She is a little-known Somali singer without much of social media presence; fans would be hard pressed to find any information about her online. But Nimco Happy’s catchy song Isii Nafta has conquered the internet this month.
The song has been used in more than 98,000 videos on TikTok in the past month and gone similarly viral on Instagram and Twitter, with the likes of the model Bella Hadid and the rapper Cardi B sharing it on their feeds.
In the vast majority of clips, people are singing along to the catchy chorus, which switches between Somali, English, Arabic and Swahili. At its heart, Isii Nafta is a love song. The chorus roughly translates as:
Ogsoonoo inaan ku jeclahay (Somali for “Know that I love you”)
And I love you more than my life
Ana hibak yaa habiibi (Arabic for “I love you”)
Nakupenda mimi sana (Swahili for “I love you”)
Waa ujeedada caashaqayga (Somali for “You can see my love”)
Akafi Ali, a British Somali TikTok star with more than 870,000 followers, saw that the song was being used on the app last month, then in just a few hundred videos, and instantly recognised it. A few years ago his mum would play it all the time. A video he went on to post of him dancing to the song at a Somali wedding got more than 1m views in a day. Other notable Somali creators also used the sound and soon it was spreading like wildfire.
“She’s singing about love. She’s saying, ‘I love you’ in multiple languages to let that person know that she cares deeply about them. Sometimes communication can be very hard and it’s about overcoming that, because there’s multiple ways of saying ‘I love you’, and that person knowing that ‘I love you’ regardless,” he said.
The 25-year-old started making content on social media while he was in school, often comedy sketches about growing up as a British Somali. He is overjoyed to see the song go viral. “It makes me so proud. It’s like a room is being created for us, a space is being made for us. I feel like this is what we’ve always been waiting for,” Ali said.
Nimco has yet to release the song herself and profit from its virality. But that is expected to change soon, with BuzzFeed reporting that the singer will be posting her own link to Spotify and other streaming platforms.
TikTok’s popularity exploded during the pandemic, as it became the world’s most downloaded app in 2020. Its influence is most acutely felt in the music industry, where it has transformed the way fans first hear songs and remixes. Songs that become viral on the app quickly lead to record number of streams on Spotify and elsewhere. It also affects the charts; the app was credited with helping the single Body by Tion Wayne and Russ Millions become the first drill song to claim the UK No 1 spot.
Ali describes Nimco’s emergence as an important moment for the Somali community. Ali was born in Somalia and moved to the UK as a young child. He says he was bullied at school for initially only being able to speak Somali. It is wonderful to see so many people now singing happily in the Somali language, he says.
“This is a cultural reset. This is definitely a breakout moment. I would love for her to come to Britain and perform at the Brits awards,” he said. “Oh my God, everybody would get their flags out!”