INTERVIEW: From Utøya to Eurovision
The Local talks to Mohamed ‘Mo’ Farah Abdi, the Utøya survivor and X Factor star, about the song he hopes to take to the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen.
Mohamed ‘Mo’ Farah Abdi doesn’t want to talk about what happened on Utøya. He wants to talk about ‘Heal’, the power ballad with which he hopes to storm to victory in next month’s Melodi Grand Prix, and then represent Norway at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
“It’s a very strong ballad, but it has a mixture of different things,” he says of the song, which is set to be released on February 18th. “It has a little bit of electro-pop and synths. I feel so thankful that I am a part of this Eurovision journey.”
Mo is a flamboyant performer, inspired by the likes of James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Prince, and the ice-blue contact lenses he sometimes wears when performing combine with his dark Somali skin to give him a somewhat other-worldly appearance.
It seems hard to believe that for nearly three years, Mo has been on sickness benefits, battling with trauma from his experience on Utøya.
When the far-right terrorist Anders Breivik began firing, Mo escaped by jumping into the sea and swimming away from the island, where he was picked up by a rescue boat.
But his best friend Ismail Haji Ahmed, a dancer known from Norway’s Got Talent as ‘Isma Brown’, was shot dead.
The two had met at a refugee centre when Mo arrived in Norway from the civil war in Somalia, aged just seven years old.
“It’s important to keep your good friends and family around you, and that’s what I did,” Mo says about his recovery. “That’s the main thing that really got me through these years, and of course all of my supporters who really encouraged me to come back. They were just waiting, and that’s really special.”
Although ‘Heal’ was written by the Norwegian singer-songwriter Laila Samuelsen, it was clearly meant to resonate with Mo’s experiences.
“The song’s about taking your time to heal. The message is about being in very difficult situations in life, and about getting back on it and never ever giving up,” he says. “My goal is to inspire people and touch their hearts, that they should never, ever give up.”
Before Utøya happened, Mo had been on the point of a pop breakthrough, winning plaudits for his appearance on the country’s X Factor and releasing two successful singles.
He was signed by Sony Music soon after X Factor finished, but soon after stopped performing for two years.
Mo says Sony was never impatient for him to return to performing.
“I’m so thankful that they gave me time to heal and that they gave me time for myself, because I really needed it,” he said. “I feel lucky.”
Now he’s anxious that his status as an Utøya survivor doesn’t eclipse his talents.
“I’m a very versatile artist and for me it’s important to show different sides of myself. I’m a full performer, I sing, dance, and I write songs too,” he says .
“I don’t want to go into those sad days, I just want to think positive and move forward.”