Skyhigh Family connection to Somalia

Many consider youth a time spent forging new paths and in the process,
rejecting old ways, frequently turning a deaf ear to one’s elders. The rappers
of hip hop band Skyhigh Family,  have fashioned lives distinctly different from their parents. The three rappers and their manager all came over with their families, traversing the ocean in an effort to escape war-torn Somalia. But rather than dismissing the stories of their ancestors, Skyhigh Family has taken the very contemporary culture of hip hop and fused it with the Somali tales of old, producing music unlike that of many of today’s rappers.

Medman casually says the band is “bigger than us three rappers. We’re a bunch of friends who always get together for special occasions. It’s not only about music.” But more than just a bunch of friends, Medman, along with his brother, Alian and their third band mate, Kashulty, under the management of Jamal Hashi, have toured parts of the United States as well as produced an intriguing CD that does not espouse typical gangsta rapping, but instead seeks to enlighten others about the Somali culture. “We use music as a way to communicate to other people in the world, not only Somalis, though, because we are trying to share our background and our views and our thoughts with everybody who is willing to listen to us” says Medman. “When they listen to us, they are going to get a feeling or idea of how Somali people are.”

While all of the Somali women I know wear traditional clothing, including a headpiece, these Somali men look as American as any other. But when they speak, the pride and love of their homeland comes through, leaving no doubt that they continue to identify with their own ethnic heritage. Hip hop culture is a lifestyle which evolved in the early 1970s, nearly a decade before the members of Skyhigh Family were born. From its start in New York City, hip hop migrated to other parts of the United States as well as abroad. It’s the music that Skyhigh Family band members grew up hearing. Alian explains to me, “Hip hop is considered more of a culture nowadays. They’ve got turntables, fashion—out of everything, we do the music. Rap is hip hop.” He continues, “Hip hop music has played a major role in Africa. A lot of young kids in Africa all listen to hip hop music. We grew up on it.”

 Medman elaborates on Skyhigh Family’s approach to rap, “we took African music, basically we rap, but at the same time we have that African influence.” Finishing one another’s thoughts, Medman and Jamal explain, “Somali music is different. We use drums and guitar. We have a different kind of melody, sort of like Arabic with some jazz.” Somalia, known as the land of the poet, seems a likely place for hip hop musicians of the Y-generation to originate, as rappers frequently list into vocalizing the lyrics as a rhyming, spoken word rather than singing them. “Our country is known for poetry…and it felt that the best way to get in touch with others is to use poetry. Each one of us writes poetry,” says Alian. Jamal finishes the thought, “…we turn that into music.”

Their debut CD, The Arrival, includes the Somali Anthem Remix, Dheela,
meaning groove, and Dhaqaaji. Alian says, “the title for this (last) song is
Somali and it means ‘move.’ It was taken from an old Somali record and is
connected to our old people. We were influenced by old records and we always
wanted to do a remix of this song

The other thing about the album,” says Jamal, “is we are trying to
tell our stories. The stories of each one of us, how we experience the war-torn
country that’s still going on today, fourteen years…we’re trying to tell them
all the trials we went through

Medman describes how the title of the album is based on their arrival from a
long journey. Somalis everywhere had to endure hardship in order to get to where
they are today. “We’ve been through a lot of stuff to get here.” Jamal
adds, “whether you go to England or to Sweden or wherever you are, you’ll
always find Somali

As further illustration of their unique sound and image, Alian describes the
band’s name. “The limit is the sky for us. High is the level of pride we have
for our culture. We are all one family–not that we’re all brothers, we’re
friends– but we are one family

I find the band members to be soft spoken and intense individuals, however
their gentle, courteous manner isn’t always reflected in their music. The CD has
several expected subjects of rap such as Hustlaz, and Playaz Worst Nightmare.
With corresponding lyrics “…we beat your ass ‘til you’re senseless.” I
like that last song. I don’t want my three year old singing it, but I like the
rhythm and drive of the track. Speaking over one another, the band explains the
process of making their album. “We’ve worked with a lot of producers and
different studios. We’ll tell them what kind of song we’re trying to make and
they’ll have us do the vocals. We tell them exactly how we want it to sound and
they take it all from there. We pay them to mix and master the song. They use a
computer system, like Pro tools, to make their instrument tracks. They use drum
machines and guitar machines, keyboards

At a gig, we give our instrument tracks to the DJ. We usually work with
DJ Grand, sometimes Alian DJs for the band. When we perform and the crowd is
into it, we can not change the song, so what we do is make it longer. The DJ can
loop it; he can do all sorts of things. That’s up to the DJ
.” Medman adds, “We’d
love to try a live band. That’d be a good step for us.” “We used to do that,
live drums, at cultural events. Every first of July, we celebrate Independence
Day of Somalia (from the UK in 1960)
,” recalls Jamal. Each of Skyhigh Family’s
musicians is also pursuing secondary education. Medman is working on a degree in
electrical engineering at a state college, Alian attends Dunwoody Institute,
pursuing a degree in computers and Kashulty is a Dunwoody student, too. Jamal
has two years left at Metro State. For now, music is their avocation.