Music has always been a part of my life. I literally would not exist without it. My parents, who are high-school sweethearts, met in band class when they were fifteen. My dad played the saxophone. My mom played the clarinet. It was their love for jazz and legendary groups like Earth, Wind, & Fire, the Chi-lites, and the Jackson 5 that brought them together and shaped the life they now share. Because of that, I grew up surrounded by ballads, hymns, and old soul records. For as far back as I can remember, I've known that songs can give you hope, can feel like home, and have the power to change the world.
I was reminded of the power of music while speaking with Somali sisters Iman and Siham Hashi. Originally from Mogadishu, Iman and Siham relocated with their family as refugees to Canada in 1991 to escape the war that engulfed their country. Once there, their passion for music flourished, which led to landing a contract with Universal Motown, making them the first Somali artists to sign a deal with a major label in the United States.
I spoke with Faarrow a few weeks ago about their experience as refugees, their love for the Fugees, and why changing the world is inseparable from their journey as artists.
Dianca Potts: What was your childhood like? What role did music play in your life while you were growing up?
Iman Hashi: We were born in Somalia but grew up in Toronto, Canada. When we were younger a war broke out in our country, and we came to Canada as refugees, so our parents were very adamant about us sticking to our culture. If there was music in the house, it was Somali music, and we learned to sing by listening to it. Our parents, particularly our dad, were a bit strict in the beginning, and we weren't really allowed to listen to English music, but our mom was always playing Michael Jackson or Lionel Richie or something. Middle school was when we really got passionate about music and felt like that was something that we really wanted to do.
Siham Hashi: One of our favorite artists is Saado Ali Warsame, and we just listened to her music all the time as kids. She was assassinated a couple of years ago in Somalia, but she was the person that we listened to growing up, and through her music we learned to sing. She was very "girl power" and a trailblazer for Somali women in music. In America she wasn't very well known, but she was a person that we really loved.
DP: When did you realize that you wanted to collaborate together musically?
IH: In middle school we became really obsessed with the Spice Girls and the Fugees. That's something that we were so drawn to. Even at an early age, we knew what kind of music we wanted to make.
SH: Through middle school and high school, we loved music, but we didn't think that it was an actual option for us. It was more like This is our dream, but we could never do it because of where we come from. I'm a year and a half older than Iman, and once I graduated from high school, I was like, You know what, I have to make a conscious decision. If this is my passion I have to pursue it full throttle and not really care what anyone thinks. Iman was still in high school then and she felt like she couldn't take a leap like I did, so that's when we secretly formed our group [laughs].
DP: Can you tell me about where the band name came from?
SH: Faarrow is just a combination of both of our names. [In Arabic] Iman means faith and Siham means arrow, so faith and arrow together is Faarrow. The meaning of our names is very true to who we are, like Iman is really the one who's keeping the hope alive, she has a lot of faith, you know, and I'm like the arrow, the direction, the one who always has to know the direction that we're going in.
DP: How has collaborating together as Faarrow impacted your relationship as sisters?
SH: It made us stronger. Being sisters sometimes doesn't really translate into being in a group where you have to actually work together, and there's some real shit on the line, but I feel like singing together and being business partners really helped us strengthen our bond because there has to be a level of respect and understanding going into this. We can't keep things under the rug, we have to figure it out and talk it out right away so it doesn't affect other things.
DP: I read online that you two are the first female Somali artists to sign a record deal with a major US label. That's incredible. What's that feel like to be historic in that way so early in your career?
SH: Being the first made us think about why we were the first, and it's become our driving force. We want to change the world. We've done work with the UN, and it's been our fuel and our passion.
DP: Can you talk a bit about your work with Somalia Lives Again and the UN Refugee Agency?
IH: Somalia Lives Again was the first organization that we started a few years ago, and from there we got the UN and the American Refugee Committee involved. We have this platform, and the bigger our platform gets, the bigger our voice gets and the more change we want to make. We started W.I.S.H Creatively, which is an initiative to support women internationally by selling soap and handmade jewelry, because we felt like sometimes when you work with organizations there's no way of tracking where the money goes, and you don't know if it makes it there, so we thought, How can we sell something, make the money, and physically make sure it goes to the right place? We're just leaving little seeds everywhere and getting things down, but we feel like we're never doing enough.
DP: Right now there's so much negative stigma being projected on refugees via the media, especially in the UK and the US. As women who identify as refugees, what are your hopes for the future when it comes to the way refugees are represented and celebrated in media?
SH: The whole refugee issue with Donald Trump trying to ban all Muslims is really uncomfortable. Because when we were little and we came to Canada as refugees — even as a kid — people were like, "OMG, you guys are refugees, you're from Somalia." It was [seen as] a negative thing, and now it's much worse. We just watched Alicia Keys's short film called Let Me In, and she kind of flips the perspective on what is happening to refugees to Americans. I want everyone to watch that because I feel like it puts everyone in the shoes of a refugee and that it can happen to anybody. No one chooses to be a refugee, you know? It can happen to anyone, anywhere. It's just a bad circumstance where people are losing their homes and their family and have to move in order to survive.
DP: I really admire the unapologetic confidence of "Shut Up." It feels like the perfect clap-back to haters and people that doubt that you can accomplish your dreams. What inspired you to write this song?
SH: It came from a place of frustration. It's also a way of looking at and talking to yourself and shutting up your own inner doubt because we are our own worst critics sometimes.
IH: I feel like if you listen to it you're going to feel like you can do anything and be able to tell the naysayers to shut up. Elijah Kelly, who's our producer and also cowrote the song, was in the studio with his friend Zac Efron (he's also an actor, and they were in Hairspray together), and he was so inspired and amped up! He was like, "You guys, this song is so amazing!" and going crazy in the studio. It was really cool.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Dianca Potts is an assistant at Lenny.