Somali sisters Iman and Siham Hashi, collectively known as Faarrow, are trying to make a difference. They fully subscribe to Big Sean’s notion that “one (wo)man can change the world” and have been heavily involved in several humanitarian organizations and projects. They also have their own socially conscious jewellery line and their catchy pop tunes pack a punch with their important narratives. They are inspiring a new generation of youth around the world to be more socially aware, to get involved in helping their communities and to utilize music as a tool for bridging the cultural gaps.
The name Faarrow infuses the English translations of their Arabic first names, Iman (faith) and Siham (arrow). The duo was born two years apart in Mogadishu, Somalia, to a diplomat mother. Their mom’s job meant that their childhood was spent across various countries, including Saudi Arabia and Germany. By 1991, the civil war in Somalia resulted in the Hashi family’s move to Toronto, Canada, and the beginning of their lives as refugees.
Growing up in a conservative household, they didn’t have many opportunities to explore their musical talents while living in Somalia, but Toronto introduced them to their creative potential. In 2007, an opportunity to pursue music presented itself in Atlanta, Georgia, and within six months they inked a deal with Universal Motown; making them the first artists of Somali descent to ever sign to a US major. By 2010, they released their debut project entitled Sweet Rush (eluding to their butter-wouldn’t-melt persona and the feeling their music evoked). This was also their original band name, as an alternative to Sweet and Spicy, but they later decided that Faarrow was a better alias.
Over the years, they collaborated with the likes of Akon and Esther Dean and used the platform of social media to raise awareness of the social issues plaguing Somalia and their fellow refugees. They raised money through benefit concerts to create their non-profit organization Somalia Lives Again and their Wish Creatively initiative (custom jewellery business to raise money for impoverished women in Somalia and Kenya). Faarrow has also performed at World Refugee Day in Tunisia and at the UNHCR’s Nansen Award ceremony. The sisters are spokeswomen for the UN Refugee Agency and are actively involved in outreach projects to help Somali communities.
They later made the move to Warner Bros Records in Los Angeles, California, for more creative control. The Faarrow sound evolved to incorporate Hip Hop, pop and world genres laced in drum-heavy instrumentals. Actor/producer Elijah Kelley is executive producing their upcoming EP Lost, which drops on July 15. Since building a name for himself with roles in The Butler and Hairspray, the talented star is now set to take over the music world with his beats. The title track ‘Lost’ is about figuring out your purpose without comparing your journey to those of others and having faith in the timing of your life. It arrives just in time for summer with its upbeat melody and infectious hook.
What does your latest single “Lost” mean for you and what do you want your fans to take away from it?
“Lost” for us is our journey in life and the music industry. We’ve always had a clear idea of who we were, but along the way people tried to tear us apart and belittle our determination. This song is for all the people who are called “lost” but know exactly where they’re going.
What can you tell us about your upcoming debut album?
We are releasing our EP titled Lost before the album and we are so excited! Sonically, we are a lovechild of The Fugees and Spice Girls. The Fugees represented the underdogs and wore the refugee label as a badge of honor. The Spice Girls represented freedom and girl power. It’s a fusion of all of that; our music is pop, but we have something to say.
How did you and Elijah Kelley meet? What do you feel that he brought to the album?
We were working with many different producers when we met Elijah and we were trying to get an EP done. Things were difficult at the time; people were being difficult and not committing because we were trying to get things done with no budget. We were friends with Elijah, so he knew our story and sonically knew what we were trying to achieve. We started working one day and we never stopped. This EP was produced entirely by him and we wrote the songs together.
What effect did living in so many different countries and being labelled refugees have on your music and you as individuals?
I think moving around so much and being former refugees really gives us the ability to connect with so many different people and cultures. It gave us so many different layers and references to pull from for our music and for life in general.
You previously mentioned how you grew up in a traditional Muslim household, where music and creativity took a back seat for academics and education. Would you say that this is still the norm in Somalia or is there a growing youth culture of musicians and creatives now?
There is definitely a growing youth culture in the Somali community that is exploring the arts and their dreams as a whole. We have to remember that the war only ended in the early 90s and that the trauma continued and still carries on today. We are refugees, not even first generation, and it absolutely affects us on so many levels; [from] how we carry ourselves as women to how we write our songs. This is why we tell the underdog story throughout Lost.
After all of your impressive humanitarian work over the years, what advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in starting a non profit organization or initiative?
Out of all the work and awareness we’ve created through the UN and other organizations, we’ve learned that charity really starts at home. Charity doesn’t have to happen all the way in Africa or in your church, mosque, synagogue or temple. It really starts at home, so the first step should be to find out what cause you want to support and start by reaching out in your community to see who you can help and what change you can affect. If you’re starting your own initiative, put it out there in your community or through your social media and see if anyone would like to be a part of it. It’s always easier and more efficient with like-minded people who all believe in the same cause.
What does the rest of 2016 hold for Faarrow?
More music! More shows! More life!
Image credit: Jon Weiner