Somali films and on stage productions are integral to the rich history of the Somali arts culture, and entertainment industry. Not only the latter but these pictures are held very dear to many Somalis hearts. The striking bright, confident colors, the original singing voices and the on stage story-lines prove nostalgic for the older generations. Classic songs, memorable quotes and over exaggerated movement on stage, reinforces the originality and essence that resonates within Somali actors and actresses. Far from organized, Somali productions have a chaotic nature, a rugged temperament which one cannot simply overlook; which you will and can only find in a Somali riwayad. This includes the classic old Somali style long microphone wire, the band onstage nowhere near the background, quite the opposite actually. They are often mesmerized or simply unmoving as if they were back stage. Then comes the awkward, sometimes noisy pauses between scenes in addition to the sometimes unintelligible sound quality. Nevertheless none of this deters us from watching, singing along and enjoying the stories, creating a space for these titles in our memories.
More exciting for the younger Somali generation is the growth of ‘Somaliwood’ which originated and developed in Columbus, Ohio wherein there exists a prominent, thriving Somali society. Production companies such as ‘Olol films’ (meaning flaming hot films) have gained success in America and the U.K with some great relatable titles. These films have been taken to, considerably well and their success has led to the production of even more great titles which has paved the way for the Somali communities worldwide to explore contrasting issues within their societies.
For example Rajo (meaning hope), is a depiction of American Somalis by Olol films, directed by Abisalaam Aato. This is quite a modern film, which tells the tale of Omar, a young Somali man who has settled in Columbus, Ohio. The film touches on numerous topics such as rebuilding lives once groups have fled Somalia to the west, American gang culture which young males statistically have become heavily involved in, sometimes unbeknownst to them as the film reveals. It also deals with the matter of employment, love/relationships and family. Integrally though, the recurring theme is hope of a better life which is the forthright meaning of the title. If first watched when it originally was released around 2009, this was an entertaining, funny and original plot that lacked the production funds which had the potential to make it great. The absence of dollars however gives the film a surprising charisma which Rajo possesses in abundance, predominantly due to the casting. If you are interested in similar storylines which involve themes of love, family and culture VS religion in Somali cinema, recommendations include Ismaqabato, Ali and Awralah and Flight 13 which focuses heavily on culture vs religion.
Flight 13 refers to groups of Somalis who arrived from Somalia pre 1997 and post 1997 to reinforce their newness and the film reflects this well. Other titles include the classic scary story of Araweelo adapted into ‘Xaaskayga Araweelo’, ‘Qabyo’ which is a play and ‘Qabyo 2’ which was made into a film. Also, ‘Gabar Haloo Doono’’ also produced by Olol films which centers on the bachelor lifestyle of two young Somali brothers who have settled in America and how difficult they find it dealing with their old fashioned mother coming to visit, who in turn cramps their style.
Somali movies are sadly mostly not copyrighted and distributed through homes on illegally downloaded copies as opposed to being distributed legally, which is why the industry is failing fiscally. It is no way due to lack of talent which clearly the industry is brimming with. However, it must be said that these films are not an accurate representation of all Somalis and is fiction after all. There sometimes appear exaggerated versions of a stereotypical Somali and clearly does not always represent everyone. However, they are found to be highly entertaining and the topics these stories delve into do resonate throughout our lives, which is why we can relate and appreciate them in our homes, surrounded by a family that just might remind you of that character on screen.