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Oromo Artist Kadir Said: music changed my life

by Mohammed Ademo

Minneapolis — It was just a little past noon local time on a cold and breezy day in Minnesota when I met Kadir Said. Said, a legendary Oromo folk singer, arrived here eight days earlier.

After fifteen years in Djibouti’s arid desert, he seemed ill prepared for the forbidding North American winter. Dressed in a white-striped black suit, tie and a black pointy dress-shoe, he was ready to step out with us. “Do you not have a jacket?” I asked curiously. He insisted the suit was warm enough. We made a quick drive to a local coffee shop, where we began his first interview of the day with Hegeree Media.

This is our first meeting and his first sit down interview since coming here. Recognizing some uneasiness in his demeanor I gave him enough opportunity to ask questions of me. “We are really here to meet and introduce you to the Oromo diaspora,” I said in a reassuring tone. "I am just happy to have lived to see my people...coming here (Minnesota) is as if I came out of a cage,” said Kadir, 52, recounting stories of life as a lone refugee in the Horn of Africa.

Once a cattle herder in his native village of Garamulata, Eastern Oromia, Kadir is one of the most revered Oromo artists of his generation. If Kadir had an authentic musical voice, which he does, entry into the profession was almost accidental, he told me. Thirty years ago when Kadir met renowned Oromo artist Ali Shabo at a local wedding, singing in Oromo language was not allowed. After few exchanges, Shabo told Kadir he had a musical voice. “That exchange with Ali Shabo emboldened my budding interest
for singing,” Kadir recalled.

Kadir then moved to Dire Dawa, a bustling town in Eastern Ethiopia, where prominent Oromo artists like Ali Birra began their musical career. “There were no musical instruments at the time and we had to always watch our backs,” Kadir said of the environment in those days. But things changed after he released his first album on a stereo cassette.

Shortly after, he met Oromo poet, the late Abdi Qophe (Abdi Mohamed). Abdi fell in love with Kadir’s voice and knew the kinds of songs only he could sing. Kadir, then only a novice singer, had a knack for composing melodies. “He was like a musical soulmate and our partnership lasted until Abdi passed,” Kadir said of Abdi Qophe with a pause as nostalgia pervaded his face.

Eleven albums and 30 years later, Kadir seems as if he is just getting started. Energetic, playful and engaging, his voice is as good as ever. He could sing a line from all of his songs in less than five minutes. If time and space didn’t allow for Kadir to fully share his musical talent, inspiring life story, and a gift of oratory in this interview, I hope Little Oromia, as Minnesota is called, would afford this patriotic, passionate, and timeless singer the space and opportunity to share this gift with his admirers.