Saturday, September 9, 2017

Facts and Fables Compiled

Queens of the 1960s, '70s and '80s
NB: Issue with the BBC has been resolved. Scroll down to the end of the post for the result

The compilation Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa has been captivating the attention of the international press. As all interested could notice, it’s highly praised and rightfully so. The successful adventure undertaken by the compilers to travel all the way to and around the Horn of Africa certainly tugs at my heartstrings. 

What eludes the uninformed eye and nonpluses the marked soul is, sadly, that the coverage also propagates known and new myths about Somalia and its Hoobaal (ancient Somali Goddess of art/music). I’ll handle a few of the dazzling acrobatics presented as natural facts by the giants of the media, in some cases generously fed by the title of the album and the promotional buzz. How influential these media outlets are is illustrated by the huge number of sources that literally copied and pasted (parts of) their reviews.

Music History
On Saturday 26 August, I replied to a BBC tweet to signal that the interesting article it's pushing contained a few factual inaccuracies and I briefly mentioned several. The reporter followed and messaged me within minutes: “I will make those changes on Monday”, “Could you please take that tweet down as it is public”. I messaged her back: “Done! It's just a correction, not a criticism. It's a great write up”.

The promised adjustments didn't happen (yet)! What well happened is nothing short of an absolutely hilarious gaslighting and unnecessarily stubborn ipsedixitism, persistently averring without a shadow of credible elaboration that there was nothing to change! Unintentionally letting mistakes slip into an important work befalls us all incidentally; categorically refusing to alter an iota, despite historical necessity and evidence, reeks of intellectual dishonesty.

Sequence of events after the weekend: Come Tuesday, I hear the reporter reading out the whole article on BBC World Service and I see on the site nothing was altered. I, then, messaged her with a detailed explanation of my observations in 4 points: Three potentially misleading, misinforming and/or history-bending factual errors and a couple of less harmful flaws that marred an otherwise great article.

Following a series of defensive, evasive and unsubstantiated arguments, not to speak of outright fabrications, the journalist concocted a miraculous blanket panacea: My very first block ever in my 20+-year experience online! Strange because she messaged me twice as often as I messaged her back. Who needs whom? Futile and even counterproductive as there are other channels to communicate my input.

I'd have preferred to resolve this matter in mutual harmony with the writer of the piece. Ruining that obvious, amiable, discreet and often effective route is, alas, the sole achievement of the block. My first block ever engenders, accordingly, my first complaint ever to a news media. Since the BBC does not allow commenting on the site, the best viable option was to submit my reflections through their online framework. I did that ten days ago and the BBC has yet to react. -- Update 1 (13 September): BBC asks for "patience as the editors will need more time to give a properly considered response".  -- Update 2 (11 October):  Flabbergasting decision! (see P.P.P.S.) -- Update 3 (30 Oct.): Appealed (scroll down to the end of the post)-- Update 4 (27 Feb.): Three of the four points have been rectified (see result under the appeal). Update 5 (29 April): Decision received (pdf). Case closed! (scroll down to the end of the post)

Where exactly does the shoe wring?

1. Dhaanto
Dhaanto: The Somali reggae
During the 1980s, "dhaanto", an ancient Somali folk song and dance was revived. Historically, it was played without instruments, with hand-clapping and foot-stamping used as rhythmic accompaniment.
Nomadic tribes would take their camels into their ranch at night and venture out to compete with each other. This folk style was enhanced with instruments by the likes of Shareero band and Khadija Qalanjo, the first artist to begin the modernisation of dhaanto.
Contrary to the emphatic assertions in the article, dhaanto was first:
a) Revived in the 1900s by the Daraawiish (dervishes);
b) Modernised in the 1930s by touring theatre troupes with singers, dancers and traditional acoustic instrumentalists, e.g. Xaaji Baal Baal/ Haji Bal Bal. That's even considered as a watershed development as it's one of the starting points of modern Somali music;
c) Electrified in the 1970s by Horseed, Waaberi, Halgan, Madaalayaasha, Heegan, Bakaaka etc. There are even as yet unverifiable claims affirming that Horseed, which at the time went by the name Ex-Bana Estro, had dhaanto hits in the 1950s and 60s. Most of the people I discussed the subject with also think that other bands, such as Iftin, Onkod, Durdur... recorded dhaanto tracks in the 1980s before Shareero did;
d) As a centuries old art form, Dhaanto is much older than reggae. What is the basis for the subheading: "Dhaanto: The Somali reggae"? Wouldn't "Dhaanto: The origin of reggae?" be a more logical question?

Following comment 36, a dhaanto track from 1974. 
Faadumo Qaasim

Durdur with Mahmoud Ahmed (4)

Fannaaniinta Xeebta & Iftin

Following comment 30: Onkod feat. Italian singer Roberto. I'm not sure if he was a prof. artist or just a friend of the band

Dhaanto is more than an ancient folk song, dance and music genre; it's a deep-rooted social philosophy. The video below shows five of its basic tenets: 1. The society is steeped in ancient customs, hence the traditional singing mode, Puntite artifacts and Pharaonic attire; 2. Hospitality: Being generous to others, and extra specially to strangers/outsiders/those who are far from home, is one of the cornerstones of Somali culture. It's in the video symbolised by the receptacles which contain food, milk, water etc. 3. Respect for women's rights: That's why the girls are taller than the boys who, moreover, are bowing lower - particularly whenever the girl is singing; 4. Social responsibility and solidarity: You are a part of a society. That's why you don't sing/dance/play/work (this genre) alone, but always in groups and often hand in hand (see also the last videos.); 5. Members of the society are encouraged to exercise their individual freedoms, as depicted after the tempo changes at 2:00 when the children start spreading their wings to fly away to their chosen destinations/dreams.

