FAARROW at Astralblak's Minneapolis studio. Photos and video by Minju Kim/MPR.
When sisters Iman and Siham Hashi were children, they both dreamed of singing, writing and producing music someday, but the road to becoming musicians would prove to be far from easy.
Iman, meaning “faith,” and Siham, meaning “arrow,” come together to form the duo’s name FAARROW. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia and now based in Toronto, the sisters and their parents fled in 1991 when civil war erupted, but they still remember what life was like for them as refugees.
“We were very young when we came to Canada as refugees,” Siham said. “We didn’t really notice the impact until much later. Even before that we were staying in a few shelters, and I still remember the smell and the music that was being played.”
Although the transition of moving to a new and culturally different country was difficult, Iman also has fond memories about living with her parents in the shelters.
“One thing I really love and remember is that our parents were really sheltering us,” said Iman. “We didn’t even realize we were living in shelters until they explained it to us later on. When we came to the country we didn’t have a home. We didn’t become citizens until five years later. There’s a process and these are things our parents told us later. We thought, ‘This isn’t out house?’ It was a shelter with many other families, but we always felt safe because of their positivity and being appreciative about being in Canada as well.”
As teenagers, the sisters developed a serious interest in pursuing music as a career, but were hesitant to follow their dream because of the cultural taboos associated with being Muslim and working as musicians.
“I remember in high school, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I cannot pursue music,’ said Siham. “Number one, I’m going to hell and number two, I would be shunned from my family and my entire community.”
Even if a career in music wouldn’t work, the sisters wanted to try as hard as they could to meet their goal. They decided to move forward, expressing their aspirations to their parents in order to garner their support.
“Both of us realized that we really do want to pursue this,” said Siham. “We don’t know how it’s going to happen, we don’t know who is going to accept it, but we are going to figure it out.”
Although Iman and Siham were able to convince their mother to allow them to try and pursue music, their father was more reluctant to agree.
“For a long time we just thought he was being hard on us, because it was all about school,” said Siham. “We are Muslim, we are Somali. I think he wanted to protect us because he didn’t understand the music industry. We understood that is where he was coming from. He really loves us and supports us.”
Eventually, the Hashis travelled to Atlanta and became the first women of Somali descent to be signed to a major record label in the U.S. “We were young and in a place where we had split energy,” said Iman. “We were excited and we knew we were born to do this, but we had all of this guilt and shame of not belonging.”
Even though starting out wasn’t easy, the sisters eventually started to find ways to center themselves with spirituality and developed confidence in their own voices.
“You’ve got to be fully you,” said Siham. “You have to forget about all of your insecurities and all of the shame and guilt that you are bringing onto this side.”
FAARROW are currently in Minnesota as a part of the Cedar Cultural Center’s Midnimo program. Midnimo, meaning unity, is a residency program focused on increasing understanding of Somali culture through music. The program, established in 2014, includes community engagement opportunities as well as workshops, discussions, and live music performance.
The pair will be sharing the stage with Minnesota hip hop group Astralblak; Ashley Du Bose; and DJ Flavio, a local Somali artist, as they fuse their music together for three shows in St. Cloud, Mankato, and Minneapolis. Astralblak and FAARROW have been collaborating and reworking some of their existing songs to create a musical fusion.
“I think it is a fun and interesting challenge,” said Astralblak’s Mychal Fisher, a.k.a. MMYYKK. “It is cool to experience another culture musically, and think about incorporating into what we are already doing.”
“It’s always fun when you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone musically and especially when it is cultural,” said Greg Grease of Astralblak. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do in terms of crossing borders and collaborating with artists from the African continent.”
Inspired by iconic musicians like Bob Marley, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, and Mariah Carey, the sisters started to make music that fused hip-hop, soul, pop, and African sounds. Somali influences, culture, and language also pervade their music. The sisters cite late Somali artist Saado Ali as a towering influence.
Not only do the sisters write, produce, and perform music, they also participate in humanitarian work. The two women have been involved in initiatives mainly focused on Somali women and children, including advocacy work with the United Nations.
They also have a podcast called PowHer that focuses on mental health, advocacy for Somali women, spirituality, culture, and what they’ve coined as “soul health,” which promotes listening to one’s body and feelings. They focus on relaying the experiences they’ve encountered as black, Muslim women in a patriarchal world.
For musicians like FAARROW, not only has Midnimo provided the women a chance to share their music and understanding of the Somali culture, but has also allowed them to make everlasting social connections in their community.
FAARROW, along with Astralblak, Ashley DuBose, and DJ Flavio will conclude the residency at the Cedar Cultural Center this Friday, Apr. 5, at 8 p.m. The duo will be performing previously released material reworked with Astralblak, but have a new EP in the works.
Marla Khan-Schwartz is a writer that is mostly inspired by dessert, deep conversation and a glass of bold red wine.