by Safy-Hallan Farah
Geniuses is a series where we interview geniuses from all walks of life. For the second installment of Geniuses, we’re talking to Somali-Canadian singer @ColdSpecks who just wrapped up touring with Sufjan Stevens.
Are you a genius?
No, I don’t know how anyone could claim to be. I only strive to make my artistic output as great as it can be. Once it’s released, it no longer belongs to me and it is for other people to decide. It’s all just a matter of opinion. I do think that if your art isn’t polarizing, it’s probably very dull.
How is your art polarizing?
I don’t think it’s for me to say. I try to make music that does not fit any particular mold. I want to challenge myself and others. Sometimes people love it. Sometimes people hate it.
My first name ain’t baby, it’s Ladan — Miss Hussein if you’re nasty. R.I.P Al Spx. #dontgivenofucknomore
— Cold Specks (@coldspecks) March 20, 2015
What made you decide to reveal your real name?
In 2010, people started asking who was behind Cold Specks. They wanted a name. I gave them Al Spx because I wasn’t comfortable with having my real name out there. This was because I had not informed my family about dropping out of university to pursue a career in music (total taboo for a female in our Somali community). Five years later, they are informed and are incredibly supportive. Now, there is no need to hide behind a fake name. It also can get confusing because people assume Cold Specks is a band. Basically, no need for two pseudonyms.
How have your fans and the Somali community taken the reveal?
I noticed some Facebook unlikes on the day I made the post. I chalked it down to southerners who probably thought I was a gospel singer. The name Ladan Hussein probably didn’t sit right with them. The Somali community has been wonderful. I’ve always been pretty respectful of the culture (maybe I’ve been too unnecessarily conservative at times). There’s only been very positive responses from Somalis.
Would you ever get rid of the Cold Specks moniker altogether? How has being called Cold Specks all these years helped you navigate your own life with regards to music?
No. I like the Cold Specks moniker. It allows me to be more playful. I am a singer and I write songs but I never want to be pigeonholed into a singer/songwriter category. I suppose this is my way of avoiding that. I’ve always been a fan of people like Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus), Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes) and even Bowie. Stage names can be fun and I find it helps to better establish an atmosphere around the music. It definitely helps with removing any inhibitions while performing. I can become something else and transcend. I find it very thrilling.
Do you allow yourself to be playful in all facets of life?
I was a miserable little shit several years ago. I guess I took my “quarter-life crisis” pretty hard. Over the last few years I have certainly noticed a change in my general demeanor. I’m happier and I think a lot of that is due to being active and productive. I was a playful child and it’s taken me years to get back to that. I actually just signed up for modern dance classes if that says anything.
How were you miserable?
Many things played a part. I wanted to write songs in a certain way. I could sing quite well but I wasn’t a very good musician. I didn’t have any friends. I was lonely and inactive when I wanted so desperately to be surrounded by like-minded people. I had dropped out of university because I didn’t find it fulfilling. I was in a great deal of debt. All that led to weight gain and more misery. There were a few shitty years.
What made you decide you’re going to finally do what you want and take steps toward being less miserable?
Lying to the people I loved the most because I was silly enough to think they would not accept me took a huge toll. As soon as I was honest and realised how accepting my family was, things started to change. I wasn’t living a lie anymore. Singing and touring the world made me very happy. It was as simple as that.
Were you communicating regularly with your family during that period of misery?
Yes but I was lying about my life and my mother could see right through me.
Every Somali girl I know has SOME KIND of double life. Did you ever have a double life before music?
Yes, I’ve had several lives I’d rather not dwell on! It’s funny I see my little cousins going through it right now and I find it incredibly amusing. Especially, when they are straight up lying to their mothers while I’m around. I see them get away with so much shit and it’s hilarious. I don’t have little sisters so I find myself guiding them constantly.
Do you guide them to protect them from the consequences from their lies or do you guide them to not lie? I feel like if you wanna be the “down” older cousin you kind of have to not get on their case? It’s hard, though, when you also probably really still think obedience to parents is very important. (I know I do.)
We’re honest with each other. They tell me things they would rather not tell their mothers and I provide them with the best advice I can. They’re not bad kids, they’ve just grown up differently. We are the children of the diaspora. I try to teach them to be careful and respectful without sacrificing who they are as young women. Somali mothers in the western world can be suffocating without realising. What I find most amusing is our mothers didn’t grow up wearing hijabs and abayas. Settling into a new world has made them hold on to religion more. I think it’s understandable. I like the way Ugaaso Boocow makes light of Somali mothers. It’s not until you find old pictures of your mom hanging out with her fro out, in a dress that shows off her skin and her figure that you start asking questions.
Do you ever want children?
I’d love to someday! Not anytime in the near future. I’ll probably get a dog first and see how that goes.