By Kristine Goodrich | Mankato Free Press,

MANKATO — Before she performs a finale concert Saturday, Nimco Yasin composed a song with university students and taught elementary students to folk dance.

Yasin is the first of five Somali musicians who will participate in weeklong or two-week residencies at Minnesota State University through spring 2019.

A grant announced last fall is funding the artists’ visits to MSU, St. Cloud State University and Augsburg College. The visits are coordinated by the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.

The project is called Midnimo, which means “unity” in Somali. Its mission is to use art to build understanding of Somali culture in the state that has the largest Somali immigrant population in the country.

“Midnimo will create many opportunities for both campus and community members to build meaningful relationships with our Somali neighbors,” said MSU Performance Series Director Dale Haefner, who is coordinating the residency activities at MSU.

Yasin’s visit to MSU began Monday with a discussion in an intro to mass media class about how she uses social media to develop and share her music.

Yasin visited Roosevelt Elementary School on Wednesday. After she shared a bit about her culture, she taught students a traditional Somali folk dance.

On Tuesday she visited an upper-level music class and the students had a challenge for her. The music majors had been listening to her music and produced a backup track emulating her style. They asked her to complete their work by writing lyrics and adding vocals.

They completed and debuted their collaborative work Thursday to an audience of students in an introductory music class. The younger students observed as musicians who’d come down from the Twin Cities to accompany Yasin on Saturday added some improvised instrumentals to the track. They added a beat to it by clapping. Then they watched as Yasin recorded her lyrics.

Through an interpreter Yasin said the process was the reverse of her norm. In Somalia the lyrics typically come first and then the music is written to fit the words.

That tradition is what makes Somalian music less symmetrical and predictable than western music, assistant professor Michael Olson told his class.

In the 1980s Yasin was a member of the Waaberi Group, Somalia’s premier government-sponsored music and dance troupe. She told MSU students she left the group under growing censorship and started performing her own music that protested the unpopular government. She fled Somalia for London in 1989 as civil war was breaking out.

She’s since continued to make uncensored and sometimes political Somali music that both makes it back to her homeland and provides Londoners a taste of another culture.

On Saturday night Yasin will perform a community concert that also will feature Rahmo Rose, a Twin Cities-based Somali artist.

A different Somalia-born singer — Cali Dhaanto, who now lives in Sweden — was supposed to be the first Midnimo visitor. But he reportedly was unable to get a visa due to the presidential order restricting non-citizen entry into the U.S. Midnimo organizers scrambled to instead enlist Yasin and her visa was approved.

The next Somali musician is expected to come to MSU in October. It will be another now London-based singer named Aar Maanta. He is the only Somali artist who travels with a full band, according to Cedar Cultural Center Program Manager Fadumo Ibrahim.

She said she’s “99 percent sure” he won’t be kept away since he’s done prior well-received residencies in the U.S. and she’s helping him get his visa application in extra early.