Cedar Cultural Center director is ready to step down

The soon-to-retire executive director of the Cedar Cultural Center says that running a nonprofit music venue in a residential, immigrant neighborhood is all about having a sense of mission.

“For us, it’s not just about selling tickets to make money,” said Rob Simonds, 58, who is stepping aside at the end of the Cedar’s current season. “That’s the commercial model. It’s about a mission … using music as a means to foster cultural understanding.”

Simonds told MPR News’ Tom Weber that the large population of Somali immigrants in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis has helped give the center a further purpose: helping reestablish a musical heritage that had been nearly lost in the chaos following Somali’s civil strife.

Somali culture has a strong oral tradition, he said, involving poetry and storytelling. “Those things drive a lot of the culture and the music as well,” he said, but the singers keeping the tradition alive have had to work alone or with recorded accompaniment. The Cedar has been able to connect singers with live musicians.

The Cedar also reunited a prominent Mogadishu group, the Dur-Dur Band, that had not played together since before Somalia’s civil war, he said.

“Young Somalis have never seen Somali music played by a live band like that,” Simonds said. He described the response as “over the top. People get really emotional, really enthusiastic about it.”

Simonds has been executive director since 2007, and served on the center’s board before that. The Cedar is conducting a national search for his replacement.

Source: MPR News

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