By Hassan Omer


Once or twice a week, a dozen amateur musicians meet under a highway overpass on outskirts of Mogadishu carting with them drums, cymbals and the collective memory of their destroyed village.

The set up quickly then play music that is almost never heard anymore, not even here where the steady drone of cars muffles the lyrics of love and betrayal heroic deeds and kingdoms lost.

The musicians used to live in odowa family bridge, village of about 300 households near the overpass. In 2009, the village was torn down to build a golf course and residents were scattered among several housing project, some a dozen miles away.

Now, the musicians meet once a week under the bridge, but the distances mean the number of participants is dwindling. A young people, especially do not have the time.

“I want to keep this going.” Said jamac, 45 old, who inherited leadership of the group from his grandfather, “when we play our music, I think of my grandfather, when we play, he lives.”

Across Somalia, cultural traditions like the odawa family’s music are under threat. Rapid urbanization means village life, the bedrock of Somali’s culture is rapidly disappearing and with it traditions and history.

“Somali’s culture has traditionally been rural-based.” Says Hassan a well-known author and scholar, “once the villages are gone, the culture is gone.”

Destroying villages and their culture also reveals deeper biases. A common insult in Somalia is to call someone farmer, a word equated with backwardness and ignorance, while the most valued cultural

When the communist took over in 1979, these traditions were mostly banned but were revived starting in the 1991s when the bare regime overthrow. The temples mostly destroyed during the Cultural Revolution were rebuilt.

However, the performers are declining in numbers and increasingly old. The universal allures of modern life such as computers, movies and television have siphoned young people away from traditional pursuits but the physical fabric of the performers’ lives has also been destroyed.

Mr. odowa walked through the village, now reduced to rubble and overgrown with wild grass and bushes. He started singing with his grandfather when he was 2. He now has an office job in the city’s public transportation company and spends all his vacation time working on the troupe.

However, odowa said that keeping their village life intact would have helped most. “It was really comfortable in the old village.” He said back in his new home, a small two-bedroom apartment high up in the apartment block a half-hour drive away.

 By Hassan Omer


  1. Culture is a guiding principle, ethics that govern the daily treadmill of our lives, in which we walk, talk with and encounter. It heals defiance and indecency, it builds bridges, and adds to our strengths; it helps us with self-affirmation, it brings positive forces into play and it also gives us the “feel good” feeling (nothing wrong with that when it does not end with self adulation or self-destruction).

    So what if we are not invited to parties; so what if we are not counted among the rich and famous; so what if we are ignored; so what if we are treated with hostility; so what if we fail to practice what we preach and so what if we are not given the credit due to us? Just imagine what would happen when ignorance has the upper hand?

    • US embassy grounds used to have a 9 hole golf course before the 1991 destruction. Their 2016 sports and athletics plan includes golf as well.

  2. Each culture has good and bad things with it, and there some cultures where the bad outweight the good. I think Somali culture is one of them. It has its moments but it also has a lot of short comings. If we can just separate ourselves and realize that culture does not define you as a human being that you can make conscious choices about what values you hold then I think we have a better future. If however we do exactly as our forefathers have done then we will have the same results to show for it. A whole lot of nothing