Sunday, May 21, 2017

Heads-Up: Compilations in the Pipeline

Two compilations of Somali music from the 1970s and 80s are about to be released:

1. Analog Africa is cooking up a tropical stew. I can't give details except this: I initially informally accepted to write the liner notes but, all of a sudden, AA disappeared from the radar. Only to reappear half a year later when I was disappearing under a pile of work. That's why I'm, alas, no longer involved in this beauty.

Analog Africa in Mogadishu from Analog Africa on Vimeo.

2. Ostinato Records: The compilation, a follow-up to Au Revoir, Mogadishu Vol.1, will be released this summer.

You can read more about the fascinating process here and below is the teaser:

A selection of lost sounds from a Somali archive. Travel with us to the Al Curuuba hotel in Mogadishu, the dusty streets of Hargeisa, and the shores of the Gulf of Tadjoura in Djibouti. A full compilation album, remastered and treated with the utmost love and care, is slated for release this year. Some of the songs in this mix made the final cut. We hope you enjoy!

The package will contain a sizable booklet including an interview with me. I think that some/many visitors of this blog are logistically or otherwise impeded from acquiring the LP/CD. I've, thus, decided to post the entire Q&A... in harmony with the interviewer, that is. The yellow texts, videos, audio clips and pictures are not in the liner notes. Hoping for critical and con/instructive feedback, specially from those who are well-versed in Somali music in general or the concerned period in particular.

Interview with Ostinato Records' Vik Sohonie

1. The Somali language belt stretches across the horn, into Djibouti. Djiboutian singers were luminaries in their own right, and I know people in Hargeisa listened to singers like Nimo Jama a great deal, but what about Mogadishu? Given colonial borders and the consequent reshaping of identity in the horn, was Mogadishu receptive to the Somali music coming out of Djibouti -- was it seen as part of the grander Somali music narrative, or was it seen as separate?

Nimco Jaamac and Cabdinuur Allaale were well-known in the cities, methinks. I only discovered other great Djiboutian artists after YouTube was created. Anyway, the official policy considered Somalis as one nation split by artificial borders, which they transgressed at leisure. The five-pointed white star in the middle of Somalia’s blue flag symbolizes the five parts into which Somalis were partitioned by the colonial powers. The so-called British and Italian Somaliland formed on 1st July 1960 the independent Republic of Somalia. The last stanza of the Somali national anthem deals with the irredentist aspirations of reconstituting the Greater Somalia. People/artists from the Missing Three - Djibouti, Ogaden in Ethiopia and Northern Frontier District in Kenya - were, thus, home in Somalia.

2. On the one hand, Siyaad Barre was known for his repression, and artforms did suffer, but at the same time a musical and cultural revolution as afoot. Can you talk about this seemingly contrasting situation? What kind of policies were in place that allowed art to thrive but also face repression?

The artists found a platform and work in mostly new cultural and educative facilities: Art/music academies, national and regional theatres & ensembles, schools, orientation centres etc. The creative minds were, in turn, instrumentalized to bestow high encomiums on the (alleged) achievements of the military regime. Those who had the chutzpah to defy The Blessed Revolution’s codes were mercilessly punished. As of early 1970s, agencies like Guddiga Faafreebka (Censorship Board), Nabad Sugidda Soomaaliyeed (National Security Service), Laanta Dembi Baarista (Criminal Investigation Department), Duub Cas (Red Berets) etc. were real busy. Their limits were stretched in their endeavor to silence dissidents. Quite a few artists have passed a (big) part of the dictatorship in prison while many more had to cross the borders in quest of a safe haven.

For example, critical poet-playwrights such as Cali Sugulle (link in Somali) (in English), Cabdulqaadir Xirsi “Yamyam”, Maxamed Ibraahin Warsame “Hadraawi, Cabdi Muxumed Amiin (in Somali(in English) ... were arrested, sometimes fading away for years into solitary confinement. To the chagrin of the people for whom bards are much more valued than political or corporate bigwigs. In some cases, they’re charged with smuggling subversive material from the dungeons of heavily guarded quods and 'judged' again while already in jail for the same criminalized protest acts! Most probably a subterfuge to keep them silent eternally.

