It’s a Friday night in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s sleepy capital. But in one corner of the quiet city, a buzz is beginning to build. In a large thatched structure that was built to resemble a traditional nomadic dwelling—it’s lined with animal hide, and decorated with traditional red, brown, and burnt orange textiles—waiters weave between packed tables, balancing large metal trays with platefuls of rice, camel meat, and spaghetti. Women’s brightly colored head scarfs are loosened and allowed to slip back, revealing elaborate hairdos and impeccable eyebrows. Lipstick is reapplied, phones are whipped out, and instagram filters put to work. On the stage at the far end of the structure, the drummer and oud player up the tempo, as different singers pass the microphone to one another, dancing and inviting people in the audience to dance along with them. The atmosphere is electric, and as the evening progresses, the joy in the room is palpable.
“My dream was to create a place where my people could come together, play, sing, laugh, and be happy,” says vocalist Sahra Halgan, the founder of Hiddo Dhowr, Somaliland’s first music venue since the collapse of a dictatorship in the early ’90s. “It’s a place where they can learn about their culture and be proud of it.” A proud Somalilander, Sahra exudes strength and determination. As a woman, a musician, former refugee, and creative entrepreneur in Somaliland, she’s had to overcome her fair share of challenges. Yet she continues in her mission to promote Somaliland’s culture. “Many people don’t know that Somaliland exists,” she says. “Even young people here are not aware of our culture. They don’t know about all the rich things that we have.” With the Sahra Halgan Trio, the group she founded as a refugee in Lyon, France, Halgan has toured the world—raising Somailand’s flag at every opportunity. “I would love the world to know that I am a Somalilander,” she says. “To know how rich we are in terms of culture, language, music, and traditions.”
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