Aar Manta performs at Kato Ballroom

Maanta continues to create unity spreading Somali culture through songs.

Mark Reynolds
Staff Writer

Somali-British Singer Aar Maanta finished a week-long residency at MNSU Mankato with a performance at the Kato Ballroom on Saturday, Sept. 22. 

Maanta and his London-based band, “the Urban Nomads,” played an electric, energy-filled show. The danceable, syncopated rhythms that characterize Somali music had everyone in the ballroom on their feet.

Though Maanta and his music are Somali, his multi-cultural collection of bandmates brings in musical elements from around the world. Hints of jazz, reggae, and western pop are sprinkled into the Somali base to create a worldly sound that brings people together.

The feeling and emotion put into the songs can be felt and understood even by those who don’t speak Somali. Students from Mankato East and West high schools, Minnesota State University, Mankato students, community members and teachers all joined together to dance and celebrate this culture. 

Maanta and his band were brought to MNSU as a part of the Midnimo Grant that the University received in 2016. 

The grant, which is named for the Somali word for “unity,” aims to increase understanding of Muslim and Somali culture in Minnesota, which has the largest population of Somali immigrants in North America.

“The intent of the grant,” said Dale Haefner, MNSU’s Music Performance Series Director, “is to educate non-Muslims about Muslim culture and art through music. And music is a universal language that everyone can understand.”

Mansoor Ahmad | MSU Reporter

Last year, Somali artist Nimco Yasin was brought to MNSU Mankato for a similar residency through this grant. As part of her residency, she worked with songwriting students to compose and record a song within a single day. As part of the residency, the artists also traveled to schools in the local school district. 

“She went out to Jefferson Elementary and another elementary school and showed the students where Somalia is located, brought in some Somali artifacts and also taught them the “Dhaanto,” a folk dance,” Haefner said.

Yasin and Maanta are products of a turbulent political climate in Somalia. In a country where the arts used to be publicly funded, a war and following power shift made many Somalis flee the country, including many musicians. Artists like these two are part of an effort to keep Somali music and culture alive.

Their story-centric songwriting style seems to be striking a chord with some, as the Somali scene is making strides. The arts are finally making a comeback in Somalia, and now is spreading across the world.

Local Mankato reggae group Irie Minds opened for Aar Maanta and despite coming from opposite sides of the world, their music shares much in common with the Somali rhythms of Aar Maanta.

“Their music has kind of a similar vibe to some of Aar Maanta’s stuff. Aar Maanta gets into a reggae vibe on occasion,” Haefner said.

Much like Somali music, Irie Minds’ reggae beats are crafted to bring people onto the dancefloor and have a good time: forgetting life’s troubles and dancing with friends.

The syncopated rhythms, good vibes and even similar instruments show that we have much more in common with people than we might think. Irie Minds will be performing at the MNSU Homecoming parade on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 10 a.m.

Feature photo by Mansoor Ahmad | MSU Reporter.

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