CMA composed and recorded this song ("How Often Did I Worry and Wonder Alone") in 1984. He was recovering from injuries sustained in Ethiopia during an assassination attempt allegedly perpetrated by agents of the dictatorship. Two of his fellow rebels didn't survive. The lyrics navigate the spaces between bitterness and optimism. With prophetic wisdom about, among other atrocities and miracles, artists seeking - and sometimes finding - safety in the high sees! How dangerous is the land they are fleeing?! Summary of the message: "The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything" -- Albert Einstein

The fate reserved for female artists was less bloodthirsty but dire and vindictive, as well. Legends like Xaliima Khaliif Cumar “Magool”, Khadiijo Cabdullaahi “Dalays”, Maryan Mursal, Saado Cali... were banned from performing and/or forced into exile. These songbirds were arguably more loved and respected than their male counterparts. This is perhaps why, as far as I know, they’re not imprisoned so as to avoid massive demonstrations.

Saado Cali in an 80s underground vid. doing a run-through of the flipside of the achievements.

Magool_ Mas'uul ("Responsible/Accountable"): A track about irresponsible politicians veiled as a love song in the 70s (video from the 80s)

3. What would a typical evening at the Jazira, Jubba, or Uruba hotel look like? What was the environment, energy, and audience like? Was it a small circle of affluent Somalis or were these live music venues largely democratic?

Al-Curuuba/Al-Uruba Hotel
The night clubs were insanely expensive, they’re rather supper clubs. EVERYTHING was costly: trendy attire, transport/taxi, tickets, beverages, snacks, live bands... Young night owls, mainly whopping wallets, elevated them into their privileged hunting grounds. To get in the common Gacaliso or Geelle, if lucky, had to lift with the Kardashians of the day. That, and the opposition from the conservative quarters, explains why the discotheques, though overflowing with come-hither qualities, were more often than not half-full.

Iftin at Al-Curuuba or The Hut nightclub (?)

The nightlife unfolded itself in hospitable establishments like cafés, cinemas, theatres, stadiums etc. Live music was an integral part of the menu, ofttimes including the latest hits of the kooxaha qoob-ka-ciyaarka (dance bands), live or as long intermezzos. The giant nightclub dragons could barely hold a candle to the entertainment and edification offered by the fagaaraha (open-air podium) or xarunta xaafadda (community centre) at an affordable price or even habitually free of charge, let alone rival with theatres or football stadia.

Nuts and bolts of neighbourhood nightlife: Small scale  parties, voluntary contribution, (live) music, full is full, quid pro quo

4. Most of the music that we feature is not traditional, but rather considered "entertainment music“. What was the reputation of this style for the older generation? Were they also broadcasting this on state radio?

Many/most mortals were indifferent to it as they’d other fish to fry. I don’t recall hearing it a lot on radio, either… unless the lyrics addressed socio-political issues such as education, women’s rights etc. The limited airplay could also be imputed to the real elephant in the room, i.e. the legendary suspicious nature of the authorities. There were phantasmagoric stories, allegedly spread by religious circles, about an occult society led by Jaalle Sheydaan Bullow (Comrade Dancing Devil) – an allusion to a play/title song (below) by Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir. Some accounts narrated scenes of radios – the sole members of the society - frenziedly trembling when dance music was on. The big enchilada, Siyaad Barre, supposedly took those urban legends seriously and became apprehensive of losing his marballs and power if more radios joined the partying Wireless Aliens Armada. Dr. Shrink's prescription? Cap the exposure! Done! Solved! Dang, the clergy’s legerdemain outsmarted their nemesis. You never know how a paranoid despot’s mind is wired!

On her way to the nightclub...
The usual stakeholders at OldFarts Ltd. and ElitistSnobs Inc. were vehemently pointing ailing fingers and wagging bald heads in disapproval of, in their monocled eyes, the damage this genre was inflicting upon susceptible hearts and souls. Their progeny belonged to blossoming floral expanses cheerfully shouting and wishfully lamenting that they needed more body parts to shake… in chorus!

