The Cedar Cultural Center recently set a challenging goal: get its Somali and non-Somali audiences to mingle.
By all accounts, London-based artist Aar Maanta, with his growing mainstream following, might be just the guy to make that happen. Maanta is in town as part of a partnership with Augsburg College to give local millennials a taste of Somali culture. Maanta’s music is rooted in issues facing his fellow Somali expatriates, but he also has a growing following outside the diaspora.
“There’s a lot of negativity associated with our community, and it’s because of cultural misunderstanding that these issues arise,” Maanta said. “These kinds of events bring people together.”
The Cedar and Augsburg launched the series of residencies late last year with a $200,000 grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. The partners dubbed the project Midnimo, the Somali word for “unity.” It features performances, workshops and classroom visits.
“This is an amazing opportunity for people to experience Somali culture and learn from the Somali community,” said Fadumo Ibrahim, the Cedar’s Somali cultural liaison.
Ibrahim says the center has looked for ways to bring together the Cedar’s largely non-Somali audience and its Somali neighbors in Cedar-Riverside. Some 500 people turned out for a concert by the Dur-Dur Band, a 1980s act that reunited for the occasion. About half in audience were Somalis.
“I had tears in my eyes that night,” said Ibrahim.
Maanta is one of few international Somali artists gaining notice outside the diaspora, Ibrahim said. His music blends traditional Somali influences with contemporary beats.
“I try to convey the beauty of Somali culture and the struggles of the Somali people in the diaspora,” Maanta said.
He said he was drawn to a project that blends music and conversations about these struggles, including a panel discussion on radicalization at Augsburg this past Monday. His residency culminates with an 8 p.m. concert at the Cedar on Saturday. For a full schedule of events.