Thursday, August 13, 2015

Heads Up

Two compilations of Somali music from the 1970s and 80s:

1. Au Revoir, Mogadishu Vol.1: This 90-minute cassette has just been released by the German label ÇAYKH Recordings. You can buy the tape here.

2. Light & Sound of Mogadishu will be released on 29 August on LP and CD by the Helsinki-based label Afro7.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Faadumo Qaasim - Dhabta I Saar (K7, 1974)

Faadumo Qaasim sadly passed away in 2011 after a glorious, socially engaged artistic career spanning five decades. RIP! This tape was reissued in 1992 with 2 additional songs, namely track 5 and 10.

01. Qays & Layla ("Romeo & Juliet")

02. Dalka Nuuriyow ("The Light of the Land")

03. Maalin Walbaan Kuu Marqaamaye ("I'm Permanently Intoxicated With You")

04. Qaanso Roobaad ("Rainbow")

05. Dalkeygow! (Oh My Land!)*

10 Adeeg Yaa Noogu Diraa? ("Who To Send On An Errand (To Reunite Me with My Exiled Lover]?")*


* See this post for the context and a partial translation of track 5

Friday, December 26, 2014

Durdur - Raxmaddii Rabbi Baa Lagu Raaxaystaa (k7)

This is the soundtrack of a tragicomedy of the same name. Sometime in the '80s we're partying at Taleex hotel in Mogadishu. When this record started, almost everybody jumped up to dance the new rage kabxadro, a merge of the traditional butt-wiggling dance/music genre kabeebey and psychedelic Sufi mystical dance xadro. Unable to resist the stompy frenzy, the floor decided to join the merriment and ... collapsed! - coincidentally, track 4 is also known as Gariiree ("I'm Quaking"). Miraculously, no one was badly injured! Anybody who was there, please get in touch.

The rather offbeat title of this album translates to "We Enjoy/Dance to God's Grace" and all the 9 tracks are glorifying or lamenting many shades of un/requited... secular love. If the warlords, from al-shabaab to the CIA et al, possessed half the senses and wits that sinking floor had, they'd shake their fat asses and fucked up brains to any beats of their choice. In which happy case they'd, at worst, only break their bricks and bones... and most definitely get much closer to whatever (transcendental) El Dorado they're seeking than they ever will through the barrels of their weapons, from simple rifles to high-tech drones. Fingers crossed!

Happy, healthy and peaceful 2015!


01 Nin Walboo Abaalkiis ("Every Man Gets His Due / Every Dog Has His Day")

02 Ilasoo Dheeshidaa ("Dance With Me")

04 Gibilkeyga Gaddoomayee ("My Complexion Has Transformed")

PS. For the first time in 20 years, Durdur have recently performed a series of concerts all across Minneapolis, with the finale at the world-class Cedar Cultural Center. As far as I can see, none of the original instrumentalists was there and that's why the music sounds a bit different. Nevertheless, according to messages and vids online, "they brought down the house". Congratulations!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Waaberi Hargeysa Compilation

Founded in 1954, the theatre troupe Walaalaha Hargeysa (Siblings of Hargeysa) was nationalized and renamed Waaberi Hargeysa (Hargeysa's Dawn) following the military putsch in 1969. They were based in Hargeysa, the 2nd largest city in Somalia and currently the capital of the secessionist Somaliland. They're somewhat obscured by their Mogadishan namesakes/twins that had at their disposition hundreds of artists and, thus, a massive repertoire. Nevertheless, WH had to their credit scores of plays and were widely popular all over Somalia and in the neighbouring countries. All the songs here belong to plays from the '70s and '80s performed live mainly by deeply loved, highly respected, widely venerated... female vocalists and actresses.

In this day and age, Somali women's rights are regularly violated by tribal and religious socio-psychopath(et)ic warlords and ordinary criminal thugs. In this light or glaring obscurity, I'd like to salute Aman Radio, the first all-female radio station in Mogadishu which celebrated its first anniversary on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Ladies and... ladies, congratulations for this pressing and heroine-ic initiative and many happy returns!

1.Hablaha Soomaaliyeed ("Somali Girls [Freedom of Choice]")

2. Adkeysan Waayoo ("Can't Stand [Injustice to Women]")

3. Gari Makaa Baxdaa? ("Do you Serve Justice?")

4. Waan Ku Haybinayoo ("I've Been Looking for You")

5. Soo Dhowoow ("Welcome")

6. Markaan Da'da Jirey 15 ("When I Was 15 [ I Had Dreams]")

7. Gudcuraan Caddoba Jirin ("Dark Ages")

8. Cagta Saar Waddada ("Hit the Road")

9. Kaalay Adhaxda Igu Qaad ("Come and Carry Me on Your Back")

10. Heri Maahee Hana Haabaa [A Traditional Love Dance]

11. Ha Saydhin Wacadka ("Don't Disavow the Commitment [Tradition To Cherish Your Better Half]")

12. Masiibadu Adduunyada Iyadaa U Macallin Ah ("Calamities Teach The World Lessons")

The compil is downloadable here. Most of my WH tapes are no longer listenable but I've about a dozen other tracks of which the sound quality is comparable to this batch. I may upload them sometime in the future. Leave a comment or pm me if it takes too long and you'd like to get them.

