Words by Jon Lusk
Somaliland singer providing musical therapy
Fans of all things desert-bluesy should check out Sahra Halgan. She has just returned to her homeland – the fledgling independent democracy of Somaliland – after 23 years of exile spent in Lyon, France. Happily, while there, she met guitarist Mael Saletes and kamalengoni (lute) player and percussionist Aymeric Khol, who both provide credible backing vocals in Somali. Vincent Bertholet’s double bass turns the trio into a quartet on three of the 11 tracks that comprise this excellent international debut album.
Halgan pens much of her own material, but also covers songs by other Somali writers such as Ahmed Naji, who wrote ‘Somaliland’. It boasts a stripped-down arrangement that contrasts sharply with the accelerating groove of the electric guitar-powered romp ‘Hobaa Layoow Heedhe’, a joyful traditional song. As Cris Ubermann’s accompanying DVD reveals, Halgan has been making music as a professional since 1999, and is something of a national cultural icon: a musician, a mother of two and a high-profile politician. There are also atmospheric videos featuring acoustic performances of some of the songs on the album, shot with a dramatic desert landscape as a backdrop. Halgan tells us stories from her life, recalling the tough times she spent working as a nurse during the war, and how she ‘cured people with songs’ because they had so little medicine. This album may well have its own therapeutic, restorative effects on listeners.