Qarshe: "Times change, some are getting
married today, others are put to grave"

It's a delightful double blessing that some of Shareero's dhaanto videos have survived the civil war and are widely circulated, while many footages and records by other bands unfortunately (probably) have perished. However, it doesn't justify rewriting the history of Somali music on one of the most visited websites in the world. How many have already fallen for those blunders... hook, line and sinker and are spreading it further?

The author of the feature seems partial to Shareero, a group that doesn't need harmful promotion as it's already great in its own right.

One of Shareero's dhaanto tracks performed by children from Somalia, Norway and other countries

The original

In addition to crediting Shareero with the modernisation of dhaanto, the photo on Iftin’s song doesn't depict Iftin but Axmed Naaji and Maxamuud Cabdalla Xuseen “Jeeri” in their Shareero days in the 1960s/70s. Besides, on basis of out-of-the-blue reasoning that "the rights are held by shareero so that's as accurate as it gets"(!!!), the reporter attributes the track Qays & Layla to Shareero with pictures and all!

According to the compilation, the song was recorded in 1977 by “Sharero Band feat. Faadumo Qaasim”. In fact, Faadumo is not only the lead singer, she's also the copyright owner, as the liner notes clearly state. Can the label clarify how come she’s only featuring in her own work? Wouldn't the other way around be more logical? Like this:

It’s, moreover, common knowledge among Somali music fans and connoisseurs that Shareero didn’t have a horn section and the wind instruments are dominant on Qays & Layla and the album it belongs to. I posted the whole tape, which was stamped with “Faadumo Qaasim, Faynuustii Fanka - 1974” (“FQ, The Lantern of Art/Music”), and I always thought the backing instrumentalists were from Waaberi as the tunes sound perfectly like Waaberi. Anyway, it could also be one of the (hybrid) session outfits FQ and other artists occasionally employed, and that could explain why only FQ was mentioned on the cassette.

Bottom line: I bet all my pets (a camel, 2 dodos and a lion all retro vintage '70s and '80s and still frolicking strong) that Shareero is not the backing band and, more important, it's incredible the BBC journalist decided and insists to eliminate Faadumo Qaasim from the entire equation!

From the compil (imo version from 1974)

This is the 1977 FQ & Shareero version (vintage Shareero):

2. Khadra Daahir is (creatively) misquoted, misinterpreted and mistranslated:
 "They used to call us all kinds of nicknames before the 1970s. Some women used to hide," 70s star singer Khadra Daahir told the BBC.
"People said we were dead, lost and a disgrace to our people," she recalls.
KD is translated as if she's talking about herself and her contemporaries. But she's responding to questions about the generations of artists before hers and she says (with differences underlined):

"They used to adopt/were given pseudonyms, some used to hide [their identity]".

"A woman or a person [female or male] working in the arts/music was considered dead. "Lost and a disgrace to our people" is not in the embedded video. The journo said there’s a longer version but didn’t react to my logical suggestion to embed the relevant footage or my request for a link!

Hadraawi's panegyric for the girls of the HoA:

In the 1970s and '80s (and arguably already in the 1960s), Somali female singers were crowned queens, towering way above any and all kings and princes. Nevertheless, the Somali society was and, alas, still is biased towards women. KD makes both facts unequivocally clear. The rampant misogyny, heralded and practiced mainly by religious and feudal fanatics and their lobotomised hordes, is a pressing issue all Somalis, women and men, have to address and endeavor tirelessly to upend it. Misquoting and putting (inadvertently) words that are not corroborated by the vid. on the site in KD's mouth - or anybody else's - and refusing to either correct the errorS or embed the evidence contributes nothing but confusion and misinformation.

The song starts at 2:00

3. Record companies
Somalia's music industry was effectively nationalised under authoritarian leader General Siad Barre, who brought most industries under state control in the hopes of ridding the country of clan-based politics.
During this period, record companies could not release music to the market.
They could and did (see below).

Music Industry
Barre’s regime effectively nationalized the music scene, with bands and production controlled by ministries and the national radio. A great deal of Somali music was rarely disseminated, confined to broadcast on state run radios and the live performances in dance halls, theaters, and ball rooms of Mogadishu’s hotels. -- liner notes
Mirroring the generally outstanding album notes, a constellation of news titans such as AFP, Yahoo, Al Jazeera, BBC, Wall Street Journal etc. inform dutifully that there were no music labels, no commercial releases and hardly any private bands in Somalia during the dictatorship (1969-1991)! Le Point, a major weekly in France, takes the cake. It blindly copies and pastes errors in AFP's article! As if that were not grave and unprofessional enough, it creates its own urban legends about Somali music! 
Le pays ne possédait aucune maison de disques et aucun album n'a donc été produit à l'époque. Son industrie musicale était entièrement dirigée par l'État et le seul canal de diffusion des chansons était la radio ("The country did not have a single record label and, thus, not a single album was produced at the time. The music industry was entirely run by the state and the radio was the only channel for broadcasting the songs").

Jirde Ltd.
The music industry wasn't actually nationalised. The government deployed other tactics to exert full control over the fledgling recording businesses: The licences were not renewed till the sector bled to extinction. There were, thus, a few private labels in the first half of the 1970s, such as Sirag Noor & Co., Jirde Ltd., Light & Sound. These were basically commercial enterprises selling many miscellaneous articles, including music paraphernalia, instruments, vinyl records and, mainly, tapes. They also had fast recorders to tape cassettes for the customers and rudimentary facilities to (amateurishly) record bands live or in a studio, and they produced and commercialised the albums independently.
Sirag Noor & Co. (auctioned for $976.00)
Jirde Ltd.(auctioned for $555.00


From the phones @Analog Africa
By mid-1970s the music industry was completely owned by the government and that lasted for about a decade. In the mid-1980s, licences were again granted to a number of firms, popularly known as stereos, studios or phones. These music shops were pretty much copies of their predecessors from the '70s. However, producing and selling music- and film-related items, mainly cassettes and videos, was their principal activity.

