Wiilwaal: Liberating the Somali Language through Comedy
Gh Wiilwaal is a young Somali-Canadian comedian and poet trying to revive the strong Somali oral tradition through stand-up comedy. In only a few years, he has joined the A-team of Somali comedians addressing serious issues like gender equality, piracy and Somali stereotypes with humor and reason. He became the first Somali artist to strike a partnership deal with Youtube and his Radio Wiilwaal channel has since generated more than a million views.
Wiilwaal has also toured heavily across North America and Europe and now it has become Africa’s turn to tune into Radio Wiilwaal as he recently relocated to Ethiopia. In Addis Ababa, Wiilwaal is busy working on his new weekly Somali talk show that he promises will be ”unapologetically progressive” in confronting the chaos and contradictions that he finds in himself and in the Somali community. We got the chance to ask Wiilwaal about the state of contemporary Somali poetry and stand-up and the role for modern storytellers like Wiilwaal in the rebuilding of Somalia.
What issues are you trying to address through your comedy performances and videos?
Primarily, I see myself as a satirist who is trying to wage a war on stupidity. It has been my experiences that the failure of Somali people as a whole is basically due to bad ideas and the role of contemporary comedians (me included) should be to ridicule these ideas and exposing them for what they are. I suppose you could say my “weapons” in this context would be reason and humor. I like to laugh; in fact I instinctively feel the urge to communicate the comic in life, but all my videos so far can be traced back to my frustration with the times, my times. Notice, I said “all my videos” because so far my effort has been limited to clips and pieces of writing here and there; I believe my main work is yet to come. I am now working on a weekly Somali talk show which should commence at the end of Ramadan, hopefully on Eid day celebration.
What are your ambitions with this new weekly Somali talk show?
This will be unapologetically progressive, uniquely my own and yet it would have depth and appeal which much of the Somali media now days lacks. In this talk show, I want to confront the chaos if not the contradictions that I find within my soul and in my community. There are a number of Somali speaking television channels that have aired and are willing to broadcast my future works, but I am a crazy guy who does creatively what he likes so in the end I might stick with Youtube and “broadcast myself.”
What role do you see comedy playing in the Somali Diaspora?
Not long ago, the UK border authority incredulously laughed at me when I told them that I am a Somali comedian who came to London to do a stand up show. Somehow the idea seemed far-fetched to the officers; who knows they might have suspected that I was just another asylum seeker though I hold a Canadian passport. Still, Somali comedy is definitely thriving in the Diaspora. There are several gifted comedians who take their trade seriously. And the Somali people seem to appreciate their collective effort. Some of the most popular Somali videos on Youtube are produced by funny guys like Oday Shirwac and Abdihakim BR, both of whom live in the States. Comedy somehow makes our people at home and less afraid no matter where in the world they might live, and we are indeed scattered.
What are the links between your work and the strong Somali poetry tradition?
I awe a lot to classical Somali poetry. It is part of my education, the Somali gabyaa greatly influenced my outlook and some of my comedies are in verse. But I am also a modern child; by that I mean I live a world which is very different from that of my ancestors, so it is only natural that I sometimes seek answers and find my inspiration elsewhere.
You have mentioned that you see contemporary Somali poetry as backward-looking. What do you mean by this?
Well, young poets whose work I sometimes read or listen to online always copy and imitate classical Somali bards… they rhyme and reason like the old gabyaa, thus contributing very little to the often pressing (i.e. corruption) or depressing (i.e. mental illness) contemporary issues which Somalis of all walks of life face today. Moreover, these poets are mostly men, so they naturally assume a male audience, ignoring, at their peril I might add, the better half of the population.
Somalia’s most famous author Nuruddin Farah recently said that the Somali language has been hijacked by people using it only for political and ideological purposes and that it needs to be recaptured. Do you agree in this?
I think I have read almost everything Nuruddin Farah wrote, at least all his fiction. Unfortunately, I have learned more about my Somali destiny from the 19th century Russian novelist, Gogol, than from this renowned Somali writer. So as you can see I do not think much of the man or his works. Yet I have to agree with him here: Somali language today only speaks a conservative voice and it badly needs to be freed and liberally employed so to express new ideas which are relevant to our times.
Do you see a role for stand-up artists like yourself in ”rebuilding” Somalia after decades of conflict?
I will leave the ‘rebuilding” to our numerous gang-politicians. All that an artist could do is to re-examine the recent history, however awful, and help lead the inevitable soul search. This humble task if happily done can eventually heal the Somali nation.
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