Veteran Somali singer Ahmed Naji Sa’ad, who thrilled audiences with local traditional and Arabic instruments, died in London on Monday. He was 84 years old.
Sa’ad, often known as Naji, was considered one of the top Somali musicians, having risen through the country’s independence struggles and the Horn of Africa nation’s troubled political history.
His contribution, his colleagues say, has been in composition, instrumental accompaniment and actual performance in a career spanning seven decades. He began his musical career early, becoming the first Somali musician to read and write musical notes.
His son, Yahye Ahmed Naji, confirmed his father’s death at the Royal Free Hospital, where he had been admitted. However, the family did not disclose the cause of death.
According to various biographies, Ahmed Naji Sa’ad was born in 1939 in Mogadishu’s Shibis district, a place formerly known as Villaggio Arabo (Arab Village).
Before Somalia’s independence, Naji was one of the pupils with a melodic voice who participated in school closing ceremonies, performing in plays and singing.
Later, he joined the young artistes selected by music legend Kassim Hilowle to perform at the events preceding the weekly Central Committee meeting, entertaining the audience at the Somali Youth League (SYL) movement headquarters in Mogadishu.
In the early 1970s, he organised a private music band called ‘Jamini Sette’, which later became known as the Shareero Band.
Naji’s musical talent attracted his brothers, Antar Naji and Ali Naji, to the artistic world and they became active members of the Shareero band.
Others who were attracted to the musical world because of Ahmed Naji were Said Abdalla and Mohamud Abdalla (Jerry).
In the 1960s, he became a role model for later celebrated female artists, the late Faduma Kasim and Asha Abdo, better known as Malika, the queen of Somali, Swahili and Arabic songs.
Naji stood out for his ability to play Somali musical instruments, including the cherished kaman/kaban or oud, a type of short-necked plucked chordophone. This instrument is ubiquitous in the music of the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.
His legendary songs include An Waaguuree, Gabadhyay, Adaa and later songs like dalkaygow. His music continues to entertain young and old alike.
According to the Somali community in the UK, he will be buried in London on Thursday.
As the news spread, almost all notable artistes including Hiba Mohamed aka Hiba Nura, Mariam Mursal, Khalif Osman Abdi aka Said Khalifa and Abdulkadir Nurani paid tribute to the fallen legend.
Sayid Khalifa, a close colleague since 1975, told Nation.Africa on the phone from London that Ahmed Naji was admitted to hospital 5 days before his death.
“The first time I met Ahmed Naji was when his Shareero band entertained the audience at a graduation ceremony in 1975. I sang a song that introduced me to the music maestro,” recalls Sayid Khalifa.