The private music companies produced in that period hundreds, if not thousands of k7s and a number of gramophone records, and sold hundreds of thousands of albums.

The bulk of the music output, amounting to (tens of) thousands of tapes and a limited number of vinyls, was recorded in senescent studios and "released" by public radios and theatres, under the aegis of Somali Broadcasting Service. There were no prober releases as we know the phenomenon on the international markets. However, as a Radio Mogadishu journalist in the 1980s, I frequently witnessed not only bands recording in the studios but also people carrying out bags full of freshly recorded cassettes. They were delivered to and sold in shops and market stalls, mainly located at Maka Al-Mukarrama, Xamar Weyne and Ceelgaab.

Ceelgaab Market

Although it wasn't officially organised and acknowledged, many employees - from radio technicians to high-level execs - were aware of and involved in the quasi-weekly transhumance of the albums. I think everybody in the chain got their cut of the bounty, and that'd explain why the tapes were steeply overpriced. The government-owned radios produced immensely more cassettes  than the private businesses. They were, ergo, in a position to sell millions of tapes. Nonetheless, it's quite possible the prohibitive prices, caused by mismanagement and corruption, worked in favour of the small enterprises which, ironically, might have had a much higher turnover per capita than the giant public radios.


It's also noteworthy that a lot of theatre plays, concerts and other live gigs were recorded by the audience with simple tape or Walkman recorders. People also taped frequently from their radio and TV sets. Those home-made cassettes and videos were widely exchanged. Although often of lamentable quality, the most recordings that are still alive and kicking belong, in my experience, to this category and the history/emotions/value they represent is second to none.

Private Bands
   Dur Dur were one of the rare few [private bands] -- liner notes

There were countless more private bands than government-controlled groups. During the military dictatorship, the privately owned bands arguably - and ironically - flourished more than ever before.

A wide range of independent music collectives played primarily traditional genres on ancient instruments. They didn't have the necessary wherewithal and connections to buy fancy equipment or produce their material professionally. Nevertheless, many of them were highly skilled musicians in every sense of the word. I  believe a lot of artists in this category inherited/acquired talent, passion, experience through generations. They're generally more cognizant of Somali music than the average member of the celebrated bands. To my knowledge, there are unfortunately precious few cassettes by these groups available anywhere. Only occasionally did they have the opportunity to record in studios, but some bands taped their practices and gigs with a simple boombox. They offered the tapes at the markets and party circuits which constituted their main income source.

The musicians and dancers belong to the same private traditional band. The man simulating to touch/touching the girl is (normally) her husband. Some traditions accept that in acting situations. There are many vids of comparable groups but the quality is often poor. This one is ok as it's edited by the uploader. This is the original, check out the sidebar for more independent trad. companies. 

Somali Jazz with founder Maryan Mursal (bottom C)


Numerous private pop bands had also left an indelible mark on that period. They're professionally on a par with the government-sponsored dozen or so theatre ensembles. Shareero and Durdur were the most popular of those groups given they lasted the longest (20+ years and about 10 years respectively). Many others like Somali Jazz, Madaalayaasha, Shambal, Malkad, Sawtul Raxma, Libaaxyada Banaadir (precursors of LMB) etc. came and went relatively quickly as the members joined the better connected, more lucrative and stable huge ensembles. These private combos recoded hundreds, if not thousands of albums in public or private studios or in the made-in-my-kitchen style and commercialised their tapes at concerts, nightclubs, theatres, parties as well as in shops and market stalls.

Who are they? Artists?

The Asian Factor
One of the recurrent barely-substantiated-opinions-elevated-to-holy-facts syndromes almost all the critiques suffer from is that Somali music is heavily influenced by a plethora of regions - which is true... to a certain extent and in ways very different from the emphatic theories many of them advance. Remarkable in the analysis is that Mother Africa is rarely mentioned, despite the indubitable, research-vouched N-E-W-S-African mosaic patterns in Somali artists' creations! I knew that Somalia is located on Jupiter, but I thought this was an esoteric philosophical knowledge confined to initiated circles. Dang, our secrets are no longer safe! The dozens of indigenous Somali genres hardly touch a chord, either. In contrast herewith, the impact of South and East Asia - from Persia and Indonesia to China and Cambodia...- and specially Indian radiations are abundantly perceived.

I'm not saying that those effects aren’t there. I just would like to see, preferably but not per se watertight and unassailable evidence, or at least credible and elaborate rationale. Purporting that Somali music is heavily marked by Indian raga and Bollywood, simply because the two countries share pentatonic scales and high-pitched female vocalists is a baffling argument that's hard to take seriously. It's like saying that water is bounteously available on Mars because high-res photos show meandering streaks, grooves, gorges that look like earthly lakes, rivers and oceans! Shall we then book a trip to the Red Planet for a hitchhike adventure on high heels? I'll pay the bill if you can pedal the shuttle

On a serious note, there are certainly Indian imprints on Somali culture, particularly in culinary and clothing staples. However, music is knottier and more sophisticated than basic commodities. How many countries/people have the two parameters - pentatonic scales and high vocals - and many more in common, some without ever having met, let alone having heavily influenced each other? And those who impacted each other often know the (fine) details of the story

And while we are at it, let's toss a coin: Indian music is heavily influenced by Somali music, and specially by hirwo and shirib. Despite what the compilation, its notes and the deserved jollities in the press may suggest: Most Somali female singers are by far not shrill-voiced; Africa is arguably the mother of the pentatonic scale, and specifically the Sahel and Sahara belts both of which Somalia is closely related to since the antiquities; the average Joe or plain Jane can't distinguish between Indian and Arabic sounds, the latter being a big influence on Somali music and also seldom observed by the reviewers; notwithstanding what many people braggingly claim, the overwhelming majority of Somalis had in the 1970s and '80s - the period the compilation intends to anthologise - never/rarely seen a Bollywood film - there were in the whole country only a couple of cinemas specialised in Indian films...

