Local community groups secure O-1 Visa for Somali Superstar Sharma Boy, artist-in-residence for Minneapolis-based cultural festival

Minneapolis, MN: Two Minneapolis-based non-profit organizations–GMCC (a 116-year old interfaith community organization founded as Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches) and WBAC (West Bank Athletic Club)–have secured an O-1 Visa (visa for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement) for Somalia-based musician, Sharma Boy. Sharma Boy will serve as the artist-in-residence for WBAC Summer Festival, a project funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Minnesota Humanities Center. Sharma Boy is a superstar in Somalia and the Somali diaspora: He has released two singles in collaboration with Hollywood star, K’naan, and has accumulated over 130 million views across his YouTube videos to date. This will be Sharma Boy’s first trip outside of East Africa. 

This artist residency is part of the 2022 WBAC Summer Festival, an exciting collaboration between GMCC and WBAC that includes a 12-team soccer tournament; a youth music workshop series (led by Sharma Boy); and two ticketed performances featuring Sharma Boy with a live band of local musicians, culminating with a performance at First Avenue’s Mainroom on July 1st, Somali Independence Day. WBAC Summer Festival will celebrate and engage youth; build community through an interfaith and multicultural audience; highlight cultures important to Minnesota; and support well-being through movement, connection, and art. 

The soccer tournament will take place June 21-24th at the National Sports Complex in Blaine, MN with the championship game on June 25th at Parade Park and Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. Youth workshops will take place June 21-23. Live performances will take place on June 25th at Ted Mann Concert Hall at 8pm and July 1st (Somali Independence Day) at First Avenue Mainroom at 8pm.

To read more about WBAC Summer Festival: 

About Sharma Boy and his Residency

Sharma Boy is a Somali rapper, singer, songwriter, and dancer based in the Horn of Africa. His musical practice melds traditional Somali poetry and Somali musical influences with his own unique Hip-Hop and Rap style. His experiences growing-up in an environment of political instability in Mogadishu, Somalia are mirrored in his music: His songs explore societal issues that Somalis across the globe experience and include messages of peace, love, and unity. Sharma is a full-time working artist and has performed in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia to audiences in the tens of thousands. The Djibouti President recently honored Sharma with an award for his artistry and activism. He is now considered by many to be the most influential Somali artist of this generation. Part of what makes the addition of Sharma Boy as an artist-in-residence for the WBAC Summer Festival so unique is the unprecedented procurement of an O-1 Visa for a Somali artist based in East Africa. 

In the Somali music scene, there is perhaps no bigger marker of success than an artist or group’s  performance on YouTube. The trend of turning almost exclusively to YouTube for the distribution and  consumption of Somali music was a result of political unrest and, ultimately, the outbreak of civil war in Somalia. The rise in power of militants and oppressive leadership led to censorship and the systematic suppression of  Somali music – an art form with a legacy as a powerful tool for communication, social change, community organizing, and dissent of corrupt power in Somalia. Artists and musicians fled the country and many stopped  practicing altogether because they feared retaliation by warlords and corrupt government officials. The emergence of YouTube in the 2000s allowed Somali artists to share their music publicly, freely, and throughout the world without the need for a market-based industry to record and distribute their work. 

In this context, Sharma Boy is a superstar. Sharma Boy joined YouTube in October 2019 and has so far accumulated over 130 million views across his songs. His song, “Dheesha Dheela,” released in 2020, (12 million+ views) catapulted him to international success. Sharma Boy has also collaborated with Somali Hollywood Star K’naan on two singles that have racked tens of millions of views on the platform.

Almost all living Somali artists sing to backing tracks in lieu of live instrumentation. This is due in part to the destructive impact of civil war and the related destruction of instruments and recordings, censorship of Somali artists, and dissolution of music education. As part of the residency, a band of local musicians will learn and rehearse Sharma Boy’s songs and perform with him live (local artists include Adrian Davis (keys), Chris Smith (bass), DJ Advance, Keenan Friday (drums), Lucia Sarmiento (keys and saxophone), and Spencer Christensen (guitar)). As such, the residency will give audiences a rare opportunity to experience live Somali music. The live music performance will take place at Ted Mann concert hall on June 25th and First Avenue Mainroom on July 1st, Somali Independence Day. The artist will also conduct a workshop series for Somali youth, and youth activity leaders will plan and lead cultural activities in the lobby before the show on 6/25.

About West Bank Athletic Club (WBAC): West Bank Athletic Club (WBAC) is a Somali youth development organization founded in 2008 by Ahmed Ismail, known in our community as “Coach Ahmed” or simply “Coach.” Throughout its history, WBAC has served young people ages 5-24 from the Cedar Riverside (or West Bank) neighborhood and across the Twin Cities with year-round programming that supports 21st-century skills including leadership development, teamwork, discipline, responsibility, and respect for others, primarily through soccer.

About WBAC Summer Festival: The annual WBAC Summer Festival, now in its 12th year, brings hundreds of young players and thousands of audience members from around the country to the Twin Cities for a week-long soccer tournament. This tournament has long been a venue for celebration and community gathering for thousands of Somalis. In 2022, GMCC will provide infrastructure and capacity to not only continue but expand the event: This masterful collaboration will expand the soccer tournament into a comprehensive cultural heritage festival that includes Somali arts and cultural activities featuring international Somali artist-in-residence, Sharma Boy. This community event will provide opportunities for communities to join together, celebrate, and share cultural heritage.

About GMCC: GMCC, founded as Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, is an interfaith and multicultural nonprofit organization with a mission “uniting people of faith, serving people in need.” For 116 years, we have collaborated with communities and faith leaders throughout Minnesota to address inequities and increase quality of life through a variety of services and initiatives, including mentoring and youth development, hunger relief, advocacy and education around equity and poverty, and volunteerism and service learning. Today, we partner with communities most impacted by a challenge or opportunity to co-design and lead a response. We use our infrastructure, staffing, and networks to share power and develop masterful collaborations that respond to needs and opportunities, make positive change, and result in healthy, equitable communities. 


1100 E Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Adrienne Dorn