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FAARROW Joins SXSW Bands In Drawing Attention To Travel Ban

Mar 19, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back to South by Southwest. The music festival alone draws artists from all over the world, including the six countries included in the Trump travel ban that was supposed to go into effect on Thursday, although federal courts have blocked it for now. Here in Austin, musicians from those six countries are drawing attention to the ban by serving on panels and performing. Siham and Iman Hashi make up one of the groups that's performing here. They are Faarrow. The two sisters are originally from Somalia. They left the country in the 1990s with their family to escape the civil war. They found a new home in Toronto initially. Fast forward to today. Faarrow has had a deal with Warner Brothers, released the E.P. "Lost" last summer, made the decision to produce themselves independently, and over this weekend performed at South by Southwest at what was called the ContraBand Showcase. They were nice enough to speak to us just a few hours before their performance.

IMAN HASHI: Thank you so much for having us. We are grateful to be here.

MARTIN: Iman and Siham. And explain Faarrow. What does the name mean?

I. HASHI: Our names are Arabic. Iman means faith. Siham means arrow. And then together we put faith and arrow, Faarrow.

MARTIN: How did you come up with your sound? Yeah, describe it for people who haven't had a chance to hear it.

I. HASHI: We love to use words like stadium music, anathemic. We like to call it world music because it is world pop. We like to put, you know, hip-hop influences, R&B influences. You know, even the percussion, you know, and the drums give that African feel. We try to, like, kind of put all of our experiences and all of the places we've been to into our music.

SIHAM HASHI: It's really a fusion of everything. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WERK")

FAARROW: (Singing) I like the way you make me feel. Say you want to be my everything. Yeah, you're saying all the right things. Make a believer out of me. I'm a hard one to please. Got to...

MARTIN: How do you feel about being part of a showcase like ContraBand? I mean, on the one hand it is a wonderful opportunity to showcase your music. On the other hand, I wonder - does it make you feel sad, in a way, that you have to represent a political idea?

I. HASHI: I feel like for us, from the beginning, because we're former refugees, I feel like it was just kind of like a badge of honor we wore. Even though sometimes people thought it was, like, weird we'd talk about that because, you know, looking at us you would never think refugee. And then people would be like, whoa, and they'd hear about our story. I just feel like because it's been a part of our life, it also kind of is a reason why we have, like, underdog music and why we kind of tell certain stories in our music.

MARTIN: What is your story?

I. HASHI: Our story - well, you know, we are born in Somalia. Civil war broke out. We came to Toronto, Canada, in the early '90s. And one thing that I love - our parents have been so strong and amazing. And I guess we've never felt like refugees because they sheltered us and protected us. But our parents' story is so incredible, which is the reason I feel like we're such fighters and warriors now. Our mom was - worked for the Somali embassy. She was a diplomat.

And while the war was happening, a lot of people needed to get out of the country. My mom was, like, approving visas. And at the time the government wasn't allowing her to do that. But she just did it because she knew it was the end of that era. So, like, so many people are so grateful to my mom because she's such a huge leader in the community and she saved so many people's lives. So when we started to do music, it just was like, we had to talk about it. So it's like even if in our songs we're not saying Somalia, Somalia, it's like there's an undertone of that underdog, that fighter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHASING HIGHS")

FAARROW: (Singing) If I start a riot, will you be part of my crowd? Trying anything to stay up, but nothing's every really enough, so I'm running for my life till you come around. You got me chasing highs.

MARTIN: When you were growing up in Toronto - I don't know how old you were when you first arrived there. How old were you?

I. HASHI: Oh, we were like 5. Yeah, we were super young, 4 and 5, yeah.

MARTIN: Four and 5 years old. So that was pretty much what you knew. Did you feel different? Did you feel there was something different about you when you were growing up? Or did you feel like, we're just Canadian?

S. HASHI: I think the moment that we felt a little different was the day that we got our citizenship, which was - was it '96?

I. HASHI: Yeah, '96.

S. HASHI: Yeah, that day we were just like, OK, so we take this picture and now we have this card, so now we're Canadians? Like, now this makes us different?

I. HASHI: What were we before?

S. HASHI: Yeah, like what were we before this card, you know?

I. HASHI: Yeah. And just to add to that, I think really middle school is when - because for me, I didn't think that the word refugee was a bad thing. My mom was like, you know, we're former refugees of Somalia. And it just stayed with me. But I remember being in middle school and I remember I talked about it in class and I remember everybody thought it was funny. But I was so proud. I didn't know it was, like, a negative thing. And...

S. HASHI: Or people perceived it as a negative thing.

I. HASHI: You know, and just - you know, I think things have changed a lot. But in the media when, somebody's from Africa or a former refugee, they just think, oh, starving. Like, there's just - there's, like, this one mindset of what being African or what a refugee is. So I think I just took it upon myself to be like, no, being a refugee is amazing and, like, just being the champion for that. We just started being that so young. I don't even know - nobody told us to. We just did it.

S. HASHI: Yeah. It was just innate, I feel like.

I. HASHI: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, you definitely have a very, you know, powerful look, a very powerful sound. You're right that people would just think you're just two very hip sisters who are doing your thing. Has it changed now? Do you - I mean, on the - I'm just wondering whether you think the idea of being a refugee now - so many people are on the move around the world now for so many different reasons. Does it feel like a weight to carry to represent so many people who are on the move? Does that feel like something you have to do, or...

S. HASHI: I think that it's just natural. It's a part of our, you know, driving force. It's a part of, like, why we do what we do. And yeah, you know, I like showing people that, you know, there's not one look of a refugee. Like, you know, we have so many friends that are - you know, you would perceive as just, like, American or just Canadian that are former refugees. And, you know, I feel like people don't connect the two. They just think it's, like, other.

I. HASHI: Yeah.

MARTIN: Your music has been so well received. And I wonder whether there's something, in a way, puzzling about that because you - on the one hand, you've have a record deal. You've decided to go independent, to do your own thing. Just walking around here, I see people responding to you and I see people recognizing you. And I just wonder, does that feel a little complicated? On the one hand, you have, like, a political dialogue that is very hostile in a lot of places around the world. On the other hand, people are loving you.

S. HASHI: I feel like that's been our whole life. Like, it's been the - like, the culture clash of our life, I feel like. And just to go back to just, like, our music and everything, you know, a lot of people have tried to steer us away from even talking about this. Like, you know, people from the label. And, you know, it's always like, OK, you guys could just be, you know, these Canadian girls. You know, you don't have to talk about all this stuff. It's a little too sophisticated. You know, it's a little too, you know, intense. Why don't you just be, you know, cute and sing pop songs? And, you know, it's so offensive. And I feel like that's why we just wanted to just take our power back and go independent and just be authentically ourselves without having to hear about it.

MARTIN: And Iman and Siham Hashi are Faarrow. They are here at the South by Southwest Conference and music festival. They are appearing on a panel. They're performing at a showcase. And they were nice enough to stop by our workspace at South by Southwest, the media center, to talk with us for a few minutes on a very busy day for them at a very busy time in their lives. Faarrow, thank you so much for speaking with us.

I. HASHI: Thank you so much...

S. HASHI: Thank you for having us.

I. HASHI: ...For having us, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST")

FAARROW: (Singing) But I ain't lost. I might not win 'em all, but I ain't lost. Living life on my time, even if it takes too long. Running blind in the night, I feel daylight coming on. If your grind's 9 to 5, pay your bills, ain't nothing wrong. But I'm on my 24/7, finna (ph) change the world forever. No way, no I ain't lost. No way. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.