July 17, 2012 ·4 Comments
(Hargeisa) I had the opportunity to attend The Somaliland International Book fair and Cultural Festival in Hargeisa. For the fifth year thinkers and writers from different parts of the globe are participating in the weeklong festival. Representatives from the Somaliland government and international NGOs came to attend the opening ceremony of the festival. Large crowd from all over Somaliland gathered at the Center of Workers to get glimpse of celebrity poets and writers from different regions in Somalia and abroad.
The event is organized by many local associations and libraries in Somaliland and abroad led by Red Sea Foundation. Volunteers from different countries in Europe and across Somaliland helped to bring this large gathering to light. The turnout of this year event has been the largest. The theme of the convention has departed from previous years, in which the focus had been on literature and Somali identity. This year, Hargeisa Book Fair is emphasizing on the role of different segments of Somaliland society in the building sustainable future for Somaliland. For the last few days Somali poets and civil leaders debated and presented ideas about the future and political development of the country.
Next to the discussion hall of the main event, young volunteers and representatives from local libraries and bookstore gathered under makeshift tent to sell books and Somali artifacts. Crowds gathered around tables to browse books and reading materials. Artists from Afrikan Nation organization displayed paintings, photography and traditional artifacts. I talked to photographer Najib Mohamed, one of the artists of Afrikan Nation; he told me about a black and white photo of two homeless kids standing on top of a hill with Hargeisa city in the background. Najib told me, “the parents of these two kids left Somaliland to attempt to enter Europe. They told me that they don’t know where their parents are. They are victims of harsh economic conditions in Somaliland.” Afrikan Nation has the only art gallery in Somaliland. Local artists benefit from events like these one to make living and connect with foreign visitors and Somali diaspora.
The Book Fair has evolved to become more than a cultural gathering. In recent years, it has become a cultural hub in the region. Somali people celebrate oral art and poets are considered national heroes. Until mid 1970s, Somali language didn’t have a written form. Culture and historic tales were passed orally between generations. The turnout for this event is a testament to the continuous popularity of poetry in Somali culture. In addition to local poets and writers, foreign academics and writers about Somali and East African cultures participated in different sessions and panel discussion. Notably, Georgi Kapchits, a linguistic research from Russia who speaks fluent Somali and writes about Somali proverbs and oral tradition.
The highlight of the Book Fair so far has been a jam session between Somali legendary Lute player, Hudaydi and New Orleans trumpet player Evans Christopher. Fusion of traditional Somali Qarami music with modern American jazz was nothing short of spectacular. Evans improvised with Hudaydi and other local musicians to produce a harmony that brought the nostalgic elements of the Qarami music and hip modern of contemporary bebop jazz. Evan’s trumpet and Hudaydi’s lute engaged in timeless dance with unique sounds and never-attempted before blend. At one illustration, you could Hudaydi giving Evans the melody before Evans produced the same melody with his trumpet. Crowds cheered and stand at the end of every song. Somalis and most attendants are used to listen to Qarami music, which sometimes called Somali Blues, on cassettes with that gravelly quality and mono speakers. It was refreshing to see updated old songs played with more than one instrument and performed by non-Somali. Traditionally Qarami music has been a solo act by a lute player who also sings.
The book Fair is not only confined to cultural topics. During the first day of the event, panel from the World Bank representatives, venture investors, prominent businessmen and the Minister of Planning and Regional Development, Mr. Saad Ali Shire talked about Somaliland national development plan and goals of current government. World Bank Representatives announced a private-donor partnership grant to encourage Somaliland private sector to fill the gaps in lack of critical enterprises. A designated committee will accept application for the grants in early September.
Local businessmen and investors talked about investment opportunity in Somaliland and barriers they face. Mohamed Yusuf, a venture investor from England, talked the importance to improve infrastructure of Somaliland like energy costs and road to reduce operational costs of conducting businesses in somaliland. Mr. Yusuf urged the World Bank to invest in the basic infrastructure of the country. He added, “Somalilanders are natural entrepreneurs. The Somaliland Diaspora has brought the country this far. But the international organizations like the World Bank need not to focus on aid and basic assistance. Somaliland needs assistance to build basic infrastructures.”
The Book Fair highlights how far Somaliland has come comparing to the chaos in Somalia and the region. About 30 writers, mostly from outside of the country flew into Somaliland to participate in the book fair. Somaliland has been a beacon of hope in a country consumed by endless violence and corruption.
My busy schedule has not allowed me to attend all the events of the Book Fair. I missed important sessions that addressed different topics like environmental issues, Somali studies as a academic field, and story telling and poetry competition for upcoming writers. But I am looking forward to attend tomorrow’s events, which is the last day of the Book Fair.Follow @somalilandpress
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