Did I now prove that there is no connection between Somali and Indian music? Or that Somali music is actually the influencer? Is my theory designed to a fare-thee-well? Absolutely... not! The foundations of my reasoning are as rickety as the pentatonic-raga-Bollywood argument. It is, consequently, farewell to both hypotheses. Without solid, resourceful, long-winded, multi-faceted scientific research(es), we can at best deliver a malleable anecdotal evidence and that is too meager for any conclusion with such a profound cultural and historic impact.


Lost Tapes
I'm absolutely delighted that a strong spotlight is currently shining on Somali music. I also know that the name of the compilation, and specially the second part, has left many Somalis - including friends, acquaintances and myself - with a puzzled countenance. Let's start with an enquiry about the first part:
In the late 1950s, theater plays employed men to play female roles. But as talent became recognized, female voices were quickly compared playfully to the sweetness of broken dates -- liner notes
Nobody in my environment is familiar with the Somali origins of the expression "sweet as broken dates". We couldn't find it via the search machines, either. Honi soit qui mal y pense, as I saw people qualify it as sexist. I'm very curious, though, to know where Iftin's Jerry, who reported it, got it from. Can anybody offer an explanation?

On the other hand, it's true that professional female singers and theatre actresses were scarce untill the 1950s. However, Somalia has a centuries-old tradition of rural girls learning how to sing and dance, and boys how to manufacture and play instruments. That long-standing custom barely found its way in the urban jungles, where a great number of nomads also settled after World War II. In contrast to the rural population who owned livestock and farms, and had limited material needs, the overwhelming majority of the townies possessed (close to) nothing. They, therefore, had to earn a living and it's a hellish chore to make ends meet (Q3) in the artistic (battle)fields.

More than culture or religion, it was rather the law of the jungle that handed the rare openings in these arenas to, mainly, predatory males. No wonder it didn't last long as Somali women often claimed and amply earned their position in the society. The adulated songstresses of the 1960s to 1980s were, after all, following in the footsteps of their predecessors who were touring in the 1940s and possibly earlier as records were, and still are, hardly kept.     

Gasping bewilderment is caused by the second part of the title: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa. Only a distorted or numb mind can picture - without collapsing - how much Somalia has lost in the last couple of decades. That's why it feels awkward, acrid and unwise that tracks owned and cherished by countless Somalis and regularly broadcast (online) by radios/TVs are being qualified and sold as lost! All the more so since the tracks on the compil were/are a few clicks or calls away for anybody interested and streetwise in the world of Somali music. The name also exudes a bitter-sour taste for many since an infinite number of tapes have effectively been lost.

Throughout Somalia's history, and conspicuously during the oppressive colonial and dictatorial periods, poetry and music were the choicest vehicles for promotion and propaganda. The heart of Somali music beats with poetic (love) lyrics and socio-political engagement - the last trait is, alas, parsimoniously found in the compilation which, by and large, focuses on slow dance/entertainment music. There were, for instance, many plays and albums supporting or protesting against the military regime. Some helped to boost the popularity of the junta. Others contributed to its demise. Even a single song is believed to have toppled the government in 1967... and maybe even two.

Following the fall of the central autocracy in 1991, piles of k7s and instruments were destroyed by the rivaling factions of all tribal and ideological configurations. They saw in many songs a machine gun pointing at them. Even the common citizens had to get rid of their collections to be on the safe side of the front line. Nobody wanted to be accused of listening to "enemy tracks", let alone possessing a  mass of the damned cassettes. That was a potentially lethal sport. Within weeks the sewers and drains, teeming with magnetic polyester, were the primary hubs belting out the hits of "the past"! Most of my tapes were (I digitized and gifted them away) the umpteenth copy of what was saved from that cultural onslaught. Mountains of tapes and videos are, indeed, unaccounted for or definitively lost.

Some radio operators carved a plan to save their collections. Recordings were dispatched to neighboring countries, like Djibouti, and protected from continued bombardment.
“We buried the tapes under the ground so the bomb’s won’t hit,” said an elderly journalist -- liner notes
I understand how enticing it is to call the compilation "Lost Tapes..." since the songs are reportedly culled from the sources described above - even though all the tracks have been alive and well in innumerable homes and broadcasting services for decades. It's still unfortunate that the title opened the predictable and traumatizing floodgates of the media for, (often) well-intentioned and unsuspecting, self-appointed saviours, rescuers, conquistadors and the likes. What's been rescued? Which tracks precisely? From what and why? By who and how?...

I hope Ostinato Records, that has already accomplished a fascinating feat - or any other label - will keep the above in mind when it releases the next installment(s). Break a leg... or both if it brings more luck!

Dumarka Damaashaadka (Celebration Ladies)

My pets and I are definitely impressed by and thankful for the top-notch remastering and diffusion of the tracks on the compilation. To paraphrase the Dumarka Damaashaadka of my schooldays, we're saving our royal poincianas and pizzazzy panache for the moment the still missing Old Nicks, eternally missed treasures of yore will hone in on... home! I have a hunch some have already embarked on a, hopefully, short peregrination to join and jazz up the current party even more triumphantly!

