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Afro-Italian singer and actress Saba Anglana is proud of her multicultural heritage and celebrates both her Somali and Italian origins in her music. Integration should be a goal for immigrants, but they should also celebrate their roots, she said.

EXCLUSIVE: Saba Anglana's Italian story


At a time when racial identity in Italy seems anything but clear cut, Saba Anglana has an openness and uncomplicated attitude that's hard to come by. The Italian-Somali actress and singer embraces her multicultural heritage, the result she says of values instilled in her growing up.

"From when I was a child my parents always encouraged me to surround myself with open-minded people. My parents were just my parents, I didn't notice their skin colour. In terms of self-perception I just felt ‘original.' Growing up I had to be the one to educate other people on the concept of ‘normal.' Being different or ‘original' is something that's enriched me and helps to break the ice when I meet people."

Anglana was born in Mogadishu to an Italian father and Ethiopian mother (born in Somalia). In 1975, then aged 5, she and her family had to flee Ethiopia after they were accused of spying during the Siad Barre regime. They settled in Italy and despite the geographical distance, Anglana still maintains strong emotional and spiritual ties to her Somali roots.

Her first album "Jidka" (the line), was sung entirely in Somali, whilst her latest "Biyo" (water), is an eclectic mix of Amharic, English, Somali and Italian. She says of musical focus on this part of her heritage, "I started making music a long time ago and Fabio Barovero (her producer and co-writer), pushed me to explore my origins and I realized that there was this whole undiscovered chapter. It's amazing that throughout the Somali Diaspora people have embraced my music and recognised my work; they identify with themes such as immigration and the division between tribes. Music overcomes any geographical barriers or limits; it unites."

It's clear Anglana is moved and humbled when she remembers the response of some audience members at a summer concert in Turin. "In one of my concerts, there was a group of Somali refugees that had recently arrived in Italy. The Red Cross had organised a bus to bring them to my concert and at a certain point, I could see a group of people in the audience crying with emotion when I sang my interpretation of one of our Somali lullabies." The issues of immigration and displacement are ones she holds close to her heart. "In my second disc immigration becomes a universal theme; we all have immigration in our history, whether directly or indirectly."

Although able to fluidly express her bi-racialism musically, Anglana still presents a conundrum for the Italian film industry. "When I go for an audition for the role of an Italian, I'm often told that I'm too dark for the role but when I go for the role of an African, I'm told I'm too pale." Do her Afro-Italian colleagues generally face difficulty getting parts? "Yes, a lot of them are penalized because of skin colour; if they're casting for a historical film for example, they won't be able to get a part. Whilst in contemporary films they're always cast in the role of the immigrant or the help. They can never just be the bus conductor."

With the frequent negative portrayals in the Italian press of immigrant communities across the nation, Anglana's view is refreshingly practical yet positive, "Immigrants need to learn the language and understand the laws and rules of the country in order to integrate into society. The government should help equip them with the instruments they need to facilitate integration." She adds, "Afro-Italians can ride the wave of their originality and live their uniqueness in a free and creative way. We are Italians in every respect."

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