It’s Still Not Easy: Habiba Ali Returns with New ‘Shaah and Sheeko’ Comedy & Poetry ShowWritten by Chelby Daigle
Somali Canadian Habiba Ali is a proud mother, Social Service Worker, Playwright, Poet, Comedian, Arts Educator and mental health advocate from the City of Ottawa. Audiences from all ethnic backgrounds have said that they truly enjoy her works of art.
Her passion is meeting people from all walks of life and enjoying a good laugh because she believes laughter is medicinal.
On May 6, Habiba Ali will be returning with a new Shaah(Tea) and Sheeko (Talk) Comedy and Poetry Show in Ottawa. (Purchase tickets online here)
Muslim Link interviewed her about her work and what attendees can expect from her upcoming show.
How did you get into playwriting and poetry?
I’m self-taught and developed a lot of my skills within the Slam Poetry scene in Ottawa.
The first play I produced was in 2008 with An Immigrant’s Tale. That’s when I introduced the character of Hawa Haji to the world.
How did you develop the character of Hawa Haji and how has she changed as you have grown over the years?
The character of Hawa Haji came to me in a dream. She represents women like my mother and so many others from her generation of immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s. I remember during the dream worrying about how the stories of these women will never be told. So developing the character of Hawa Haji has been my way to try to tell the story of these women, their strength, resilience, and creativity. When I say that the character of Hawa Haji is a retired rapper turned talk show host, it comes from the fact that if the women of my mother’s generation had to learn to rap to support their families, they would have and they would have killed it!
Through the character of Hawa Haji and her adventures, I’ve created a space for intergenerational dialogue within Somali communities. But members of other immigrant communities who attended my shows have said they could relate so much to the issues the plays and the Comedy Shows explore. In the end, we are all human and no matter our religion or culture, there is a lot about the human experience that is universal. That’s why the shows are welcoming to the diversity of people who wish to attend.
During each of my shows, I try to recap the journey of Hawa Haji, which has been over 10 years now. But you don’t need to have seen the plays or previous comedy shows to be able to relate to her character.
What are some of the challenges you find being an artist as well as a mother? How are you trying to overcome these challenges?
I have faced some community backlash because of the topics I have explored in my plays and comedy shows which have included issues like mental illness and intergenerational conflict within Somali families.
I have also faced judgment because I am the mother of young children so people have said that I’m not being a good role model by performing on stage.
But I have continued to do this work because I was desperately looking for representation in the arts of the stories of people like me, like my mother, and like the women of my community, and I continue to struggle to find that representation so I feel I have to do it myself.
I am also self-taught as a poet, a playwright, and a comedian. I haven’t had the time to wait to receive formal education because I am a mother. That’s been a big challenge and I hope to find more short term opportunities to develop my skills that can fit into my busy schedule.
What advice would you give to other artist mothers?
After over 10 years of doing this, what I will say to other artist mothers is that it’s okay to keep going. Even if what you are doing is small, keep it up. Find ways to continue and hone your craft and also form a community of other creatives who will cheer you on and support you.
For example, if you are a poet, even just preparing a poem for a small family gathering during Eid is a way of continuing your craft.
People did tell me to quit but I don’t believe that would be right spiritually. I don’t believe that Allah would burden me with a talent if I wasn’t supposed to use it. I don’t believe I am being selfish by trying to share my passion with others.
Often our artistic passion energizes us and helps give us strength and supports our resilience, our mental health, and our overall well-being.
I think it’s important to encourage people in what they are good at and what they know well and what they love and I think that is also a good way to encourage our children and be a good role model for them.
Tell us about your upcoming Comedy and Poetry Show
The theme of the May show is “You Believed In Me”. Through poetry and our discussion with guest speakers, we will be exploring the importance of parents and elders in the community supporting young people and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.
Young people have been invited as guests to share how their parents or members of their community have supported them.
For example, one of our guests is Malik, who regularly appears on segments for TVO Kids.
Our musical guest for the evening is singer-songwriter Audrey Saparno.
As usual, we are incorporating an important community issue into the event by discussing the need for more foster parents from our community so I will be interviewing a Somali foster father who has fostered children for over 10 years in Ottawa.
And as always there will be comedy skits with Hawa Haji, this time her husband will be making an appearance and Hawa Haji will try to figure out where his Somali accent went!
Watch a poetry performance by Habiba Ali and her daughter at the Great Canadian Theatre Company
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