Song For Somalia

By Paul Moffett

If the horrifying television pictures from Somalia disturb you, think what effect they must have on the people who look at them all: television personnel.

In the case of Sherean Malekzadeh, marketing director of WDRB, she was so moved that she decided she had to contribute to the effort to aid Somalia. She called her friend, musician Vince Emmett, and suggested that he write and produce a song about the situation. Emmett in turn suggested a collaboration. The pair wrote a song called "Unity," then set about the task of turning it into money for the Somalia relief effort.

In a very short time, they lined up some help.

Malekzadeh got corporate sponsorship from Citizens fidelity Bank, which offered to pay for the tape duplication and to market the tapes through its branches. Emmett got free studio time from Alpha Recording in Elizabethtown, where he works.

Malekzadeh put together a group of middle-school students, calling them S.O.S. or Students Organized for Somalia, to sing the song. She chose Maggie Lawson, one of the hosts of the WDRB children's program, Fox 41 Kids Club, to sing lead.

Liz Dahl, public relations consultant for the project, introduced Emmett to Ann Stingle of the International Red Cross, who expressed an interest in using the tune in the Red Cross's efforts on behalf of Somalia. While saying that any recording he could manage would be welcome, Stingle encouraged Emmett to produce a recording that could be played on international radio and television, including the BBC and American television networks.

With that challenge before him, Emmett set about calling upon musician friends to help. Nearly twenty local drummers, including Marvin Maxwell and Ray Dunaway of Mom's, Musa Uthman of Kente and Musician's Union President John Roy, gathered one evening to record the rhythm section on the song. Other local musicians, including Darrell Adcock and Charles Ellis on keyboards, Reid Jahn on saxophone and recorders, Kevin Garr on bass, and a jazz vocal group showed up and performed. In fact, Emmett noted, he did not get a single turndown from the musicians he solicited.

Ann Stingle introduced Emmett to two Somali musicians from Washington, percussionist Mumin Barre and linguist Ibraham Bullo. Conversations with them and with Uthman helped Emmett to blend Somali and African music with Kentucky forms, particularly bluegrass and Appalachian music, to produce the recordings.

A cassette of the song was produced with two versions. The "unity" mix is the '"straight" song. "Midnimo," which means 'unity' in Somali, is a mix more like radio theater, according to Emmett, blending news footage and sounds from the country to make the listener feel as if he/she is in the country.

The cassettes are on sale for $4 at branches of Citizens fidelity Bank in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. The $4 proceeds can feed about 40 in Somalia.

Maggie Lawson, a seventh-grader at St. Stephen Martyr in Louisville, who was "thrilled and honored" to sing on the tune, told The Courier-Journal that the recording was "the best Christmas I could ever have, [knowing] that kids over there were getting some help, and that kids could make a difference."

Emmett and Malekzadeh agree.