Cold Specks is Set to Release her Most Personal Album Yet
By Maya Acharya
Ladan Hussein (known on stage as Cold Specks) is recognised for her soulful vocals and the weighty yet softly spellbinding melancholy of her lyrics. Her last two albums have been met with critical acclaim, earning her a JUNO Award nomination for Breakthrough Artist Of The Year. She has since has gone on to collaborate with artists such as Massive Attack and Ambrose Akinmusire, and Fool’s Paradise, due to drop next month, has been anticipated by fans and critics with bated breath.
The album's opening title track is dedicated to Queen Araweelo, a semi-mythical Somali icon of female empowerment, who allegedly also had a penchant for castrating men. The track that witnesses Ladan sing in Somali for the first time, repeating an idiom her grandmother used to tell her: “kala garo naftaada iyo laftaada” (understand the difference between your bones and your soul). The rest of the album initimately unravels themes of migration, home, belonging, and finding agency as a woman of colour existing in difficult times.
Ladan's journey to this stage has, in periods, been tumultuous. Suffering from depression and struggling to reconcile her artistry with other pressures and expectations, meant that she often kept a certain separation between her personal life and her musical career. She didn’t know much about her family’s time in Somalia before migrating to Canada, or her father’s own musical history, until recently. “My parents never talked much about life in Mogadishu growing up. The war split up my family, scattered them around the world, left many missing, and those that made it were forever changed,” she explains.
Part of the creation of Fool’s Paradise was learning more about her own familial heritage, through music. During the creative process, Ladan uncovered recordings of Somali musicians, songs and videos that had survived war, and learned more about pre-war Mogadishu. The album is, in a way, a testament to Ladan’s inner passage towards, as she puts it, falling in love with herself and her identity. We asked Ladan some questions about the upcoming album and its personal significance to her:
Although all your albums have felt intimate in terms of lyrics and themes, it seems to be that your upcoming album is your most personal yet. Could you tell me a bit about it?
The new album deals with a variety of topics. Mostly, I wrote the record in a period where I was feeling as though I needed to detach for my own sanity. I was going through quite a lot. There was the Muslim ban in the United States that included Somalia. I had gone through a breakup, a move to a new city and watched the world slowly crumble around me. Tuning into the news everyday was incredibly intense and heartbreaking. And so, I disconnected and detached and the album is a document of it all.
Your new album has been described as a “reconnection” with your Somali heritage. Would you agree with that statement?
Not at all a reconnection. I don’t think that’s fair. I never lost touch. I’m mostly more honest publicly. Privately, I’ve always been the same. I was always quite secretive in the public eye. I’m just no longer like that anymore. I also feel like young Somalis in the diaspora are doing a lot of corrective work with regards to the narrative of Somalia on the world stage. No one ever discussed the country until 1991 when civil war broke out. It didn’t exist until it fell apart. Negative narratives have dominated discussions on Somalia for over two decades since. I felt like I needed to bring some light.
The album touches on themes of diaspora, racism, belonging, migration – all things that shape your life experience. What has characterised the journey that brought you to the point of wanting/being able to express these topics through your music?
I’ve always been a brutally honest writer. I am the daughter of refugees, the fifth of seven children and the first to be born in Toronto. Diaspora, migration, the struggle of refugees, these are the stories I know best. I hate that I felt compelled to prove some sort of humanity with some of these songs. It’s a shame but this is the world we live in. Again, it was all about corrective work for me. I felt compelled to attempt to bring beauty from ashes.
Has there been a theme within a specific song that was most challenging for you to explore musically?
‘Two Worlds’ was probably the most difficult. I wrote it after a reading a story about a refugee mother being reunited with her children after many years. It took me back to when my parents, my siblings and I picked up our eldest sisters (who are twins) at the airport after 10 years of separation. To this day, I have never seen so much love and pain in a single moment.
What has your experience been of being a Black female artist within an industry largely dominated by white men?
I am a Black, Muslim woman. I find I have to work three times harder than every offensively mediocre average damn Joe. I’m quite used to it at this point in my career. It’s an unfortunate but total reality.
Could you tell me a bit about 'Wild Card' and the story that it evokes about your mother?
It’s loosely about when I visited my mother and she dropped everything to help a stranger who showed up on her doorstep. He was a new refugee with nowhere to go. I wrote the song after witnessing her empathy for a man she had never met before. It’s something she’s always done. I’ve seen it time and time again. I suppose it’s kind of a love song for my mother.
Has the collaborative process of creating your most recent album differed from the others?
I worked with my producer Jim Anderson again. This is the third album I’ve made with him. I also had the pleasure of working with two young, up and coming producers on additional production named L.A Timpa and Josh McIntyre.
Do you have any upcoming collaborations that you are excited about?
Nope. I’m being greedy and dis year bout me.
Last year you toured in Africa for the first time, how was that experience?
I had never been to Africa before. My family left before I was born. For me, it was a beautiful and brilliant experience. It was also a little bittersweet as I could see the Indian Ocean in Mozambique but couldn’t go to Somalia. I hope to go home and visit Liido beach in Mogadishu this winter.
As a child of immigrants, I often feel that parts of my cultural heritage are fragmented, sometimes lost. I know your father is also a musician. Do you talk about music together, and have you been able to learn about and preserve musical histories from his generation in Somalia?
Music is pretty much all we ever talk about. I am my father’s daughter. Everything I know about Somali music I learned from him. Growing up there was always an oud, keyboards, and music blaring from cassette tapes bought from the Somali Hall of Fame on Weston road in Toronto. Saado Ali, may she rest in peace, was my favourite. Faduumo Qaasim, Khadra Daahir (a dear family friend), Hibo Nuura and so many others. I was always attracted to the female singers and he filled my head and heart with endless sounds. It’s definitely sad as a great deal of the recordings were lost in the war. I don’t own a single vinyl. All we have are a handful of cassettes, and endless grainy VHS videos (live recordings and music videos) which Somalis in the diaspora have put up on youtube over the years. These tapes are stunning, and I am glad the visual side of the music has been preserved for many generations to take into their hearts. The country has changed so much. I am thankful there are these documents of a time long gone.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Lots of SZA and Swedish-Somali singer by the name of Cherrie. I don’t speak a lick of Swedish but I can sing along to her shit like it’s nobody’s business. It’s actually quite amusing.
Fool's Paradise is set to release on the 22nd of September 22 via Arts & Crafts.
Visit coldspecks.com for tour dates and more info.
Pre-order the album here.