Somali Canadian playwright Fatuma Adar is bringing her fresh brand of Black joy and celebration to Canadian Stage’s Dream in High Park theatre event this summer.
A rising talent in both theatre and on screen (CBC Gem series 21 Black Futures; Toronto Fringe’s She’s Not Special), Adar’s Dixon Road, on at the High Park Amphitheatre in Toronto from June 3-19, is a musical journey of family, diaspora and searching for a new sense of home.
Her latest production, inspired by Toronto’s vibrant Somali community of the same name, is based on her father’s real life experiences. The story follows the journey of a Somali family that immigrates to Canada in 1991, settling in Dixon Road, a neighborhood near Pearson airport, as civil war brews in their homeland. A production close to her heart, Adar’s show promises to be a novel musical experience, combining R&B, contemporary verse and traditional Somali melodies.
Adar spoke to The Globe and Mail about her experience growing up in Dixon Road, her show’s unique musical stylings and the diasporic dilemma of following your own dreams, or that of your parents.
What’s your connection to Dixon Road?
My dad came to Dixon in ‘88, and he was with the first group of people to settle there and they started creating their whole communities. I always thought it’s such a beautiful, joyful, vibrant place, which is such a stark difference from what’s been represented in the media.
Doing research for the show, going through the archives, I found it was really sad that I couldn’t find any archives outside of one VHS at the Toronto Reference Library of the Somali community at that time. It was buried in all of these police reports and awful headlines about the community and violence and obviously the Rob Ford scandal. Dixon Road on Google was just an entirely different thing from what I knew it to be.
It was always a joyful, communal ground where I knew I was going to see a bunch of Somali people sitting outside with freezies while the aunties talk to each other, while the uncles have coffee and talk politics. It’s such a different experience that I had compared to what other people know the neighbourhood to be like.
How is the story of Dixon Road linked to you and your own family?
My dad was a documentarian and still is very much the smartest, kindest and most hardworking person I know. I hear so many stories about what his life was like in Somalia and the distinction that he has there versus in Canada. He was cab driver [in Canada] and now he works as a truck driver, and he’s still involved in documenting back home but there’s just such a stark difference between what I always saw him as and what other folks saw.
And when I was younger, I always wanted to write. I always wanted to create. But it’s so hard to even think that dream could be a reality because my family lost so much coming here.
[In Dixon Road] the daughter, in Canada, starts discovering herself and that she wants to be an artist, but it’s really difficult for her to stand up for that because when a family has sacrificed so much for you to have an opportunity, it feels almost selfish to say “My dreams, which are kind of unstable, are what I want to try to achieve.”
Can you describe how you came up with the sound for Dixon Road?
I have a very unconventional – in the musical theatre world - way of making music. I never grew up with a piano lessons. I didn’t go to theatre school. I don’t know how to read sheet music. But when it comes to R&B and hip hop, and pop music, I think that there’s a lot more leeway for people to work on GarageBand, which is a software that I used to start working with beats and I’m like, okay, if I was to write a song how can I build it without having this “distinction” that a lot of my musical theatre contemporaries have.
And with that, because I have such a wide range and random selection of music that I like, some of the songs in the show feel like Disney, some feel like Destiny’s Child, some feel like Mogadisco, which is the disco era in Mogadishu, Somalia around the 1970s-80s.
Why did you choose a musical format to this story?
I just thought it sang. There was a musical story to it, and there was humour. The idea that I could take this medium that I’ve always escaped with and tell a story with it that looks from the point of view a family that looks like mine, a Black Muslim family, specifically a Somali family, a refugee family and put it in the musical medium, I think it’s just so easy to put your heart into a musical. It’s a very warm and joyful storytelling path.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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