From the legend that was Fela Kuti to a current breed young African music pioneers, United Kingdom particularly London always had a rich African music scene. A scene lately been ignored by our major media. On a number of special reports, UK INNIT will get the low down on the underground African music scene in the UK.
Africans particularly Somalis are now one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the UK, yet very little is known about their music. I went to meet a man young British Somalis describe "the voice of our generation." Because his songs address a range of issues that Somalis face. His name is Aar Maanta he is a Somali singer, writer and music producer. Aar Maanta is the creator of fresh new musical style, which fuses traditional Somali music with many other styles including House, RnB and Reggae. I caught up with him at Upstairs at the Ritzy, a trendy music venue in Brixton South West London where he recently played.
How would you describe your music?
I call it “Afro Hop.” I like all kinds of music that is why you hear so many different flavors on my album from Pop to Reggae blended with traditional Somali music. It is a genre hopping music. That is where I got the term Hop from and the Afro term is because of my African heritage and music roots.
You called your album Hiddo & Dhaqan, which I understand in Somali means Heritage and Culture. Why that title?
Because my people have been at war for the past twenty years and in the process have lost a lot not only in lives but also in terms of culture and heritage. My songs discuss a range of issues relating to this. My main message is that our habits/culture can change in order to adapt to different situations, but our positive heritage must remain. If you lose your heritage you lose your identity.
Is this the reason why most of your songs are in Somali, and would you ever consider making more English songs in order to widen your audience?
Yes, Somali language is very important to me, I have lived most of my life in the UK, but I prefer to sing in my mother tongue. I don’t see that as a negative thing or a rejection to Britain. I love living here, but ultimately I want the wider society to know that there is more to Somalis than been refugees and pirates. If I can teach one none Somali a Somali word, or a melody through my music then I have achieved something that can help bring down barriers between my people and others.
Dorothy Johnson-Laird of Afropop.org said that it is your singing that is most “impressive.” What do you enjoy doing most is it producing, writing or singing?
I actually like writing more than singing but I enjoy producing the most. The best feeling is when I am mixing down or mastering a track that I just finished. That is when I am happiest.
To create something interesting UK INNIT like to bring together different acts from completely different genres. Is there anyone from the UK Hip Hop or Grime underground scene you would consider producing or working with?
UK Hip Hop is nice and I have done some production work for Choong Family a while ago. At the moment I really like listening to Low Key MC. A friend of mine introduced me to some of his work recently, I like his message and the honestly of his lyrics. I like artists who stand for something.
What are your plans for the near future are there any shows or exclusives you would like to share with our website members or guests?
I am just preparing for a few shows in Belgium, Holland and possibly a wider European tour. I really enjoy playing live. My band is very diverse and talented, the kind of band you can only find and put together in London. I will also be releasing the next single from my album. The single is called “As salaam Alaikum” it is a song inspired by the universal Islamic greeting which means "Peace be with you." This song is about the contradicting lives of my people here in the UK and back in Somalia with a concluding message of “live and let live.”
Any last words?
Watch out for my next single, video and other exclusives here on UK INNIT. Don’t forget to check out Hiddo & Dhaqan album on Amazon, iTunes and all other digital music stores too. Thank you UKinnit!!
Interview by Raj Tank.