March 16, 2014
I was saddened to learn on March 11, 2014 about the death of Somalia’s greatest vocalist, Mohamed Sulayman Tubeec. Mohamed Sulayman’s demise reportedly came after a short illness with unspecified cause that confined him to a German hospital for the last few months.
About a month ago, we shockingly learned through the Somali online media that the deceased had appealed in vain to the Federal Government of Somalia to pay for a vital surgery. He received no answer and his appeal to a nation that he had entertained so long fell on deaf and dumb ears. The posthumous condolence message from the Federal Government of Somalia to his family is akin to “water under the bridge.” But Somaliland’s offer to give him a national burial is at least a solace
Tubeec For over fifty years, Mohamed Sulayman “Tubeec” regularly entertained this “nation of bards,” in the words of Sir Richard Burton. His wailing as well as wise words, all conveyed to us in his unique and sweet voice that often resonated well with all Somali speaking, are too many to recount them here. Suffice here to say all Somali-speakers can sing with ease one or more songs of this icon.
The circumstance under which he was born and then died is historic. Mohamed Sulayman was born in the small town of Laalays, near the port ciy of Berbera in 1946, or as some say 1941, and died as an impoverished refugee in Germany in 2014, just like hundreds of Somalis have passed away as members of the ever-growing Diaspora Somali community.
As a nation who pays less homage to the Christian version of birth dates, his vital dates would probably be remembered as simply as the great singer who was born and died when Somalia was under two different mandates a la UN trusteeship and UN-AMISOM (Waqtiyadii trashiibka iyo Waqtigii Argagixiso la dirirka). Both dates mark the absence of Somalia’s sovereignty.
In a way, he was born in a period when most of the Somali speaking nation was under UN-European mandate – up from the 1940s. He died when a similar but sinister mandate is re-imposed on the only part of the Somali nation that tasted independence. This isn’t good time for conscience Somalis to engage in the nuance of history lest that invokes the pain that comes with self-infliction.
The sadness in our hearts makes one sing the Somali blues of Salaan Carrabay:
“Haddaad dhimato geeridu marbay nolosha dhaantaaye
Dhaqashiyo mar bay kaa yihiin dhereggu xaaraane….”
In his case, he was spared from watching the unabated ugliness that defines what I called the 21st Century “nigger” i.e Somalis, in contemporary African.
At the beginning of this year, former Prime Minister AbdiRazak Haji Hussein, one of the last survivors of the Somali Youth League leadership, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota on a day the winter was cruel and unforgiving at minus 25 degrees. Few days before that, AbdiAziz Nuur Xirsi, who is considered to be one of Somalia’s early leftists and pan-Somali ideology framers, also died in Boston. Death in the Diaspora or watching your own nation going through a slow death is part of our larger experience in displacement due to statelessness.
As is to each according to his ultimate day, we mourn once again the unceremonious passing of our best Somali vocalist in modern music. Only this time, we mourn in shame because the ultimate visited him at our ugliest time – a time when we are even disagreeing on our existence, our collective history, our poetry, our national mythology, above all our religion. Before I eulogize the nation, I rather eulogize one of its symbols, Mohamed Sulayman, wishing that I never live to eulogize the Somali nation state.
There is no better way to eulogize Mohamed Sulayman than dipping into our rich repository, and that of Abdulahi Qarshi’s (the late guru and another Reer Waqooyi and an icon of Somali balwo and hees) weepy and wailing words in “Waa ayaanba ayaan” comes handy.
With the following meditative and brooding gem lines of farewell contained in these stanzas, we shall all accept the passing of Mohamed Sulayman and his final journey to join Faisal Cumar, Macallin Dhoodaan, Mohamoud Tukaale,Yam Yam, Mohamed Ali Kaariye, Gaarriye, Mohamed Ahmed Dhabarloo, Abdi Khadar Hassan, the lady whose first name needs no second name, Uma Mogool, as in Uma Kalthum, and many others.