Hats off to all brave and culturally conscious heroes, Somalis and non-Somalis, who risk(ed) it all to safeguard priceless artifacts.

P.S. A blog on the (distant) horizon: Who pipped whom to the post?

P.P.S. Tangentially, an anonymous genius has lately been posting on this blog quite edifying comments with the precise regularity of a Swiss watch and in the form of a single sentence: Mogadishu and its music are shitholes! Since the Honourable Gentlekiddo is already well-versed in the the dark side of our moon, I think it’s high time to broaden its horizons and (musical) vocabulary… without words and free of charge.

Mogadishu 1969

Mogadishu 2017

P.P.P.S BBC's decision with my reaction under each point:

1. Regarding point 1, as you say [I didn't say that, the reporter did], the quotes which appear in text are from the full interview which was then edited. Some of these quotes were lost in the editing process.The BBC does not make the unedited versions of our interviews available to the public.  

I understand that "some of these quotes were lost in the editing process...¨. Nevertheless, the quotes in text that are based on the embedded footage are incorrectly translated and do not conform with what the artist says.

2. Regarding your second point,the article has been corrected as per your observation.

Didn't happen yet as the article is still intact. (This is about the track Qays & Layla attributed solely to Shareero without Faadumo Qaasim)
3. As to the next point you make, we have investigated and are satisfied that we have the correct photo.

One can but doesn't even have to go beyond the liner notes from which the photo, apparently, is taken (page 13). There it's captioned as "Axmed Naaji Saacad (L); Jerry". Another photo on page 7 of the same LN shows and names both artists again with the caption "Sharero Band (1960s)". That's obviously not Iftiin Band whose track on the BBC site is adorned with the wrong "Sharero Band" picture!

4. Finally and in regards to your point 4 – our article is aimed at a general audience and space is limited. As dhaanto is not the main focus of the piece, we do not feel we need to explore every change in dhaanto over the centuries. We are happy with the phrasing as it is and believe the article sums up the situation for the general audience.
I didn't ask the BBC "to explore every change in dhaanto over the centuries"! The article states clearly that "this folk style was enhanced with instruments by the likes of Shareero band and Khadija Qalanjo, the first artist to begin the modernisation of dhaanto", which is inaccurate. As mentioned in my clarification with links, the genre was modernised in the 1930s; that's 50+ years before Sharero band and Khadija Qalanjo recorded their very first dhaanto track! ... [30+ years before the band was formed and years before any of the band members was even born]!
BBC's answer to my reactions upholding the decision
I have checked once more with the reporter who wrote the article.

She is adamant that the correct photographs have now been used, and have been correctly captioned.
In terms of point 2, the photo shows the Sharero band and they perform the track, so there is no need to add further details which would only confuse the vast majority of our audience. There was initially a problem with one of the photos – have you tried refreshing your browser to ensure it is showing the latest version of the article?
And she is satisfied that we have fairly summarised dhaanto in the piece. 

The BBC "posts or emails over 90% of the replies within 2 weeks". It took here almost 6 weeks because - remember - "the editors will need more time to give a properly considered response" and "due to the relevant staff being [un]available". Furthermore, "a number of our senior editorial staff have taken a look at your comments and the article in question". And this is the result! Truly flabbergasting! The decision seems to have been taken like a headless chicken - no offense to anybody and certainly not to headless chickens. I mailed a reminder more than 5 weeks after I'd filed the complaint and the verdict arrived in a hell-for-leather manner, i.e. within 3 hours! I definitely appreciate the quick reaction, but are we dealing here with an expedited/botched work?!

1. The point about the misquotes is not addressed at all in the final outcome! Moreover, the decision states nowhere if a Somali-speaking person, let alone a Somali music expert, has looked into the quotes or the whole matter! The answers upon which the conclusion is based come directly from an editor who, apparently, specialises in Southern Africa. 

2. The only instance wherein the word 'investigate' or an equivalent is used in the whole decision concerns the (minor) point about Shareero's photo on Iftin's track and the obviously wrong picture is deemed... correct! 

3. "... there is no need to add further details which would only confuse the vast majority of our audience"! I find this deeply offensive to the audience. It presumes/implies that the "vast majority" of the readers can't handle a (small) alteration; i.e. adding 'feat. Faadumo Qaasim' and a representative photo!! Does the BBC think it's serving literal headless chickens?!!! So, redressing errors to inform the audience correctly is not necessary?!!!! This is btw the point about which the initial finding said: "Regarding your second point,the article has been corrected as per your observation"!!!!!

4. "Have you tried refreshing your browser to ensure it is showing the latest version of the article?" Another astounding remark! Btw, I opened the article on 3 different computers & browsers, checked it on Wayback Machine and I can't see any changes! It's today (12 October) exactly the same as it was on, say, 19 September!

5. It's very odd that "checking once more with the reporter who wrote the article" plays such a prominent role - or even seems to suffice - to uphold such an impactful conclusion! This is all the more striking given the reporter, apparently, does not scruple to bend and even fabricate the truth - at least 4 times in this fugacious encounter!

6. The article, with all its (potentially) misinforming and even history-bending factual inaccuracies, has already literally been copied and pasted more than 19 000 times and, logically, shared multiple times more! In a Twitter message on Aug 30, the reporter also told me that "the article received over a million hits". How many more would that be now?!

7. This is imo a clear-cut case. it doesn't look like the complaint was seriously investigated, given the flagrantly flawed decision on each point and, mildly put, strange justifications! I've the right to appeal and I'm planning to do that because of the apparent lack of earnestness and, primarily, because of point 4 about dhaanto which rewrites the history of Somali music. Any reason(s) why not?


Dear Mr Cumar

Thank you for contacting the Executive Complaints Unit.

