Cherrie, a Scandinavian-Somali singer-songwriter, this past year has generated strong supporters on her home turf of Sweden; she’s now turning her head to an international audience and captivating them with her bilingual allure. Cherrie sings, emotionally, in Swedish, and that same emotionality is translating across tongues and converting foreign listeners into ardent encouragers. And rightfully so, as a Muslim woman, an escapee of war-torn Somalia, she represents something far greater than herself and her own outstanding individuality. Cherrie came to EJDER to share a little about her story and spread a message of hope for anyone on the outskirts of society.
Over our conversation, we spent an hour and a half speaking, and in doing so we touched on many subjects relevant to any artist or practitioner today: self-doubt, identity, feelings, purpose, and culture, to name a few of our topics. She was wearing MISBHV’s 6 YRS DOWN JACKET––her own––to fend off the encroaching winter cold we had become used to in-store.
“The way the whole Third Culture Kid thing resonates with me personally,” she begun, “Is the fact that, I’ve never been to my home country––to Somalia - but I’m very much so, very proud of, my heritage, my language, my culture. The music, the poetry, all these amazing things about being East African and Somali. And African overall, and being female, and being Muslim.” Brushing her deep brown, almost midnight black hair out of her way and swiveling on our chair, she then reminisces about growing up in the Finnish countryside: the cows, fishing on the weekends, the fauna, and the difference between that and urban Sweden that she grew to know as home.
“Although I’m from these two places, I wouldn’t say I’m just one of them,” she tells me before confessing of the confusion that diaspora can bring, especially when living in an area, or country even, that’s predominantly white. “For me, it was a thing where I had to create my own third culture that made me feel at home, because when you don’t have your roots somewhere that you can pinpoint fully, it gets you through life being confused all the time.” These reflections bring her to her hood, Rinkeby, and the motivations that inspired her to write 163 För Evigt, “I was the one, I think, that had more of an open vision than all of my friends,” Cherrie tells me, and I believe that perspective is shown in her Swedish lyrics: “Cuz if I succeed we all can, we all can.” An approach or belief that I believe is very African in essence; it’s as if a sense of ubuntu.
“Me growing up on the countryside, in one of the few black families in Finland, made me always want to look outside of what I saw around us.” Evading the crime, violence and drugs, and turning the pain of it all into songs that offer hope is what has rightfully earned Cherrie her successes.
“I think that’s one of the main reasons I had the guts to follow my dream,” the recent Swedish Grammy winner shares.
“Everything that I’ve ever put out, or written, is something that definitely made me feel something––even if it were sorrow, or angst... it always comes from real feeling,” Cherrie tells when asked to comment on how it seems that authentic and genuine feelings are communicated in her songs, even across languages and cultures, and her perspectives on that.
“I realised we live in a world where people don’t want to be on the same pages,” there’s political ideologies, conversational conduct and a lot of judgement keeping us separated and in conflict, and those are just recent and apparent qualms that are keeping societies disorganised; few people understand that the way Cherrie seems to, “but, feelings, are the only thing we all have in common,” a well-thought response that the musician has no doubt put a lot of reasoning into, “even if you don’t understand each other, [or] you’re not from the same country, [or] you don’t have the same views.”
Cherrie begins as a summary to her explanation, “you won’t relate to me––or even want to relate to me––if I tell you about ‘Yeah, people dyin’ in my ends,’ but if I tell you about a mother’s sorrow, or losing a friend, you’re now going to be able to at least respect where I’m coming from, right?” With an explanation like this, it made sense why the singers sentiment has been adopted worldwide, in an era where depth and meaning seem to be avoided in commercial, popular music, singing about universal themes: loss, heartbreak, succeeding despite our odds––these themes will always be triumphant regardless of language or borders.
Words and film photography by Jamel Duane Alatise. Polaroids taken by Hiten Ashra.