A no holds barred look at the most successful ever tour of Somali music in the UK.

Donald Trump was right when he said that there were places in Britain that were no go areas. I remember standing in one in central Sheffield one cold night in November. I was in what town planners might call ‘the cultural quarter’ a square with theatres, cafes and an interactive science centre. Lots of people too – all white. This was a no go area – for the Somali Community. But at around 7.40pm small groups of beautifully dressed Somali women and a few ‘smart casual’ dressed men started to appear and wander a little uncertainly towards the Crucible Theatre. They were coming to see an event that put their culture at the heart of this no go area.

The Somali Stars UK tour of November 2015 realised the hopes of Way Art West that Britain’s Somali communities could successfully bring their culture to the heart the city. This was already known about South Asian culture, although not at the scale now achieved. The Arts Council Funded project Track Change had just delivered capacity audiences from Britain’s most ignored community, a community that has existed in the UK since the late 19th Century. The facts tell the story

  • The highest grossing tour of Somali music
  • The largest audience for a Somali tour
  • The highest average audience for a tour
  • The first ever sell out show for a National Portfolio Organisation
  • The largest regional audience for Somali event

Central to the success were the two lead organisations KAYD and Way Art West. Everything from Clan politics to set lists needed dealing with. Many tense days were spent waiting for visa clearance or for government intervention. This wasn’t made easier when a counterfeit social media account was set up to cause political division and some artists were arrested! But in the end the artists made their flight and a grand welcome awaited them as they arrived in the UK.

Somalis are a sociable and family focussed community, and families are big, so days of happy chaos ensued and rehearsal plans flew out the window. But gradually a show was pulled together ready for the opening night in the West End of London.

Ideas of African music were quite rightly consigned to the bin at this African pop concert. These people were stars and their audience knew it. Social media was bursting with stories and selfies snatched from chance encounters in restaurants, money transfer shops or during Somali Week. The popularity challenged the traditionalists who had intervened on previous tours.

In between all this fan and family business tour prep continued duirng Somali Week. Below are some some exclusive out takes from rehearsals
Da’ud Ali
Maxamed BK
Sahra Ilays

Somali Week hosts Somali Stars tour

Somali Celebrities join BK and Nimco Yasiin in front of 900 fans

Opening Night London
The opening show in London’s Logan Hall was reached capacity more than a week before, again unprecedented, and a queue for seats began 2 hours before. An estimated 400 people were turned away, let alone those who didn’t turn up because they knew it was fully booked. An extra show was set up with a week’s notice and another 800 tickets sold. Some great Somali musicians came along to support including Hudeidi and Nimco Yasiin making for a very special first night.


Hudeidi, BK, Da’ud Ali and Nimco Yasiin

But it wasn’t all smooth running, a late arriving musician and some technical glitches made the night a white knuckle ride, but the audience loved it with constant stage invasions and flashtastic coverage!

Somali Stars at Somali Week

Daud Ali and Said Hussein Omer on Stage in London

All the major TV channels covered the event and facebook was full of phone videos of the show.

Maxamed BK, Sahra Ilays and Da'ud Ali

Sound Check at Colston Hall

Colston Hall in Bristol had been heavily involved in the run up to the tour supporting online sales, and the show sold out before doors opened. But they were poorly prepared on the night with widespread ticket abuse, with uninvited guests abusing the malfunctioning ticket checking. Who knows how many people came but it was more than the 350 capacity on the night. The show itself was pumping the audience electric and the atmosphere celebratory

with BK and Da'ud ALli

Sahra Ilays unplugged in front of huge Birmingham Crowd

Another road block greeted the Somali Stars at The Drum. A young local audience was joined by many fans from Manchester, who braved gales and the cold to make the biggest ever Somali audience outside of London, catching everybody by surprise. A safe fun event that amazed everybody and introduced our Somali visitors to snow!
The next morning we were the guests of BK’s family in Aston for a proper Somali breakfast

Dau’ud Ali at Liverpool Philharmonic

One of the very first shows to take place in Liverpool Phil’s beautiful new venue The Music Room was the Somali Stars. Toxteth Somalis came out in strength to support the show and welcome the musicians to the city. A great beginning for the venue community relationship, shown by it being the only venue where a senior team member attended on the tour.

BK wows fans at a packed Crucible Theatre in Sheffield

Crucible was the venue for the last show of the tour and after a slow start the community really came behind the show. But politics nearly got involved although careful management averted any problems. The Theatre had received funding to develop links with the community so it was fitting the tour stopped there. After some initial hiccups where production had not responded to site visits or technical riders, the local technicians pulled out all the stops to present a truly memorable show and one of the warmest receptions of the tour, with family members out in strength.

Back stage with the fam, BK back stage n Bristol

The success of the tour was down to the new partnership between KAYD and Way Art West. All sorts of curve balls were thrown at the tour as it developed. Good links with communities, political authorities internationally and within the performance sector enabled the tour to run well and proved that Somali music is a viable and dynamic part of the UK music scene as long as the music industry has the means to take it forward and that is where the challenge is only just beginning. The lessons are there for all and can be read about in the article lessons for Somali touring