I’m writing to acknowledge receipt of your letter received on 30 October to let you know someone from the unit will be in touch with a further response within 20 working days of the above date, or 35 days in the case of more complex complaints.

Yours sincerely


Unit administrator


From: Sanaag []
Sent: 30 October 2017 20:22
Subject: Request to review complaint PRF - CAS-4548174-YDC057

​​​Dear Sirs/Madams,

Please review the decision made with respect to this complaint. The correspondence in the prior stages is attached to this email.

The complaint concerns an article published by BBC News on 26 August 2017. It contains several misinforming and even history-bending factual inaccuracies. I'd like to submit the following points for reconsideration:

A. Point 1 about the misquotes is not addressed at all by the Complaints Team's final verdict! It’s remarkable that the decisions at 1a and 1b state nowhere if a Somali-speaking person, let alone a Somali music and/or history expert, has looked into the translations or fact-checked the whole matter!The answers upon which the decision is based come directly from an editor who, apparently, specialises in Southern Africa and doesn't seem to be cognizant of Somalia or its languages and music;

B. Point 2 was upheld in 1a. However, following my reaction that the article has not been duly rectified, it was, miraculously, invalidated in 1b with "... there is no need to add further details which would only confuse the vast majority of our audience"! I find this justification irrelevant and deeply offensive to the "vast majority" of the audience. It presumes that the readers could not handle a (small) alteration; i.e. adding the missing artist's name and a correct photo! Moreover, this line of reasoning would imply that redressing mistakes to correctly inform the audience is not necessary for the BBC!;

C. Point 3 is the only instance wherein the word 'investigate' or an equivalent is used in the whole decision. In 1a, the obviously wrong picture was deemed correct! The result in 1b stated that “the correct photographs have now been used, and have been correctly captioned”. Nevertheless, this hasn’t happened to this very day! The article is today exactly as it was on e.g. 19 September!;

D. Point 4 effectively rewrites the history of Somali music. Despite the magnitude and consequences of the errors in the article, the decisions in 1a and 1b dismissed it with general statements completely avoiding to address the specific factual inaccuracies that I’d signaled!;

E. It's unfair, particularly In contrast with D above, that "checking once more with the reporter who wrote the article" plays a decisive role to uphold such an impactful decision! This is all the more striking given the reporter is, demonstrably, biased and does not scruple to amalgamate (personal) opinions with facts or even fabricate the truth. This happened multiple times in this fugacious encounter:
  1. Three of the four contentious points that I submitted show clearly the reporter's partiality to Sharero Band;
  2. She knowingly misinformed/misled the Complaints Team by adamantly purporting that still outstanding rectifications were already done. This is evident in the mail carrying the decision of the CT;
  3. The reporter also deliberately and gravely misinformed/misled the audience by initially omitting extremely relevant facts from the content of the article and later refusing to rectify;
  4. The journalist manipulated me into deleting an important tweet about the factual inaccuracies in the article by falsely promising to correct the errors;
  5. She also tried to mislead me with an outright fabrication about the copyright holders;
Points 3, 4 and 5 above are proven in Twitter messages I received from the reporter, which I’m willing to submit.

F. I mailed a reminder more than 5 weeks after I'd filed the complaint and the final outcome arrived in a hell-for-leather manner, i.e. within 3 hours! I certainly appreciate the - at long last - quick reaction. However, the breakneck speed is more indicative of expedited and botched work than of a properly weighted decision. It strongly seems that the decision was taken hastily without seriously examining the issues at hand. The verdict indicates nowhere that the links I'd provided were checked, let alone if experts were consulted. The flagrantly flawed and, mildly put, strangely justified decision on each point corroborate my doubts;

G. The verifiable facts about the subject are very different from the opinions the article presents as facts. In publishing this article and leaving it unrectified, the BBC has acted negligently. It misinformed the targeted groups, which mainly consist of laymen to whom the BBC owes an extra duty of care as they, arguably and rightfully, have an (almost) unwavering trust in the BBC. Broadcasting inaccurate information can lead to false assumptions or even change history and relentless quest for the facts should remain a core value, specially for highly esteemed institutions such as the BBC.

The article and handling of the complaint in 1a and 1b breach the following BBC Editorial Guidelines about editorial values, accuracy, impartiality, fairness, interacting with the audience and accountability:

1.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.6, 3.1, 3.2.3, 3.2.4, 3.4.2, 3.4.3, 3.4.11, 3.4.26, 4.4.4, 4.4.5, 4.4.7, 4.4.31, 6.4.17, 17.1, 19.1.1, 19.1.2 

Conclusion: The article, with all its misinforming and even history-bending factual inaccuracies, has already literally been copied and pasted more than 19 000 times and, logically, shared multiple times more. In a Twitter message on Aug 30, the reporter also proudly told me that "the article received over a million hits", as if that were a reason to leave it intact! To thwart more damage through further dissemination of inaccurate information, it's essential that the BBC rectifies the article and publishes a correction with a prominence equal to the huge exposure the article has enjoyed.

I'll be glad to provide further information on any aspect of this complaint.

Yours sincerely,

Max'ed Cumar

I haven't yet received the decision, but a friend alerted me to the fact that the article has been amended. Three of the four points have been rectified and the incomplete correction note below is published at the end of the article:
Correction 22 February 2018: This story has been amended to remove an incorrectly captioned photo and clarify the evolution of dhaanto
- P1 about the misquotes remains unaltered, we'll see how the forthcoming decision justifies it;
- P2 about the track Qays iyo Layla and Faadumo Qaasim is rectified;
- P3 is drastically redressed. Not only the “incorrectly captioned photo” but the whole track has been removed;
- P4 about the history of dhaanto is rectified.

