Thanks to Roskow Kretschmann of Black Pearl Records for passing on a unique historical recording, the LP Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era (Radio Mogadishu SBSLP-100) issued in 1972 in the first flush of Somalia's "Scientific Socialist Revolution."
Mohammad Siad Barre (right) came to power in Somalia on October 21, 1969 as the result of a coup d'etat following the assassination of Abdirachid Ali Shermarke, Somalia's second president. The governing Somali Revolutionary Council undertook a number of arguably progressive tasks such as standardizing the Somali language and making efforts to lessen the role of clans in Somali society.
Close ties with the Soviet Union, the adoption of "Marxism-Leninism" as the ruling ideology and the development of a Stalinoid "personality cult" around Siad Barre obscured what was basically an old-fashioned military dictatorship with grievous violations of human rights and mounting popular opposition from the mid-1970s on. Following Somalia's defeat by Ethiopian and Cuban troops during the Ogaden War of 1977-78, Somalia broke with the Eastern bloc and aligned itself with the United States. Subsequently the banner of "Scientific Socialism" in the Horn of Africa would be borne by Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Mariam's Dergue.
Opposition to Siad Barre's regime had reached a fever pitch by the late 1980s and he was overthrown by Mohammad Farah Aidid's United Somali Congress on January 26, 1991. The resulting chaos in Somalia is well-known, with various armed groups jockeying for power in the years since. Siad Barre died in Lagos on January 2, 1995.
Not only are vinyl recordings of any kind from Somalia hard to come by, I'm fascinated by Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era as a historical artifact. I asked our friend Sanaag, who was so helpful in the posts "Somali Mystery Funk" and "More Somali Funk," for his insights. Here are his thoughts:
. . . As you've already noticed, the tracks on the album are mainly contemptible praise songs for Siad Barre's ego. The lyrics are very poetic but, the anti-apartheid song and parts of "Gobanimo" and "Soomaalida Maanta" excepted, they are further devoid of any praiseworthy substance. So, I won't dwell long on their content. Instead, I'll try to shed some light on the context.
Since time immemorial, poetry has been the primary means of mass communication and cultural expression in Somali society. It's highly valued and has a tremendous impact on all walks of life. So much so that, according to an Amnesty International report dating from early 90's, poetry (and not the warlords) was the foremost weapon that tumbled the Somali military regime from it's high and haughty throne!
Siad Barre and his Jaalleyaal (comrades) understood the power of that tool all too well and tried to exploit it to promote their cause. They had initially a progressive agenda and rhetoric based on justice, socio-economic development, equal opportunities for all, protection and promotion of women's and minorities' rights etc. The political discourse was pregnant with noble promises and the expectations were high. Gutted by the corruption and nepotism rampant during the preceding civilian governments, many Somalis were enthusiastic about the new 'revolutionary course' and many artists lauded Siad Barre's initial goodwill and positive intentions. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before oppression, fear and mutual distrust were all the midwife could announce to the parturient crowds.
The artists on this series were all members of Waaberi, the house-band of the Ministry of Information and National Guidance. The name says it all: Propaganda and indoctrination! It was a large troupe with hundreds of members embracing dramaturgy, folklore dance and music.
It seems the ones on this album were carefully selected to rally support for the military regime. They were among the most popular in that period and, equally or maybe even more important, they came from practically all regions and clans. Their incipient stance in favour of the military regime, as depicted in these songs, may be genuine, fake, forced ... or all three at the same time, as dictatorial schizo-paranoia has its unfathomable ways. However, poet and playwright Sangub (composer of "Soomalida Maanta" & "Midab Gumeysi Diida") is to my knowledge the only one in this bunch who never disavowed Siad Barre's atrocities. That's why he's strongly despised across the board, notwithstanding his impressive and diverse body of literary work. The other protagonists in this album spoke their mind in subsequent songs and were, along with many others, arrested and/or exiled.
For instance, Abdi Muhumud Amin (composer of "Aynaanka Hay" & "Ha Iilan") was a prolific songwriter and a highly respected poet-playwright. A teenage member of the anti-colonial Somali Youth League (SYL) in the 40's and 50's, he composed many patriotic songs geared towards fighting against colonialism. Disenchanted with the post-independence civilian authorities, dominated by depraved SYL stalwarts, he soon switched into instigating the masses to rise up against the homegrown neo-colonialists. When the Armed Forces toppled the civilians in 1969, he sided with them and composed revolutionary songs. Only to realize within a few years that Siad Barre's regime was as nefarious as the ones it replaced and his criticism was ubiquitous and fierce. He later joined the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), the first armed opposition to Siad Barre's reign. Given his courageous and hapless track record, It's no wonder that Abdi was repeatedly imprisoned by the successive colonial, civilian and military administrations in Somalia. He died in 2008 in exile in Kenya where his funeral was attended by thousands of mourners, friends and foes alike.
Speaking of exile, Abdi was the composer of a song you previously asked about that I've already mailed to you - "Dalkeygow!" (Oh, my land!) by Faadumo Qaasim:
Faadumo Qaasim - Dalkeygow!
This is the passage telling why (s)he chose to live as a refugee:
Check out the oud solo starting at about 3:30; it summarizes this sad story pretty well.Here is Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era, with explanations of the songs from the liner notes:
. . . Oh, my land!
I didn't leave you as a tourist
No paradise on earth can replace you
In my body and soul
In my head and heart
Why am I roaming about in foreign countries?
Why am I obliged to beg and hold my hands up for strangers?
Why did I choose to live like a damned stateless person?
Why is it in my interest to opt for the status of a cursed refugee?
Oh, my land!
When clans and factions attacked each other
When relatives, friends and neighbours
Stabbed each other in the back and belly
When peace was denied and denigrated
When elders were not spared
When children were sent to the front
When all it belched was concentrated poison
That is when I had no choice
But to cross the borders
To seek a safe haven
To save my life . . .
"This song is one of the highly valued and widely spread songs of the New Era composed by the nationalist artist, Abdi Muhumud and sung by himself with the help of the Waaberi chorus. This widely admired song which met international recognition of many artists from friendly countries is dedicated to the beloved leader and Father of the Nation, Jaalle Maj. Mohamed Siad Barre. Its main theme goes: 'The right path you have shown us; Our beloved leader march on; Our triumphant cause be its maintainer; Towards ultimate victory lead us ever":