Somali Refugees Sing For Home

The Daadab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya is home to half a million Somalis who have fled the chaos and bloodshed of their homeland. Some are recent arrivals. But many have lived there for decades, including musicians. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton met up with some who have put their hopes and dreams into song.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Nearly half a million Somalis live across the border in a giant refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. They fled the anarchy, drought, and famine back home. Thousands are recent arrivals. But many have been at the Dadaab Camp for 20 years, including a number of musicians who put their hopes and fears into their songs.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Sitting crossed legged in a semi-circle on a large, faded mat is Ahmed Mohamed Hassan. He came to Dadaab refugee complex the year after it opened in 1992. Now a poet and a guitarist, Hassan is 24.

AHMED MOHAMED HASSAN: I see my people are dying, killing each other, doing something wrong. But I become musician because of my country. You must tell them the poem or a song, they will understand. Why are you doing, Somalis, why are you killing each other?

QUIST-ARCTON: Hassan says his group of about a dozen musicians uses its voices, accompanied by guitars and traditional calabash instruments to entertain and educate fellow Somalis.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

HASSAN: This first song is talking about the flag of Somalia. Our flag is a beautiful flag; blue light and a star. We are telling the people that let us build peace in Somalia. We are in a refugee but in refugee there is no life.

QUIST-ARCTON: Then he fills with melancholy.

HASSAN: I am Somali. I need my country, I like my country. Take the guitar and to tell my people through to song. This is a message I'm carrying up to now: How can we build peace?

QUIST-ARCTON: Hassan is joined by singer, Saida Hussein Mohamed. She was just two years old when her family fled to Kenya from Somalia in 1992. Saida Hussein Mohamed says music helps her educate her three daughters about the homeland they've never seen.

SAIDA HUSSEIN MOHAMED: (Through Translator) I usually sing for my daughters so at least they can keep up and continue knowing their country. I usually sing them the Somali national anthem.

(Singing in foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: Saida Hussein Mohamed says that's the song she shares with her daughters and they all feel happy.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

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