Monday June 19, 2017
audio artifacts were excavated and recalled from their foreign shelters
only very recently. Some of those recordings are now kept safe in the
10,000-strong cassette tape archive of the Red Sea Foundation, the
largest collection of Somali cassettes in the world, in Somaliland's
capital, Hargeisa. The Ostinato Records team digitized a large portion
of the archive, distilling 15 songs that reveal the panoramic diversity
of styles and sophistication of Somali musicianship.
1988, on the eve of a two decade civil war, Somalia's authoritarian
ruler Siad Barre launched punishing air strikes on the north of the
country, known today as Somaliland, in response to agitations for
independence. The bombing leveled the entire city. Barre targeted Radio
Hargeisa to prevent any kind of central communication system that could
organize a resistance.
With the attack imminent, a few brave
radio operators and dedicated vanguards of Somali culture knew the
archives, containing over half a century of Somali music had to be
preserved. Thousands upon thousands of cassette tapes and master reels
were quickly removed from the soon-to-be targeted buildings. They were
dispersed to neighboring countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia, and
buried deep under the ground to withstand even the most powerful
"We buried them in the ground so the bomb's won't hit," one former leading journalist with Radio Hargeisa told us.
millennia of trade in the Indian Ocean invited the cultures of the
Arabian Peninsula, Persia, India, Southeast Asia, and even China to
slowly work their melodies, scales, and sounds into Somalia's rich
musical repertoire. Each track is a keen illustration of a carefully
refined, rarely revealed cultural crossroads of the world.
archive offered a living window to the Mogadishu of the 1970s and 1980s,
when the coastal capital glistened as the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean,"
when wine flowed freely. With its iconic ivory-colored architecture and
crescent beaches overlooking the Indian Ocean, Mogadishu was home to the
lavish Al Uruba and Jazira sea side hotels, where youthful bands like
Iftiin, Sharero, and Dur Dur serenaded cosmopolitan crowds at some of
the most elegant nightclubs in East Africa. These damaged cassettes
evoked memories of the revered national theater, where Waaberi Band
provided unforgettable soundtracks.
Mogadishu's nightlife culture
was rich and booming. Raucous rhythms, rugged horns, celestial
synthesizers, and stalking baselines came alive alongside majestic
voices like Mahmud "Jerry" Hussen and powerful and adored female singers
like Faadumo Qaasim, Hibo Nuura, and Sahra Dawo. Somali music of this
era is set apart by its empowerment of women. Female singers, often more
prolific than their male counterparts, are inseparable from its
evolution. Half the compilation is sung by women, their voices often
compared in Somali poetry to the sweetness of broken dates. Poetry,
intrinsic to the cultural fabric, forms the foundation of Somali
Somali music's golden age, curiously, occurred under
a socialist military dictatorship, which effectively nationalized the
music industry. A thriving scene was owned entirely by the state. Music
was recorded for and by national radio stations and only disseminated
through public broadcasts or live performances. Private labels were
virtually non-existent. This music was never made available for mass
release. Almost all recorded material came from original masters or
homemade recordings of radio broadcasts. As a result, most of it has
never been heard outside Somalia and the immediate region.
the Cold War, Somalia drifted between Soviet and American support - and
a decade of U.S. backing allowed soul and funk to capture the
imagination of Somali youth, adding the final touch on this masterpiece
This project took our team to Mogadishu, Hargeisa, Djibouti,
and across the Somali diaspora in Europe, the United States, and the
Middle East. For the last year, from Minnesota to Mogadishu to Malaysia,
we have tracked down the musicians, songwriters, composers, former
government officials, and quirky personalities that colored Somali music
life. Their words and stories are revealed in a 15,000-word liner note
booklet - the only document of its kind to cover this era of Somali
music in depth.
Alongside the story of Somalia's music before the
civil war, the selection is also focused on the pan-Somali sound.
Spread over much of the Horn of Africa, Somali language and culture
transcend arbitrary borders. Somali singers from Djibouti were at home
This compilation seeks to revive the rightful
image, history, and identity of the Somali people, detached from war,
violence, piracy, and the specter of a persistent threat. These 15
tracks should serve as a necessary starting point.