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?
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.
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?
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...|
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|
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)