5. Some of the bands we feature played at nightclubs and also produced soundtracks for theater plays: was it different audiences between the nightclubs and the theater? 

The nightclubs mainly served the happy few while theaters were accessible to all and sundry.

6. Where would you go see bigger state-sponsored Waaberi events and who would attend? How would you describe the difference of the Waaberi sound and the sound of the nightclub bands? 

Waaberi were a colossal centipede. They’re highly skilled in many art forms and played in Peoria everywhere in the country and abroad – theatres, stadiums, open podia, community centres and, to a lesser extent, nightclubs. On some days, they performed several gigs, in different towns, with different troupes. Concerning music, they’re very versatile mastering many genres – from traditional/modern/dance Somali to Western classical music and many in between. No wonder they’re so extremely protean and omnipresent as the behemoth, at times, had 300+ limbs: poets, playwrights, singers, songwriters, dancers, actors, instrumentalists... dozens of each category!

Waaberi Folklore Dance Troupe tells a story in dance; I count snippets of about a dozen traditional dance genres. Unfortunately truncated, but at the end a Shareero track

7. Where would you get new music? Can you tell us more about the Shankarphone and Sharerophone shops. How did these private enterprises work under a socialist regime?

Fans generally copied the exorbitantly-priced and frequently (re-)released cassettes from those who’d afford to buy them in shops or at the market. The junta was actually all but socialist. The genuine leftists were brutally expunged shortly after the so-called Bloodless Revolution transpired. The survivors were among the founders of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), the first armed opposition.

Siyaad Barre was a clever dictator who tailored any and all ideological mantles to his needs: From socialism, through many flavours of non-alignment, to capitalism... back and forth. In the 80s, while already on the ropes, he tactically loosened the grip on a few sectors including the music industry – the opium of the people. The Phones profited from that vicissitude of fortune. They possibly only existed for a couple/few years. The tectonic shifts caused by the civil war preceding and ensuing the fall of the government were such a permanent threat to life and limb that most businesses collapsed.

8. At TEDx Mogadishu, there was a rapturous reception when I spoke about Faadumo Qaasim, but even greater one for Hibo Nuura. They are both on our album -- who was the bigger star? Or were they loved equally in different ways (if they can be compared at all, that is)? 

 Hieroglyphical Xeer symbols
They’re both revered for soothing and soaring vocals, unparalleled theatre skills, down-to-earth character in real life. Faadumo Qaasim excelled in delivering emotional love ballads, unifying patriotic songs, seditious protest calls... Hibo Nuura is a champion for many, specially thanks to her songs and play roles illuminating the public about precious and endangered species in Somali culture. Such as the Xeer (customary law) which, for instance, enshrined the separation of law, religion and politics in the 7th century or earlier. That is more than 1000 years before John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers published their writings leading to the Western concept of separation of church and state. Fancy that!

Maandeeq/Somalia has a lot more in store than the harsh & hackneyed neoplatonist realities and her chiming bells & roaring drums are yet to tell their own (hi)stories. Iskaa Wax U Qabso! (Do It For Yourself!).

Maryan Mursal_Waqtigu Ruuxna Lama Dhalan ("Time is Nobody's Sibling"): A survivor's epos telling the plight of a loving mother raising, against all odds,  her children single... and wishing such a mother and children a successful life. Track from the 1970s, video probably from the 80s

Legends having fun on the occasion of Abdi Bile's World Championship: Dalays, Dhuule, Magool, Faadumo Qaasim, Saado Cali, Samatar, Sangub, Khadra Daahir, Abuukar Sheekaale, Iikar Jeesto...

And what about the new wave in all that jazz? Ok, an appetizer with Kooxda Hiddo ("Tradition Band"), one of the new bands carrying on the poet artist's traditional role as a watchdog. More outfits to come...

Emphasizing that leadership is a heavy weight duty, advocating for unity, social justice, equality... and lambasting various forms of abuse of power: corruption, lopsided decisions, self-interest...