This is a full WH-play. As an integral part of the play, the songs are scattered throughout the video - at 11:55, 19:10 etc.

Update: Part 2 (17 tracks)

1. Dardaaran ("Testament")

2 Intaad Nabad Doonto ("Seek and Wage Peace")

3 Sir Ma Qabe ("Honest and Frank")

4 Xaawo iyo Aadan ("Eva & Adam")

5 Calaf Lama Dago ("Destiny/Complementarity Can Not Be Deceived/Betrayed")

6. Dahab Weeye Gabadhuye ("Girls Are Golden")

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Waaberi Hargeysa

Following comments and mailed requests, I'm trying to make a compilation of Waaberi Hargeysa (1969-1990). In the meantime, a couple of their vids:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New Band: Iska Dhaaf

A friend mailed me the other day a link to a familiarly named band of which I haven't heard before. Iska Dhaaf (which means in Somali so much as let it go, stop it, forget it, don't bother, so what! ...) is a new American band recently formed in Seattle. From their site:

Inspired by Sufi poetry, limitation, and an obsessive preoccupation with writing, Nathan Quiroga and Benjamin Verdoes have fused their seemingly disparate musical and personal backgrounds into something searching and honest. Their songs, with heavy rhythms and cutting melodic hooks, are at once infectious and sweetly disarming

Wondering why they chose a name from the hell in paradise, I found  this artcle :

Tonally, the group borrow vintage African rock tones and scales, especially the lo-fi warbly guitar sounds that resurfaced with the recent re-release of Dur-Dur Band’s Somali funk-rock. It makes sense—Verdoes has spent a long while now learning the Somali language, and the cultural fascination seems to be leaking into Quiroga’s excellent guitar work...What’s interesting about the band is how subtly the African influence is blended with surf and punk...

This explanation immediately hurled me back to memories of outfits from the 70s and 80s which blended Somali folk with funk, rock, punk and surf guitar. Specially Onkod and Danan razed the roof with that otherworldy sound. The sad reality is that I can't find any of their albums; neither in my or my friends' collections nor online. I'd be grateful to anybody who can tip us off to their hiding places.

Iska Dhaaf's debut efforts are easy to find and they're imo quite magnificent. Or, as we say in Somali, waa lama dhaafaan (not to be missed)!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Interview About Somali Music

The Economist interviewed me a few months ago about Somali music. I've recently received a mail from the interviewer to the effect that the article would possibly be published soon, albeit "cut down considerably to 500 words". The full interview would cover almost all the inquiries I regularly receive from other interested parties as well - 13 in the last couple of months alone. I can no longer hold off replying to (repeated) requests on the premise and promise that an extensive interview is in the pipeline. All the more that the article/heavily edited interview, if ever published, may ironically raise more questions than it would answer. This is why I'm posting it here verbatim.

1) How would you characterize Somalia's music of the 1970s/1980s? To what extent did it reflect life in Somalia at that time? For example, were businesses thriving and the general mood optimistic? Or did some of the more *funky* tunes serve as a sort of escapism?

It's arguably the most innovative period in the history of Somali music. This was a very ambivalent era, relatively booming economically and extremely repressive politically...The creative minds captured the zeitgeist by generating as much exhilarating entertainment as emotive and engaged music (inciting the people to support or protest against the regime). They were consistently innovative without abandoning their roots.

2) Who were the most prominent artists of that time?

Countless highly valued singer-songwriters formed the backbone and it's impossible for me to choose 10, 50 or even 100... Concerning bands and in no particular order: Horseed, Lix iyo Labaatanka Juun, Waaberi Muqdisho, Waaberi Hargeysa, Shareero, Iftin, Durdur, Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir, Halgan, Danan, Heegan, Xusuus, Onkod, Horyaal...

3) Do you have a sense for their musical background? For example, were musicians largely self-taught? Did they study more formally? Or in some countries, musicians got their training as part of military bands? Was there a common way for artists to learn their craft in Somalia?

The overwhelming majority of the artists were autodidacts. They learned their craft on the ground by experimenting with their (inherited) talent and/or passion. The most skilled or connected ones joined existing bands. A labyrinth of others were not that lucky, but occasionally employed session combos and joints to get their material produced.

