Somali American poet Saida Dahir has released her first spoken word collection, The Walking Stereotypethrough Little Village Foundation releases. While only 26 minutes long, the recording is powerful, deeply moving and intensely satisfying. Spoken word recordings occasionally struggle to hold the listeners’ attention, but in this case you will find yourself hanging onto each and every word Dahir utters.
In this type of recording so much depends on the reader’s ability to use her voice to capture an audience’s attention. While Dahir might not have the most resonant of voices, her delivery and passion more than compensate for any deficiencies in that department. Her words are delivered with precision and beautiful enunciation, which means we hear every word and understand the thoughts and emotions behind them.
Dahir’s poetry deals with everything from Somalia to school shootings in America. Unfortunately the connection between the two, especially for a refugee, is all too clear. As she explains in the album’s opening two pieces, “Intro” and “Somalia” her mother left Somalia when life there became untenable. “The year the flowers stoped blooming/Maybe the first flower died when the first gunshot was heard” is how “Intro” helps us understand the desolation of civil war and gunfire.
So what does a child whose first years were spent in a refugee camp experience when she sees people her own age being gunned down in school. Well, in “A Tribute To The Fallen” Dahir tells us in no uncertain terms how it effects her. The version included on The Walking Stereotype is a live recording. Listen to her voice as it cracks with passion, as she holds back tears, and as her anger at how this could be allowed to happen breaks through.
However, this isn’t just rage. Dahir is also making a promise to future generations. That the people impacted by these actions today won’t let them become the future. That when her children go to school they will only worry about what to wear, not if they will be shot. “A Tribute To The Fallen” is a powerful indictment of a society which has come to accept school shootings as a matter of course, as something to be lived with and accepted.
Growing up a person of colour and a Muslim in Salt Lake City, Utah would have made Dahir stick out. “The Thing On My Head” is a response to some of those “looks” she must have received on a regular basis. The “Thing” in question is the hijab she chose to start wearing when she was in grade 7.
While the poem is personal, Dahir also manages to capture the pressure all refugees, no mater race or colour, must feel to assimilate. To swallow their pride and tamp down who they really are to accommodate those unwilling to accept people who are different. It doesn’t matter, as she says in the poem, “I like the same bands as her/We both wore the same fragrance of perfume/We shared a common interest in reading/we even read the same books too/She would never know these things/She’d already made an assumption of me and my religion.”
However, it’s in the poem “Justified” Dahir makes it clear she speaks for more than just refugees and Muslims, but all People of Colour who are at risk in today’s America. She starts with statistics telling us how the odds are definitely in favour of an unarmed black person being shot by the police. She asks why white people’s history is front-page news while the history of black people is almost ignored. “Is my struggle not Justified?” she exclaims.
The Walking Stereotype isn’t just plain spoken word. Dahir is accompanied by very subtle percussion on some tracks by Vicki Randle and Xochitl Morales and on “Justified” bassist Jerry Jemmontt (known for working with Gil Scott Herron on his “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”) gives the piece a pulse which makes it all the more potent.
However, the producers of the album have made the wise choice to keep the focus on Dahir. Never does the music either overwhelm her or distract from the content of the poetry. She and her words are what they want us to hear and listen to. The music is there to help us appreciate her talent and nothing else.
The Walking Stereotype from Saida Dahir is powerful, passionate and potent. Filled with words that come from the heart and propelled by a desire to be heard, this is the voice of a righteously angry person. In an age where voices of dissent are usually drowned out Dahir is able to cut through the white noice of mass entertainment and be heard loud and clear.