V.A. Younger and older generations uniting for peace (of mind), citizen's rights, accountability...(in the Ogaden)

Caption: Somali musicians, students of the Mission


Somali stamps depicting musical instruments
Defect in the the stamps above repaired 


P.S. According to a commenter, Saada Cali was arrested in 1988 when she sang anti-revolutionary songs in front of Afweyne (Big Mouth, Siyaad Barre's nickname).

P.P.S. Following the 2nd comment:
Hibo Nuura_Soo Noqo Adoo Nabada (Come Back Home in Peace)


  1. waa waraysi balaaran oo xikmad badn. waxaan ku dari rabaa saada cali waa la xiray kolkay 88 heeso kacaandiid ah ka hor qaaday afweyne. cajaladaha soo baxi doona waan u hanqaltaagaynaa.

    1. Waad ku mahadsan tahay warkan muhiimka ah.

  2. This is fabulous, thank you very much. Its back to school when we used to learn about our litterature and history + wickedly funny and eloquent as hell. I even forgive you for forgetting to upload a video of Hibo.

    1. Thanks! I actually didn't upload any of the videos, I just embedded them. You're right that I didn't embed Hibo, but I linked to a mix of dozens of songs featuring her; clicking on the red Hibo Nuura in the post wull take you there. I'll now embed the 1st vid in that mix.

  3. thanks for the sublime interview. i have never heard about the 'lost tapes' and many of the songs are easily available on internet. can you tell more about it?

  4. I heard the archives of Radio Hargeysa might have survived but I didn't know the details. It's fortunately a logic but luminous foresight to move the tapes and reels to safety, given Hargeysa was bombarded shortly thereafter and in light of the destruction of countless k7s after the fall of the regime.

    I agree with you that the selection of the tracks and the naming of the compilation are, indeed, rather peculiar in more ways than one. For one thing, none of the tracks has ever been lost. Moreover, why doubles by already internationally popular bands which have been downloadable for years/decades? Why not filter from those 10.000+ records lost/unavailable songs or more of the many great artists who are unknown outside Somalia and the neighbouring countries?...

    Having said that, I'm not involved in the project and I can't speak for those who are. Nevertheless, one can imo still refer to "lost tapes" on basis of the story behind the compil and the diggers have, all in all, done a great job.

    1. i saw some years ago articles about the red sea foundation with photos of a few casettes. i never tought the archives were that huge. the press release of the label says that somali music was influnced by chinese, indian and iranian music. can you address that? thanks.

    2. Fleeting and unsubstantiated speculations aside, I'm not familiar with any researches into this subject. A couple of Banaadiri bands had their own flavour of Taarab, the East African genre that draws from a host of regions including Southeast Asia. This indirect influence is the only non-Arab Asian stamp on Somali music that I'm aware of. Let me know if you find interesting sources.

    3. it looks like marketing gimicks. i'll let u no if i find interesting sources. keep up the good work. peace.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. well i know for sure the whole volume 1 & some songs on the up coming complation are being sold illegally.

    6. Well, that'd be a grave misappropriation! You're, btw, barking up the wrong tree as I've absolutely nothing to do with the labels. Contrary to what people may think, I never received anything - even not a gift album - from any record company. In short, you'd better get in touch with the artists, labels etc.

      I've deleted my July 15-comment which was rather defending Ostinato Records. I'll undelete it if the allegations above are proven wrong. I'd already heard/read about the copyright infringements regarding vol.1 but that compil was released by another label.

  5. Great interview, thank you. Looking forward to the compilations. "How did these private enterprises work under a socialist regime?¨ Were there no private companies in Somalia during the military administration? Did the regime also own the music shops?

    1. There were plenty of private biz supplying practically anything the market demanded. However, to discourage monopoly, a special licence was required for import-export-sale of widely consumed single items. There were, thus, no/hardly any record outlets but you could buy tapes in shops selling many miscellaneous articles.

  6. Awesome interview. How do you say Sweet As Broken Dates in somali? Many thanks.

    1. The phrase and its origins are unknown to me, others I asked and the big bros of the web. Literal translation: (waa) macaan sidii timir dillaacday/jabtay.

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