We first heard of Mahoyo a few years ago when we saw stunning pictures of the collective floating around the web. Mahoyo is a combination of the Mandarin and Somali words for mother– “Ma” and “Hooyo”. Araweelo Abroad wanted to catch up with fly girl Farah Yusuf, one of the two founding members of Mahoyo (the other member being MyNa Do). We asked Farah about Mahoyo’s origins, identity, DJing, and what the future holds for this bomb creative duo.
IA: How did the Mahoyo Collective come to exist? What drew you to the word Mother when naming the collective?
Farah: Mahoyo came to exist through a shared desire to start something me and my best friends could call our own. Mahoyo started as a blog and a web shop; carrying small and selected streetwear fashion brands from around the globe, and then it has evolved to what it is today.
We played around with a lot of different words, Mahoyo just sounded right, and I think that, for me at least I saw it as a tribute to my mother. I always want to make hooyo proud, and I hope to do so through the work of Mahoyo.
IA: What was growing up in Sweden like for you and how did it influence your creativity?
Farah: I grew up in a small city, southeast of Sweden and had from an early age been very active both within sports but also singing and dancing. It wasn’t the most inspiring environment, but I was lucky to grow up during the 90s when black sitcoms were mainstream and MTV showed music videos. THANK GOD FOR BLACK ENTERTAINMENT!
IA: We know that in the past ya’ll have expressed feeling like outsiders in Sweden or challenging the narrative of what it means to look and be Swedish. How has fashion helped you challenge this narrative? Do you think fashion served as a survival tactic for you?
Farah: Yes, in a way I think that it has. When I started to get into fashion and style I started to care less about fitting in and more about being myself.
IA: Much like your experience with being told that there is only one way to be Swedish, Somalis in the diaspora are told that there is one way to be Somali. How do you personally re-define and disrupt this notion of what it means to be Somali woman?
Farah: I grew up with very few Somalis around me, and even then I have always been perceived as a bit "too much” or "too alternative”. Very often people; especially Somali, mistake me for another ethnicity and that has a lot to do with the way I look and express myself. This bothers me because it’s like saying all Somali look the same or should look/act in a certain way to be as a "real" Somali. I am so happy to see the growing number of young Somalis daring to be whoever they feel like popping up everywhere on social media.
IA: What motivated you to get into DJing and who are your do or die favorites?
Farah: We (Mahoyo) always get inspired by other women. It was during a trip to Tokyo 2009 we got inspired by the djs there, and when we got back to Sweden we decided to start learning the craft of djing. This was also during a time when there was a lack of women in the dj scene, and we wanted to change that. My do or die favorites when spinnin tracks has for the past few have years been “come to me baby” by Verse Simmonds, “Sous les cocotiers” by Bab Lee and Busta Rhymes “Put ya hands where my eye can see.” I have also come to love the new Missy Elliot remix for “I’m better”.
IA: So, we know Mahoyo is a creative duo. We also know that Mahoyo engages in other work, often around the idea of empowering women. How has feminism shaped you and your collective?
Farah: Mahoyo used to be a creative collective consisting of me, MyNa Do and Pia Do, but since a year ago we have become a duo (Farah and MyNa). Mahoyo is our creative space, where we can do everything we love, such as DJ, styling, photography and The Mahoyo Project documentary. For us intersectional feminism has helped opened open our eyes, it has made us understand so much about ourselves and about the world we live in. It has become a lifestyle, a way for us to see structures and also a tool to change it for the better.
IA: In terms of identity, you are Somali ethnically, Swedish nationally, and a sort of citizen of the world with all of the traveling you do. Do you identify as a third culture kid? How has the exposure to so many cultures challenged or inspired you?
Farah: I feel comfortable defining myself as a third culture kid. The exposure has been extremely inspiring because I don’t have to be just one thing and I can and will define myself as whatever I want, but also hard because I often feel that I don’t belong or rootless if you will. Through the travelling I have been blessed to meet so many amazing souls out in the world with similar background to share experiences with and that has been very empowering.
IA: In the past, Mahoyo visited South Africa to connect and work creatively with some of the local women. How did the idea to go there come about and can you speak about the work that ya'll did?
Farah: It all started after a trip to South Africa early 2013. We were inspired by the vibrant street culture in Johannesburg, and we felt the need to share what we experienced with the world. We also felt like it was important to uplift the women within the scene as they often tend to be forgotten.
We were in Johannesburg to make a documentary called The Mahoyo Project. It is a collaboration with production team Flip Flop Interactive (http://www.flipflopinteractive.com) that explores the urban youth culture within dance, music and fashion in Johannesburg and Stockholm. We touch on subjects like gender, race and location and our goal is to break stereotypes. We have worked with people that inspires us, and stories we want to uplift. The whole experience was so amazing and something that I will never forget.
IA: What motivated ya’ll to film a documentary of your experiences and efforts in South Africa?
Farah: We saw this as an opportunity to contribute to a more nuanced image of South Africa (Africa in general) and also people of color in Sweden. The Mahoyo Project is basically a tool to tell stories and illuminate people that normally are marginalized, it's a reaction of the current narrative of minorities. We use culture as a weapon. Our goal is to take the concept of The Mahoyo Project to other parts of the world. It is a big dream of mine to go to Somalia and capture beautiful stories from our people. Insha'Allah it will happen soon.
IA: What role does mentorship play in the structure and outlook of Mahoyo? Who mentored you or had an influence on you?
Farah: Someone who has had a really big influence on me is my dear hooyo. She is the bravest and strongest person I know. Her story is just unbelievable.
IA: What advice do you have for Somali women who are seeking to be their authentic selves?
Farah: This is a hard question, and I don’t really have a perfect answer. But what has helped me feel comfortable with being myself is my lovely friends who always got my back but also understanding social structures. Since I started to study black feminism and postcolonial studies I see the world with different eyes. From this a strong sense of self love and pride has emerged.
IA: What do you have in the works for the future both individually and with Mahoyo?
Farah: This year started off really nice for us, we had the pleasure to show case a teaser from the documentary at the Gothenburg film festival. At the moment we are in the middle of planning and researching the second destination to shoot the documentary, hopefully it will happen before year is over. During this year we will also explore more of our artistry as we been invited to do an Artist-in-Residence for Grafikens Hus. We are so excited to see where this journey takes us. As for me individually, I relocated to another city (Malmö) so I’m busy exploring and enjoying my new city to the fullest.
IA: What's on your summer playlist?
Farah: Here comes a short list, enjoy!
east african wave
fat Joe & remy ma
sammy & johnny bennet
Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.