Lidwien Kapteijns is a professor of history at Wellesley College. A few years ago, she contacted Afropop Worldwide to say she was a co-trustee of a large collection of rarely heard songs from Somalia. These songs date from between about 1955, when the country was approaching independence, and 1990, when it was disintegrating into a devastating period of civil conflict. Professor Kapteijns said that the love songs in particular in this collection reveal a now-hidden chapter in Somali history, a time when the country was actively searching for a way to balance old tradition and culture with the coming wave of modernity. Kapteijns provides the principle voice in the resulting Afropop program, Reconstructing Somalia: Love Songs at the Birth of A Nation. Afropop’s Banning Eyre braved a February snowstorm to visit Kapteijns in her office at Wellesley. Here’s their conversation.
Banning Eyre: Welcome. Let’s start at the beginning. Introduce yourself and tell us how you got involved with Somali music. But before we do that, how do we correctly pronounce your name?
Lidwien Kapteijns: The Somalis call me Prof. Ladan. Actually, it’s a beautiful name. Ladan has the connotation of health and wealth. We’re not talking about Michael Jackson wealth, of course. But in English, I’m Lidwien Kapteijns [LID-win CAP-tains] with my forefather being the captain of the archer’s guild of our village in Holland.
So your name is related to the English word “captain.”
It is. It’s the same word. As for me and Somali music, it’s a long story. I was a student at the University of Amsterdam in Holland, and I got really interested in Africa, and I realized that, in Holland, you couldn’t do African history. This then brought me to London to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where I did an M.A. called the Area Study of Africa. At that time you were not allowed to do Arabic, which was the language I was studying, as part of an M.A. on Africa. So it was actually a second choice for me to do Somali. There was a Cushitic reader whom most Somalis know as Professor Goosh—[Bogumil Witalis] “Goosh” Andrzejewski. He taught Somali and he accepted me into the program. So that’s how I got really interested in the Somali language.
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