pure classical Somali music that represented the era before Somali music was adulterated with foreign styles which is adopted wholesale by modern singers. 

Among the most famous of his plethora of love songs was “Dhool Da’ay La Moodyeey” ( O You whose beauty resembles that of a day after rain”

Dhool da’ay la moodeeyey
Waan kugu dhadhabayaayey
Dharaartaynu kullanaa
Dhulku ila wareegeey
Dhimasho iyo nolol
Ayaan kala dhex joogaa
“O You whose beauty resembles that of a day after rain
Since the day I met you
The earth seems to be spinning around me  
And I stand between death and life…”

Yet another one of his memorable love songs is “Nayruus” (Nowruz) which he performs with Magool, known also as the Queen of Melody, thus making them a heaven-made duet, and arguably the best two voices of Somali music of all time.

Weligay kumaan nicin
Naagana kuma ag dhigin
Ka nixina ismaan odhan naruuroy
Ka nixina ismaan odhan nasteexooy…
“I never have ceased to love you
I never have compared you with other women
Never have it occurred to me to let you down
O my gracious deliverance
Never have it occurred to me to let you down
 O my precious darling.

It was in Lagos in 1977 that Tubeec and Magool mesmerized the African audience with their magical, authentic Somali voices. And one of the highlights of the night was“ “MINANKAYGII HADDAAD TIMI  which I recommend every reader of this piece to watch and enjoy these two artists’ stellar music and regal performance.
The precious archives of Tubeec’s music is priceless and deserve more than a book to cover it, but to throw a couple of more lines into the memory trove, I cannot miss to recall “Hanqaaro” (Urge)

Naftaydaa adaa hanqaaroo
Hablihii kale waan ka hadhayee
Anigu kaa helay hubaalee
Adigu mayla haysaa…
“O you have caused the urge in me
And I let go of all other women
My admiration for you is absolute
I wonder if have yours in return ..”

Definitely the list continues and includes Cimrigiiba Jacayl, AMAANADA ILAAHAY, Malyuun Hibo, and of course the great song of Hooyo (mother).

This is not a eulogy as Tubeec is very much alive and I wish him quick recovery but it is an attempt to remind the Somali people and the Somali government that our cultural icons and music legends like Tubeec and Cabdi Tahliil who is also ill and in need of treatment should never have been allowed to meet this fate. 

It is almost a crime that we had the music of Tubeec and Tahliil to enjoy and took pride in the legacy they left for us and then let them suffer and face life alone in their twilight years. Undeniably the tragedy that befell Tubeec and other artists like him reflects the tragedy of a nation whose country, heritage, and collective memory are all in ruins, but the Somali governments, no matter what, are duty bound to give these artists the status and financial pension that they rightly deserve. 

Finally, I would like to urge the Somali people and particularly the Somali government to extend their support and welfare to Tubeec and Tahliil who unlike other artists cannot seek clan support and who despite historical injustices always count the Somali people as a whole as their Tol.

It will only be befitting to end this peace with Tubeec’s following heart-wrenching song:

Ma ogtahay ayaantii
Ilmadu kaa da’aysee
Indhahaaga qoysaan
Inan yahay xasuustoo
Uurkaan ka ooyoo
Waan kaa ashahaatee
“O darling, don’t you know the day
When tears rolled down
And soaked your eyes
O darling, I do remember it well
As I cried my heart out
And felt great empathy for you…”