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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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CANCELLED--Oct. 1-7: Aar Maanta, Voice of the New Somali Generation

Artist to be featured in a weeklong Mankato residency.

2017-10-05
Minnesota State University, Mankato Department of Music News Release, 9-13-2017

NOTE: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO VISA DELAYS FOR ARTIST.

MANKATO, Minn. – The Minnesota State University, Mankato Performance Series offers the opportunity for students and community members to interact with international Somali artist Aar Maanta (pictured) and The Urban Nomads, who will be appearing in Mankato for a week-long residency Oct. 1- 7.

This activity is funded through a grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) for the Building Bridges: Arts, Culture and Identity program. Minnesota State Mankato is one of six other individual organizations in the United States to receive funding to build knowledge and appreciation for arts and culture with roots in Muslim-majority societies.

The grant program is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) and serves as a unique medium for both foundations to partner with APAP to support mission-critical projects that demonstrate the power of the arts to strengthen communities and increase intercultural understanding across America.

"I am thrilled to be part of this three-year project," said Dale Haefner, Performance Series director at Minnesota State Mankato. "The Midnimo program (Somali for unity) will create many opportunities for both campus and community members to build meaningful relationships with our Muslim neighbors. The arts, and especially music, are an excellent means of communication. Music is a universal language and a universal feature of the human experience.”

Aar Maanta is today considered to be the voice of the new Somali generation. He is revered as one of the most creative and talented Somali musicians both in the Horn of Africa and the diaspora. After the challenges of an uprooted childhood and resettlement, Aar had to overcome further obstacles to arrive at this point in his career, not in the least the disapproval of his conservative family for his involvement with music and performance.

Despite studying music at school, Aar Maanta ended up completing a science degree. After graduation, his passion for music took over and he began “Horn 2 Groove,” his own studio recording project through which he released his 2009 debut album Hiddo & Dhaqan. The album brought traditional Somali music together with Western musical influences like house and reggae into a fusion described as Afro-Hop.

In 2010, Paris based radio station StarAfrica recognized Aar Maanta’s achievements in creating this new sound, when it named him a “Somali Culture Shaper in London.” Lyrically, Aar Maanta’s songs are written in the traditional Somali poetic form using allegory and alliteration to address issues of relevance to Somali immigrants. As a result, Ahmed “Hudeydi” Ismail Hussein, a master oud player and one of Somali music’s greatest composers as well as Hassan Aadan Samatar, an iconic lead singer of Somalia’s now defunct national theatre Waaberi Group, have endorsed Aar’s music as the bridge that links the old musical generation to the new one.

Aar Maanta’s growing appreciation for live music and the lack of it in the industry led him to form his band, The Urban Nomads. The group is a multinational and multi-talented collective which consists of Italian bass player Ruth Goller, British/Caribbean saxophonist and keyboard player Josh Cutler, French guitarist and sound engineer Thibaut Remy, and Nepalese/Scottish drummer Pharoah Smeaton Russell.

Each member of the band brings a unique musical knowledge and background to the mix to create a distinct sound that reflects the diversity of Aar’s musical influences. Aar Maanta’s band has performed numerous shows including his Fall 2013 UK debut tour, which was also the first by any Somali musical act.

On the last night of the tour, Tony Benjamin of Bristol Post summed it up, saying, “The band’s sound is nicely dominated by articulate hand drum and swooning sax/guitar interplay, the rhythms varying from slinky North African to choppy reggae and a couple of grandstand funk numbers, with Aar Maanta’s soulful vocals soaring over them all. It’s a fine voice, too, with the dusty echo of desert dust coloring the sweetness of his tone. The album title track Hiddo & Dhaqan starts in the Somali desert, slips easily to the Caribbean before rounding off in a New York disco. Aar Maanta is an accomplished performer and this music deserves the wider audience that next year’s festival season should surely give him.”

Aar Maanta has headlined The Ecotricity Stage of Womad in Summer 2014, and in April 2015 had his first sold-out show.

At the end of a week-long residency at Minnesota’s premier world music venue, The Cedar, over 700 people were in attendance and included Somali community members, Augsburg College students, and other music fans.

Following the performance, Chris Riemenschneider of Minneapolis’ Star Tribune said, “A textbook example of what makes The Cedar special occurred again Saturday when Somali singer Aar Maanta returned to the worldly Minneapolis West Bank venue. The London-based singer packed the room with many Somali residents from the neighborhood, plus students from nearby colleges and hippies from the Cedar’s past — all of whom danced along excitedly to his jagged grooves.”

“I’m surprised to see so many non-Somalis,” Aar Maanta said from stage. “There’s been a revival in Somali music. You can see it here at the Cedar.”

Aar Maanta was recently recognized for his engagement with social causes and education. In Spring 2017, Aar Maanta was selected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to participate in a multilingual music video campaign called Dangerous Crossings to spread awareness about the dangers faced by immigrants attempting to cross the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea from Africa into Yemen. The video was directed by Hollywood producer George Acogny and Egyptian director Amr Salama in collaboration with the International Emerging Film Talent Association (IEFTA) in Monaco.

Most recently in April, Aar was one of five international Somali artists to be honored by Oslo’s House of Literature for creating new standards for how to write literature and innovatively carrying on their history and culture.

Aar Maanta’s United States month-long visit will launch this October in Mankato and tour to Minneapolis and St. Cloud.

For more information on Mankato residency events, contact the Performance Series Office at 507-389-5549 or email dale.haefner@mnsu.edu.

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