Waa ayaan ba ayaan, Duni Aakhiro sabaanoo
Nina aanu lahaan, dhab dur looga idlaan
Waa arooryo samaan, iyo maalmo adkaan
Dad aroosanayaan, darna aas tagayaan
Waa ayaan ba ayaan, Duni Aakhiro sabaan
Ilamaan la’laan, ubad baan la’lahaan
Abid baan la mudnaan, oogadaa la tugnaan
Hadii aan la ogaan, war Soomaali ahaan
Ifka waydin xumaan, akhiraa ka daraan
waa ayaan ba ayaan, Duni Aakhiro sabaan
Nina aanu lahaan, dhab dur looga idlaan (1950s)
Mohamed Sulayman was a man to whose New Year’s song, “Sannad waliba Hoodo iyo waxuu Hadimo leeyahay…” we tuned every year at the passage of time. For a nation that does not observe its own equinox or doesn’t follow clearly defined four seasons, his song about the changing hands of the passing year to the New Year was our own version of Nawruus.”
“Waan heesayaaye, Sannad waliba hoodiyo
Hawl iyo dhibaatiyo, Wuxuu hadimo leeyahay
Waa laga helaayoo, hadhow lagu xasuustaa.
Kii noo hagaagee, noqo loo han weyn yahay.”
Yes, we all die, and as such the year 2014 took him away from us, along with AbdiRazak Haji Hussein and AbdiAziz Nuur Xirsi – Yes, I can’t resist but to mark 2014 the year we all experienced a huge national loss in the art and political culture as well.
Mohamed Sulayman was a rare artist who was credited to have reminded us the changing seasons, with all the tribulations and jubilations that un-ceaselessly come with the change of the last digit of the calendar each year.
In the song “Sannad waliba hoodiyo Hawl iyo Dhibaatiyo, waxuu Hadmo leeyahau…,” packaged in his penetrating and delicious voice, he gives each and every one of us a chance to take a stock of what goes right or wrong at year’s end. It indeed gives some of us a priceless second chance to right our past wrong doings that we inadvertently committed against friends, family members and colleagues. It also reminds us that there is always tomorrow for a better day.
Mohamed Sulayman died poor in pocket but rich in heart only because we gave him a rare commodity that we refused to give to our bad and bogus leaders. We collectively considered him and his songs our sole connection and conduit to the celestial divinely powers to whom once a year we atoned to cleanse our follies.
Also, his indomitable song of “Hooyoy La’aanta” (composed by Hadrawi) is special to many of us. In a patriarchal society where women is oppressed, maligned and physically mutilated, Mohamed Sulayman broke ranks with the nation’s archaic tradition. In defiance to some of our antiquated cultural traits, he reminded us in the best voice possible that our mothers are indispensable to our wellbeing and our sanity, thus deserving the utmost words of praise.
He reminded us without our mothers, nothing would go right! This indeed is a damning judgment against our own culture that misses no opportunity to put down our women.
Whether it is by coincidence or not, his death only two days after we commemorated women’s day (March 8, 2014) speaks to the deeper connection between the deceased and our sisters and mothers.
Whereas Nuradin Farah has championed the cause of women and explicitly “bemoaned their plight” in our society in the written word for over forty years, beginning with the publication of “From Crooked rib,” (1968), forcefully conveying the complex yet controlled pain always experienced by Somali women, Mohamed Sulaymaan departed on us the virtues and centrality of our mothers in song lyrics.
If Nuradin’s work gave us the intellectual understanding of the women question and the associated class and cultural constraints, Mohamed Sulaymaa’s song gave us solace and comfort in remembrance of the good deeds delivered by our mothers. He also reminded us how much we owe to each mother regardless of clan, class and culture.
In particular, his song gave me unparalleled company and comfort when my own mother passed away in Dec, 2010 in the midst of unforgiving Minnesota winter. Sulaymaan’s soothing song was there to give me a room to grief while paying homage to all the complex things about growing that she had broken into easily understandable blocks.
Since then, any time a faint of my mother’s image sneaks into my reminiscences, I confidently turn to Mohamed Sylaymaan “Hooyoy la’aantaa (Oh! Mother without you….) and deal with my grief through this gem song. May the king of vocal (boqorkii codka Soomaaliyeed) Rest in Peace (RIP), and may Allah reward him with Janah.
Faisal A. Roble