When Ladan Hussein, the musician who records under the name Cold Specks, was a baby—so young she can’t remember, though her family assures her it happened—the Somali singer Khadra Daahir, who was then staying with Hussein’s family in Canada, used to serenade Hussein with her song “Araweelo.” The song takes its name from a semi-mythical queen of Somali folklore who “used to castrate men and hang them up by their testicles,” as Hussein explained, laughing, on a recent afternoon. “It was lit.”
Hussein revisited “Araweelo,” and the eponymous queen for whom the song was named, when she began writing for her upcoming album Fool’s Paradise, out September 22 on Arts & Crafts. She had been working on the title track, “Fool’s Paradise,” which premieres here exclusively on W, for nearly two years, but earlier this year, around the time of Donald Trump’s travel ban—Somalia was one of the seven predominately Muslim countries from which immigration was restricted—Hussein started to rework the track’s lyrics and melody.
“It’s really difficult existing as a black Muslim woman in this world—especially a Somali woman,” she said. “I started digging into Araweelo’s history,” she added, “and I was just empowered by it all. I found solace in Araweelo.”
“Fool’s Paradise” is the first track on the upcoming Cold Specks record, the Juno Award-nominated artist’s third album. It’s a slow burn of a track, Hussein’s voice flitting over a syncopated rhythm that ebbs and flows with the song. “Open up like a torn-out eye, tripped right up in a fool’s paradise,” she sings. “Wanted it all, but never mine; wanted it all but nothing left.” A fool’s paradise, Hussein explained wryly, is “the world we live in”—and a reference to “detaching in a crumbling world” as a means of self-care. Though Hussein had intended to self-title the album, she “ended up rolling with Fool’s Paradise” because the title track “sets the tone for the entire record—sonically, thematically, lyrically.”
The track also incorporates both Somali and English—she murmurs Araweelo’s name throughout, and during the bridge, Hussein chants the Somali idiom “kala garo naftaada iyo laftaada” (“understand the difference between your bones and your soul”). It was something her grandmother used to repeat when Hussein was a child: “I kept singing in a period where I was desperately seeking ways to nourish my soul, cradle it and love myself endlessly,” Hussein texted several days after we spoke. “I had a tough last year, and the words my grandmother used to say kept repeating over and over again, in her voice, in my head.”
Last year, Hussein moved back to Toronto to live with her parents, and her dad, who was a member of the celebrated Somali band Iftin in the ’70s, became Hussein’s musical partner-in-crime as she prepared to write and record Fool’s Paradise.
“He helped me find a softness to my voice,” she said. “He showed me that a little goes a long way.” Together, they analyzed the music and lyrics of Somali musicians of the ’70s and ’80s, of which Daahir was just one. They pored over VHS recordings, found on Youtube, of performances at house parties—Hussein cited a specific 1987 clip showing Daahir playing “Araweelo” while the crowd danced around her as a particular inspiration.
“I watched it, analyzed it, and just dreamt of a home I’ve never known,” she said. Fool’s Paradise marks the first time Hussein has released music in Somali, her first language; due to political instability in the country, though, she has never visited. The new record is out in September, and Hussein will extensively tour North America and Europe throughout the fall—but she’s already looking ahead to winter, when she’s planned a trip to Mogadishu with her father: “I’d just love to take a bite from a piece of fruit from my land, you know?”
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