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Black History Month Playlist: Ilhan Omar talks Prince, music that inspires her

Ilhan Omar in 2018. (KEREM YUCEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Since its inception in 1926, Black History Month commemorates the valuable contributions, achievements, and the remarkable history of black Americans. In honor of Black History Month, I asked several black Minnesota leaders to share the artists and songs that inspire them.

As we continue to see her voice emerge, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar shows strength, resilience and confidence in her current role. In 2019, Omar made history as the first Somali woman sworn into Congress. Reflecting on history, culture and music, Omar shared a playlist of songs and spoke of the personal connection she feels with her favorite music.

“Some of them tell a really great story,” Omar said. “Some of them are revolutionary. Some of them are like my pick-me-up songs. Some of them take me to a special place either in my childhood, or my youth.”

Some of Omar’s favorites include artists with a strong Minnesota connection. Lizzo’s “Good As Hell” is included in Omar’s playlist, as well as “When Doves Cry” by the legendary Prince. Omar said, “One of the first movies I watched when I came to the U.S. was Purple Rain.” Prince was one of the first artists Omar was introduced to when she moved to the United States, and his biggest hit ends up on her list as one of her favorites.

Omar also considers the song “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child her “anthem” and says she plays it often. Omar admitted, “I like songs that can be a little tortuous and a little honest, so Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddamn’ is one of my favorite songs on this list.”

Omar also reflected on influential music that draws from her own culture and background. “I’m a huge fan of K’naan, who is a Somali-Canadian artist. There’s a lot of his songs that I like, but the two songs we have on the list, one of them is a song that he did with the cast of Hamilton and it’s called ‘Immigrants (We Get the Job Done).’ It’s self-explanatory, I suppose, why I like that song,” Omar said. “The other song on my list, “Fatima,” is the story about his childhood crush in Somalia. So, he has a vivid description of Fatima and I knew lots of Fatimas, so it always puts a smile on my face every time I listen to that song.”

Sharing her insights on Black History Month, Omar said it’s a month that celebrates the historic contributions of the black community, but places importance on remembering the “tragic” past of the black community as well as “the struggles and triumphs of those who worked hard and bore the burden of getting us to where we are today. It’s also a time of remembrance of what’s to come and the battles we still have in front of us in fighting for full equality and recognition in society.”

More Black History Month playlists: Melvin CarterAndrea JenkinsRaeisha WilliamsMychael Wright.

Ilhan Omar’s Black History Month playlist

Marla Khan-Schwartz is a former Civil Rights Commissioner who finds passion in writing, music and deep conversation accompanied by a glass of French Malbec.