Opinion: Censoring Myself for Success
Published: December 8, 2012
HERE is a story about fame. I heard it first as a fable in Somalia, before living it out in America.
The fox, they say, once had an elegant walk, for which the other animals loved him. One day, he saw a prophet striding along and decided to improve on what was already beautiful. He set out walking but could not match the prophet’s gait. Worse, he forgot his own. So he was left with the unremarkable way the fox walks today.
Right now, the pressures of the music industry encourage me to change the walk of my songs. When I write from the deepest part of my heart, my advisers say, I remind people too much of Somalia, which I escaped as a boy. My audience is in America, so my songs should reflect the land where I have chosen to live and work.
They have a point. A musician’s songs are not just his own; he shares them with an audience. Still, Somalia is where my life and poetry began. It is my walk. And I don’t want to lose it. Or stifle it. Or censor it in the name of marketing.
I first saw censorship as a child in Mogadishu, walking into my home’s courtyard one day and hearing a radio hushed nearly to silence. The adults hovered around, listening to a song. And I asked why one song had to be played at a whisper while another could blast through the house.
A war was going on, I was told, and some songs had meanings the government did not want deciphered. Those “anti songs” were different from love songs, or folk songs. You had to take care in dressing the words. In love songs, words could preen in bright colors; in anti songs, they attacked in camouflage.