The refugee from the Ogaden talks Somali music and dance. Soon after Aar Maanta arrived in the UK from Somalia in the mids as a child, his homeland changed dramatically. Civil war broke out and at one point the singer's own official nationality switched overnight from Somali to Ethiopian. This, as Maanta explained after his set at the Womad Festival last month, was representative of a problem that is felt across Africa. I can go back to my homeland now, because that particular region is a lot more stable than it was.
Other people turn to sport or drugs, but I turned to music to deal with the pain - it became like a therapy. I went back last year to a city called Jijiga. There's a style of music and dance there called dhaanto, which is popular throughout the Somali region. Somalis are less conservative and more open to dance than people think. There used to be a travelling dance that went from one town to another, and this highlighted common ground between the different cultures of the region.
Music can be used to stabilise the community. On stage Maanta is instantly likeable, charming the audience with stories about the history and cultural importance of his music - a distinctly Somali sound that, in addition to Arabic influences from North Africa, has an undeniable hint of reggae.
I even met Jamaicans who visited from the city of Shashamane, which is home to a Rastafarian community in central Ethiopia. They acknowledged the similarities between reggae and dhaanto, and the fact that dhaanto pre-dates reggae by at least 40 years. Musically, reggae and dhaanto have very similar rhythmic patterns, accenting the second and fourth beats in each bar.
Let's hope the other regions can follow suit. The local administration seems to realise that the arts can play a part in the development of the Somali region, which is great. The leaders have invested heavily and are now seeing the results.
And Somalis across the globe are showing their appreciation through the revival of their much loved culture - because until recently dhaanto was a dying art. Aar Maanta's blog can be read here. AllAfrica publishes around reports a day from more than news organizations and over other institutions and individuals , representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons.
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