Somalia-Bantu Music

Musical traditions
Shareero Walinja: performed at weddings and in staged performance situations.  Abalisha: performed at wedding ceremonies and in staged performance settings. Praise for those at the center of the wedding and their families is once more the subject of song texts.

Musician(s):Osman Mohamed Hassan (Zuka) and Mohamed Ibrahim Bulle, The Somali-Bantu Wedding Band

Instruments: 
vocals, drums and percussion (synthetic djembe, congas, improvised percussion like metal baking tins), six-string bowl-lute called a "sharrara"

In Somalia, traditional music featuring a multi-part drumming ensemble is closely connected to people of Bantu origin. Oral histories in the Gosha region report the importance of drums in the capture of slaves on the Tanzanian coast. One story recounts that the playing of drums was prohibited by community leadership as a part of a divination predicting a famine. However, the community did not believe in the divination and continued to dance and drum causing a locust invasion. With their food sources gone the people moved towards the coast where they were captured as slaves. Whatever the case, the importance and power bestowed upon the act of dancing and drumming is felt strongly among inhabitants of the Gosha from different ethnic origins. (click to read more)

MUSIC SAMPLES

Excerpts on the musical style Abalisha. Chapin, Simeon. 2007. “Music of the Somali Bantu in Vermont: Music, Identity and Refugees.” MA thesis, Tufts University

Musicans and dancers locate Abalisha as a dance from the Shabelle Valley. Abalisha is performed at wedding ceremonies and in staged performance settings. Praise for those at the center of the wedding and their families is once more the subject of song texts.

The main action in Abalisha dancing occurs in the hips. Somali Bantu call this motion “squeezing”. In performance situations one person at a time enters the dance space. The dancer enters the space and directs their action toward the musicians or the person they wish to pass the dance to. Dancers move through the space with one of two dance steps. One is a shuffling step similar to Shareero Walinja and the second step involves alternate double stepping on the main beats of the music – left left, right right. Arms swing at the side of the dancer in opposition to the feet splitting the bodily action laterally. Once in place before the focus of their attention the feet are planted and the focus is on squeezing. The dancer circles or tilts their hips in time to the music making a sharp “squeezing” motion at the end of a phrase by thrusting their pelvis or hips in the desired direction. The direction may be forward, back, or to either side. Phrases are most commonly made in 8 beats with 4 resting beats followed by 4 beats of action. Advanced dancers coordinate longer phrases with the lead drummer who follows their feet and hip actions. When the dancer is ready to leave the circle they finish a squeezing phrase in the direction of the next dancer. A scarf is often tied around the dancers hips to accentuate their motion. Men tie it around their waist; women tie the scarf lower around the largest part of their hips and buttocks.

Often at wedding ceremonies young girls in groups of two will dance in the space together. If more attempt to join, elder women chide them and make them leave to wait their turn. If a person is dancing especially well others in attendance will approach them and wipe their face with a cloth, described by musicians as “washing the face”. Giving money to a dancer by placing it in their mouth, on their forehead, or in a pocket also shows good feeling for the dancers movements.

 

Excerpts on the musical style Sharerro Walinja. Chapin, Simeon. 2007. “Music of the Somali Bantu in Vermont: Music, Identity and Refugees.” MA thesis, Tufts University.

Shareero Walinja is performed at weddings and in staged performance situations. Bulle and Zuka describe learning and performing Shareero Walinja at weddings in Jilib and surrounding towns in the Jubba river valley. The performance of Shareero Walinja honors the bride and groom, their family, and others who are central to the community’s celebration. Zuka describes a performance as “pleasing someone”.

“It starts with the name of someone like you are pleasing someone, the person who is getting married. You are telling [them], ‘This guy is a good guy and he is marrying a good lady and she comes from a good family,’ and so on and so on and all those things. It is like you are pleasing someone and at the same time you make a rhythm and perform it in that ceremony and people dance it.” (2007-I)

At weddings small groups of women (between two and seven) dance in linear procession. Each group of dancers are of the same age group. The line circles the dancing space pausing opposite the musicians. The line then advances and retreats in a parallel line towards the musicians. The feet move close to the floor in a shuffling pattern – right left right, left right left, short, short, long, short, short, long – driving toward the downbeat or beginning of the musical cycle. In staged performances this dance can be performed solo.

This song is sung in Ziqua Languae. It is a love song that farmers sing when they are about to finish up working in the farm and ready to come back home. It is a self-motivation to the young farmers to work hard if they want to be successful.

– Osman Hassan (Zuka), singing with Halidzja

More resources

Content from the Vermont Folklife Center's Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program

Somali-Bantu singing and drumming with Masters Mohamed Bulle and Osman Hassan