I, unfortunately, noticed the factual errors about the private music industry while I was writing this post. Since the BBC doesn’t accept changes once a complaint has been filed, a new case should be opened to submit these inaccuracies for rectification ... and I have neither the time nor the desire to start such a procedure once again. If someone wants to do it, be my guest.

Update (29/4): I received the decision a while back. Regarding the only point that has not been rectified, the Executive Complaints Unit has only taken into consideration the first part: “Some of the remarks attributed to Khadra Daahir in the article were not to be heard in the embedded video of her interview”. This type of dissonance doesn't breach the Editorial Guidelines of the BBC. However, the ECU apparently overlooked the second part stating that “the quotes in text that are based on the embedded footage are incorrectly translated and do not conform with what the artist says”! The wrong translation (logically) transgresses any decent organisation's standards. I'm convinced it'd have been corrected if the ECU had consulted a Somali language/music expert.

The surprisingly unprofessional handling of the case is also properly addressed. The ECU says:

Finally, I feel obliged to express a view on the way your complaint was handled in the initial stages. From the screengrabs of the Twitter exchange which you provided, it appears to me that you first contacted the author in a friendly and positive manner, seeking only to point out what you saw as a number of inaccuracies. You were assured that these would be corrected and you were asked to remove the tweet because it was public. This you readily agreed to do. However, the changes were not made and you were blocked from the author’s twitter account, meaning that you could not revisit the matter there. From that point on you met considerable resistance, bordering on obduracy, from those editorially responsible when you raised the matter through the complaints process. This was a quite extraordinary way to deal with what began as a supportive and helpful contribution, and I shall be raising my concerns about it with the relevant area of BBC management. 

All in all, I'm satisfied with the decision; all the more so since the ECU rarely upholds complaints. Moreover, the distortions in the evolution of dhaanto were the principal bone of contention. Had they not been there, I'd have never broached this entire issue. They have now been corrected. Case closed!

Self-portrait 1980s, I'm now a humanoid. Progress? I'm not sure!


  1. Exactly how i felt though unlike you i did not reply something i should have done.

    1. there are a couple things i want to add. the one thing that annoys me is when they say they captured the music scene and that this album show a diverse range of somali music. It doesn't there is no qaraami no qaaci no heello if it was diverse they would should as many styles as they could but they haven't also the fact that some of the songs are said to have reggae influences no they haven't this is pure dhaanto no reggae. - rant complete-

    2. I’m glad dhaanto, qaraami and banaadiri are casually mentioned as blanket genres. Somalia has 100+ poetry and dance genres. Each has several/many sub-genres and they all have distinct musical qualities, i.e. rhythmic, melodic and harmonic standard rules, fixed or fluid. According to Riiraash, at least ¼ of them have already been set to music; that’d make 25+ music genres. This is a barely chartered territory...

  2. p.s who is the blogger you are talking about?

  3. u expresed my feelings very well, thank u. who are the queens on the poster 1?

    1. You're welcome! L to R: Hibo Nuura, Saafi Ducaale, Seynab X. Cali “Baxsan”, Xaliima Khaliif Cumar “Magool”, Faduuma Cali “Nakruuma”

  4. Wlaalo meeshee ayaad ka heshay masawirkaa oo ku jira kooxda hiddaha iyo dhaqanka

    1. Wuxuu ku jiraa buug lagu magcaabo "Beeautiful Somalia".

    2. have heard of that book before, waaberi would give it out when they went on trips out the country, right? do you know where can find a copy?

    3. I don't know, try the search engines. I've a copy PDF on an external HD but it's been broken for years.

  5. A co-worker showed me your blog and I'm thankful to her. You're telling the story I've been hearing around for months now. Nailed perfectly, thank you!

  6. wonderful blog thanks. bbc article is reproduced 12,700 times according to google are right to put this issue on the table.thanks a lot

  7. You are very mild with the label, given all the commercial nonsense and blatant lies they've been spreading around. And they continue:

    1. Thanks for the link! I've just had a look and it conforms with the title of this post! It’s the same old great factual story sullied by unnecessary fiction and self-destructive self-promotion! "I was obsessed with the idea that this would be lost, until now"! Wow...! Such doozies abound in the article! I wonder why they’re ruining the beauty of this adventure for merely superfluous accolades! Your reaction there is very much to the point.

      'Be wisely mild/kind' is actually one of my mottos. My mailbox was alerted into obesity about this subject. I was, thus, watching the developments with ever more widening and dropping jaws, but I wasn’t fluttering with impatience to write this post. The incident with the BBC precipitated it as I wanted to try to get the historical errors corrected before they gained widespread traction. Take care :)

    2. "I was obsessed with the idea that this would be lost, until now"! - just to clarify this: i was not talking about the recordings,but the life(style), arts and the infrastucture for cultural life. and yes, i ment until now, today implied. I did NOT mean "until now" that it is published via this compilation.

      i never and at no point claimed this to be the historical truth but my personal and subjectiv first impression.

      i consider this project as a learning process and i am very happy to learn from people like you and shure, there is room for evolvement and improvement. my telephone number & email is written on the cassette. so why not contact me directly and talk to me first?

      -Nicolas S.

    3. 1. No clarification is needed: What you saw on the vids was not the mainstream but a small well-off section of the society and it still exists to this very day - strangely enough in even greater numbers, mainly due to the homecoming diaspora. Moreover, there are more factual inaccuracies and absurdities in your article. The commenter there raised two very relevant points and I can add a handful more but it’s not necessary. Anybody interested can find some/most of them by (carefully) reading your article and this post;

      2. As you (should) know, there bizarrely was no sleeve in the k7! It doesn’t matter ‘cause the completely redundant fables injected into this great project oblige me not to get involved in any way, shape or form. Good luck!

