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The Horn is blaring; do you hear it?
Two East African music stars, Gili Yalo and Nimcaan Hilaac, will perform late this week at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside community, known for its large and vibrant East African community. The artists will sing in Amharic and Somali, respectively. It’s a great opportunity for Cedar-Riverside to enjoy some familiar sounds and for the broader Twin Cities community to experience the sounds of the Horn of Africa.
Performing on Thursday, June 1, will be Gili Yalo and his five-man band. Yalo, who performed at the Cedar last fall, is returning with his funk and classical soul sound. Born in Ethiopia, Yalo left with his family at age 4 for the promised land of Israel. He has spent most of his life there, and grew up listening to Western music, an influence evident in his music as he seeks to express the beauty of the diaspora, singing in English and Amharic and mixing funk and psychedelic sounds.
His sound is electrifying, and likely different from anything you have heard before. He released his debut album, “Gili Yalo,” in 2017. Among its songs are “Sab Sab, Selam” and “Africa.” In 2019, he released “Made in Amharica,” created with the Dallas, Texas-based Nile City Sounds production team. The title is an ode to a diaspora experience of growing up between different languages and countries, as he croons on “This Is Home.”
Sharing the stage Thursday night will be Minnesota-based Cedar Commissions artist DJ Fawzi, a Somali international DJ and rapper who raps mainly in Somali. She often graces the stage in beautiful Somali diracs (traditional evening wear).
The next day, Friday, June 2, Somali artist Nimcaan Hilaac will perform on the Cedar stage. Nimcaan began his music career in Hargeysa, the city considered to be the home of Somali arts and culture, and rose to popularity due to his sincere voice and boyish charm. He then went on to Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and became director of the state-sponsored Waabeeri music troupe. In Mogadishu, Nimcaan sang live with a full band, bringing that tradition back to the city.
Those familiar with the Cedar’s Midinimo (Somali music series) are in for a treat, as Nimcaan is the first Somali artist to perform in Somali at the Cedar since Aar Maanta and Faaroow in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Nimcaan has defined himself not only as a singer, but as a staunch activist, and now as a recent immigrant with young American-born kids who has become a community leader.
He will also host a live performance and picnic on June 10 in the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth with his organization, Hiddo Soor.
Nimcaan’s decade-long career has given rise to classics that bring old and young together. He sings of love, nationalism, and heartbreak. In “Jacaylki Qabyoobay,” one of his earliest songs, he sings of an old love. The song he debuted as soon as he settled on American soil, “Ka Reystay Bukaaanadii” (“I’ve let go of the trouble and headache of the past”) has more than 21 million plays on Youtube. For a nationalistic tune, check out “Soomalinimo,” in which he encourages Somalis to come together, regardless of borders.
When asked about this performance, he expressed his joy and appreciation that Somali music has become accessible to non-Somali audiences as well. “For this performance, our music, which is usually composed and played by people who are familiar with the song, is now written out into sheet music, which will allow musicians of all backgrounds an opportunity to play Somali music,” he said.
Nimcaan epitomizes Baraarugayoo ilbaxay, which means he’s a true star.
He will be joined on stage by Bashir Jaawi, another popular artist who came to Minnesota earlier this year. Among Jaawi’s hits are this song, which he performed at Nimcaan’s show in eastern Ethiopia in 2019.
Gili Yalo and Nimcaan Hilaac not only will bring a piece of East Africa to the Cedar, but they will bring pieces of their history, communities and experiences with them as well—Yalo, as a young Ethiopian Jew living in Israel who spent years trying to learn how to sing in Amharic and connect to a classic Ethiopian sound, and Nimcaan, who has carried the Somali flag and patriotism with him across the world. Both are examples of how those in a diaspora can identify closely with their language and culture but also connect with people everywhere through their music.
GILI YALO WITH DJ FAWZI
Where: Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis.
When: Thursday, June 1. Doors open at 7 p.m.; show at 7:30 p.m.
Accommodations: Standing show with an open floor.
Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 on day of show.
NIMCAAN HILAAC AND HIS BAND, WITH BASHIR JAAWI
Where: Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
When: Friday, June 2. Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m.
Accommodations: Standing show with an open floor.
Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 on day of show.