There were a couple of music academies belonging to the armed and police forces. In Somali context, however, a concept like "music school" would be taunted as a contradictio in terminis. The prevailing view was/is that you don't learn music formally, you have it in your body, mind and soul ... or not. Art in general and particularly music were hardly considered as a profession and it's almost impossible to live from music. The tapes were ridiculously expensive and people just turned into self- helping boombox copying. Practically every artist had, thus, a day job and music was not more than a glorified but cherished hobby...

4) What was the driving influence for artists during this period?

The main influence came from within. Somalia has numerous centuries-old poetry and dance genres which can always be sung, with or without instruments. In the '30s through to the '50s, a gradually growing number of artists started playing the rhythms, melodies and harmonies inherent to local genres on oud, violin, accordion and other foreign instruments. In the process, they created new Somali genres like balwo and heello which later flirted and cross-pollinated with music from neighbouring countries.

The generation from late '50s to late '80s owes a lot to their predecessors. They pursued the modernisation by delving deeper into local genres and stretching the inspiration to beyond the neighbourhood. Traditional instruments such as nasaro (high ritual drum), madhuube (thumb piano), fuugwo (trumpet) shareero (lute), muufe (horn) seese (one-chord violin) etc. welcomed or were replaced by guitar, sax, keyboard, drum set...and that's when Somali folk music seriously passed from flirting with to getting married to non-Somali genres - from maqam and taarab, through jazz and funk to afrobeat and reggae...

Due to the blogosphere, Iftin and Durdur are nowadays characterised as funk bands. However, just like their contemporaries, they were very versatile with a repertoire overarching and infusing many Somali and foreign genres. By the way, some ancient
Somali genres are modally pretty much similar to their modern universal cousins. So much so that some people believe that Somalia's kabeebey, dhaanto, niiko etc. may have influenced R&B, reggae, punk... and not the other way round.

5) How did these influences reach Somalia's shores (eg, radio, imported cassettes, artists traveling abroad, etc.)?

Mainly through imported k7s and "diasporan" Somalis, including musicians, coming back home. Local radios and theatres were very influential, but they were exclusively broadcasting local music. The foreign languages section of Radio Mogadishu, for example, was very limited in scope to imprint a notable effect.

6) Where did people go to enjoy music most often? Were they listening to music mostly in clubs, weddings, social gatherings,taxis, etc.?

All the above and everywhere else: from homes and streets which were lit more often by music than by electricity to theatres, open-air podia, cinemas and sport halls where plays, concerts, musicals were staged/shown on daily basis...

7) To what extent does the music of that period live on today within the Diaspora community? And how would you compare Somali music of the 1970s/1980s with more contemporary music today?

(a) Most of what was recorded before the civil strife has, unfortunately, perished. The surviving records are often in bad shape sonically. Nevertheless, they're alive and kicking in so far as people, young and old, local and diasporan can lay hands on them.

(b) A commonality is that both groups do their own thing by using what is available to serve their specific audience. Artists from the 1960s to 1980s had the necessary qualities as well as public/official support to build upon vast fountains of classical poets/songwriters, work songs, genres, traditional instruments, rhythms, melodies... They did that with flair, verve and panache and generated masterpieces.

Today's Somali music is dominated by auto-tuning electropop, often consisting of solo/duo musicians suffering from lazy ignorance of the past and greed for quick success in the present or future. Score a catchy hook and you're in, seems to be the motto! In my opinion, we're often dealing with minimalism plagued by scanty musicianship and shallow creativity. To be fair, we'd also acknowledge that contemporary artists had to bite the bullet, sometimes literally, and were obliged to face the daunting task of creating their art from scratch. The aforementioned rich sources have been severely damaged or even annihilated by the civil war. The post-war artists barely have access to yesteryear's heritage and some may even be unaware it ever existed...

The old school aficionados generally frown upon the current scene, but the youngsters who constitute the target audience are in love with it and that is a major achievement. There is also a noteworthy vibrant mini-revival spearheaded by outfits such as Qaylodhaan, Aar Maanta, Sahra Halgan, Waayaha cusub, Waaberi Puntland, Goodir, Kooxda Sosca, Shego Band, Walinja... as well as “foreigners” like Saba and Tanya Norwegian whose take on Somali music is highly respected. They've the potential of leaving an indelible mark on Somali music. Maybe not (yet) in the same calibre as their predecessors musically, but they're avidly absorbing the old legacies and a part of their lyricism is already reminiscent of former masters.

PS. For the Brazilian commenter who is interested in Somalis singing in English:

PPS. An article partially based on this interview is published by OkayAfrica.