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Today i had the pleasure of interviewing the singer Cabdow Aramram and when asked about the origins of Kooxda Somali Jazz he said that it started as a group within Radio Mogadishu and that it was created by Al Ustaad Axmed Naaji.

    1. Rather odd that AN created SJ but never joinedit!

  9. Not really.Who created Kooxda Danan? Ustaad Axmed Noor but he never joined! Also it was not a group set up with new singers, they were all in Radio mogadishu at the time and in the 60s Axmed Naaji was probably one of the biggest musicians in Mogadishu and so it is not a shocking thing that he helped create the group, anyway i hope to interview Maryan Mursal soon and we shall have our answer then.

  10. There are a lot of ambiguities about Som. music and people claim and attribute left and right. However, one thing is crystal clear: Gov’t-controlled bands were not created by an individual but by organisations. In the case of Danan, by Ururka Dhallinyarada for which Axmed Nuur Yuusuf was a xoghaye and abwaan.

    MM tells in interviews that the minister of info. Bowkax heard her sing at a night club. As she was only 15, he asked AN, who’s also at the club, to accompany her to Radio Moga where she signed a contract as a professional singer. Let me know if you get hold of her.

    1. I will!!! I have a list of names of singers that I hope to interview before the end of the year, Cabdow -whose voice is amazing- I interviewed yesterday and will interview again on monday for more in depth analysis on Somali Music

  11. the decision of the bbc can not be more ridiculuous, lost all respect for the been been sii.yo'd def go ahead with the appeal.

  12. awesome post & blog, man. i was surprised to read in several articles about this release the songs were newly rescued and i thought how so? my family have had them forever. what is the facts the reporter omited from the article?i've a bit of experience with bbc complaints and they never accept mistakes, i think they are afraid of legal claims. but your appeal is very strong. if they reject, go to ofcom where the chance for a fair decision is bigger.

    1. Thanks, I'll def. ponder over the next steps in the procedure.

      When I said that dhaanto was revived in the 1900s and modernised in the 1930s, the reporter reacted with: “I'm well aware of that fact... I've done enough research and asked celebrated Somali musicians”! If she'd put that single sentence in the article, I'd have never started this whole process.

    2. that's bizare. If she knew why did she omit it then? maybe it depends on what comes after the dots “I'm well aware of that fact...

    3. “I'm well aware of that fact. And it is dhaanto! I've done enough research and asked celebrated Somali musicians”! I wrote Dhaanto at the beginning of a sentence in a private Twitter message and she, apparently, was argumentatively correcting my capitalised D! Embarrassing for anyone, and specially for a journo who stubbornly was -and still is- refusing to correct her glaring and internationally spread blunders!

      Why she omitted these crucial facts is anybody's guess. One obvious reason is that they certainly would nullify what she wrote about the revival and modernisation of dhaanto.

  13. glad i found your blog and respect for this fantastic post. i'll sure come back for more. the label and the media have done a good job but they also made gigantic blunders. the bbc is acting like a twat by refusing to correct obvious errors. do you have anything by kooxda onkod? would be great.

    1. Thanks! I also posed the same question about Onkod elsewhere on the blog. It seems hardly any of their tracks had survived. As they belonged to the Custodial Corps, their material might have been destroyed...

      Their version of Diinleeya is on YT, embedded it in the post under "Dhaanto".

  14. This is fabulous, thank you very much. You said everything I felt about this compilation and more very well.

    I also worked fro Radio Mogadishu in the 80s. When were you there? Have you known Yusuf Garaad? I've just read he's been sacked yesterday as min. of Foreign Affairs.

    1. 83-86 French service. Yes, I've known YG as a colleague and collegemate. We're both studying while working at the radio. Haven't kept abreast of his pol. forays, but all these short-lived reshuffles are imo quite detrimental to the stability of the country which is already vulnerable...

      Could you plse get in touch per mail? Would love to reconnect!

  15. Thanks for this fantastic posting and wonderful the BBC finally corrected most of the errors. I also agree with you the translation of Khadra Daahir's statements is partially incorrect. By the way have you seen this informative article?

    1. Welcome! I saw the article a few days ago and I, apparently, read it too quickly. It’s a great article, but it’s also quite misleading- unintentionally, I suppose.See my reaction there

  16. what a great article thanks. do you have dhaanto songs from the 1970s, my parents have some by horsed & waberi but the sound is ruined.

    1. Same here concerning sound deterioration. I've just embedded a track from 74 under the heading "dhaanto" in the post.

  17. thank u very much for this great post. madaalayaasha what a beautiful name, i have never heard of them, who were they?

    1. I gather it's a group of secondary school students who, after graduation in the early/mid 70s, quickly evolved into the house band of Hotel Waamo. Xuseen Kayaabshe, their lead guitarist, is considered as one of the best slingers in that period and their artistic leader Axmed jiiniyas joined SNM after he's released. They only lasted for a few years as some of the members were arrested on charges of subversion and/or corruption.

  18. It took me a while to read this post but what a treat, thanks. As far as the lost tapes are concerned I understand where u coming from since the label is glorifying itself a bit too much, but I think they did a great job. Thanks also for the info about dhaanto, too bad the philosophical side is barely known. Are there books about it?

  19. No doubt the label has, indeed, done a great job. Kudos also go to Redsea Cultural Foundation for its colossal archival work, which is hardly acknowledged in the press.

    I'm not aware of any books about dhaanto. The university library in Mogadishu had in the '80s a number of theses dealing with Somali culture, including music. That's where I first saw an extensive account on dhaanto as a social philo., but I haven't seen them ever since. Anyone with copies or info, please share.