Somali culture, music, language and food made a strong debut in the 2013 Melbourne Festival, one of the world’s leading arts festivals and Australia’s premier celebration of art and culture from around the world.
The two-week long celebration of Somali culture, which took place between 12-26 October, was hosted by the prestigious Getrude Contemporary, a dynamic centre for the production and presentation of contemporary art in Australia.
The two-week long Somali focused event was initiated by Australian artist Royce Ng who told the story of the Somali Peace Band, a music group formed in Kenya by Somali refugees. One of the musicians, Abdi Mohamed Abdi, (currently residing in Australia) spent sixteen years in a refugee camp in Kenya where he formed the Somali Peace Band with Kenyan-based singer Daacad Rashid. In 2010, Royce Ng saw Abdi perform in Melbourne and put him back in touch with Daacad in Kenya. The group then re-recorded the songs of the Somali Peace Band.
The result of Ng’s work was an immersive three-channel video installation and an open social space with events organised by members of Melbourne’s Somali community.
The event opened with the sounds of throbbing Somali beats performed by the Melbourne based Aussom Band. The band is led by Abdi Mohammed Abdi, the founder of the Somali Peace Band in Kenya.
During the Melbourne Festival, the Gertrude Contemporary also partnered with Nadia Faragaab, a visual artist and director of the Somali cultural organisation Burji Arts and the Somali Kitchen, a group of Somali food bloggers who share their love of the diverse Somali cuisine through their website.
Food bloggers, Abderazzaq Noor, Shukri Abdi, Mariam Issa and Abshiro Farah from the Somali Kitchen presented a talk on Somali food and provided tastings of famous Somali dishes to the audience.
Festival audiences also joined artist Royce Ng on Thursday 17 October for an in-depth discussion about the Somali asylum crisis, art, and the experience of displacement, and cultural identity.
On the last day of the event, Burji Arts, a Melbourne based organisation that promotes Somali culture, presented an evening of Somali poetry and language with performances by Australian-Somali poets Said Farah Shirwa, Magan and Munira Jate. The beautifully recited poems, which focused on the poets’ experiences living in Australia, demonstrated why Somalia is known as the nation of poets.
Burji Arts director, Nadia Faragaab, talked about the importance of preserving the Somali language as a living cultural record. Nadia is currently developing the first ever free Somali English Dictionary application through the Burji Arts Somali Language Preservation Project. This major linguistic project, which involves the collection of Somali words from all dialects, was recently awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award from the University of Melbourne.