Saturday, August 7, 2010

Somali Songs of the "New Era"




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:


. . . 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 . . .
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:

"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":


"The composer of this number, Hussein Aw Farah, is one of the outstanding Revolutionary and patriotic songs composers in the Somali Democratic Republic. In this song he points out the reason why the Armed Forces, with the overwhelming support of the Somali people, took over the power from the corrupt civilian regimes who misruled the country for nine years. He explains that our sovereignty was in danger of total collapse, but the Armed Forces are now ready to defend it at the cost of their lives":


"These are the first words of the song: 'A Revolution dawned in Somalia today - October 21st - and is taking gigantic strides toward progress every year, every day, every hour and every wink.' This song, composed by the talented composer Mohamoud Abdillahi Singub, marks the international cause of the Revolution in Somalia as can be observed in the first few words. It also emphasizes Somalia's call for equality for the whole of mankind without arrogance and domination by some over others, for the elimination of colonialism; for international effort toward such elimination and for the execution of the human principles asserting the right of self-`determination of various peoples in every part of the world":


"This is one of the numerous Revolutionary songs aimed at encouraging the Father of the Nation, Jaalle Maj. General Mohamed Siad Barre, to hold high the banner of the blessed Revolution and to fight against colonialism and all its traces. The composer Abdi M. Amin, who has been honoured for his Revolutionary thoughts, again puts more emphasis in his words which goes: "Forward ever, Backward Never!":


"This song was composed by Mohamoud Abdillahi Singub & sung by Waaberi Artists with Abdi Ali Baalwan & Daleis in the leading role. the composer calls the African leaders to be united against the evils of colonialism, imperialism and Apartheid. The first words of this song point out why colonialism finds its way in Africa. 'Without strong bulwark, Ian Smith would have not dared to snatch off Rhodesia, nor Portugal tried to stay in Angola and Mozambique and to perpetuate genocide against African people, not the memory of the invisible knives to kill the freedom of Guinea in the dark faded away yet. We are also aware of the plight of Africans in South Africa":


Download Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era, complete with cover & liner notes, here.

20 comments:

Z j A k said...

Compliment John , what a masterpiece ! All the best

Z j A k said...

I love this record !!! Your post is of course 'best post this week' on >jammagica< for the second anniversary of the blog , what a gift, thankxxL !

John B. said...

Congrats on Jammagica's second birthday. It just so happens that tomorrow (August 9) is the 3rd anniversary of Likembe. I'm not planning anything special though.

Sanaag said...

John, an old friend mailed me this: http://hypem.com/list/5310 . Based on the number of listeners who loved the tracks on that site, it seems the posting is already quite popular.

Take care,
Sanaag

Sam said...

So good!

Anonymous said...

Really an awesome tape! Doesn't happen often I find good Somali music on the web. If you have the opportunity please, please post more ...

Thanks

Tom

Perrata 2000 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andreas Wetter said...

@Perrata 2000,
this is in fact not totally true. Somaliland has a government since 1991. And just recently it experienced a peaceful and democratic change of power after elections.

@John, I just discovered this post today (I was too busy during the last weeks). I think I have some of the recordings on cassettes. But since these cassettes are usually without any information expect the name of the interpret (in most cases Fadumo Qasim), it is difficult to do anything with it. So your contribution is highly welcomed!

Art of Peace Collective said...

Brilliant! Thanks John for the music. Thank you also Sanaag for the words!

" 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!"

I find this amazing. Do you remember what the report was called? I'd love to see a copy. Also, what do you have to say to this

"This political culture [of warlords] is consistent with Somali traditional values and with oral poetry that praises dominance by force asserted in the battlefield and looting of those who are defeated"

which I read in another report here:http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/refuge/article/viewFile/21676/20349

Here we have two reports basically saying the opposite thing!

The subject of Somali poetry is fascinating though - any recomendations about where to start researching the topic?

Thanks and peace

Sanaag said...

Peace,

Thanks for the reaction! Unfortunately, I don't know what the report is called. I attended in 93 or 94 an evening in Amsterdam on the civil war in Somalia. One of the speakers was an AI representative who cited passages in that report, including a quote or more to the effect of my paraphrasing here. Unlike the foreigners, Somali attendees were not surprised as this is in line with what was already known. Throughout the Somali history, powerful people and institutions were ousted by means of (inflammatory) poetry. Even a single (misconstrued) poem called "Leexo" is believed to have brought down the Gov't in 1967 (tinyurl.com/3efn6y4). That's why I didn't bother about the AI report... until I wanted to look at it when I was writing the commentary for this post, but I couldn't find it online. Likewise, I remember that AI adopted in the 70s and 80s Somali artists and poet-playwrights, such as Abdi Muhumed Amin, as prisoners of conscience and campaigned for their release. Here again, I couldn't find anything online. This pre-digital-era material is apparently not (yet) digitized. Hopefully it'll be available soon and I'll let you know if I find it.

It seems the report you've linked to is repeatedly taking short curves. The author may have been wrong-footed by lack of sources on the subject as he clearly bases his assertion solely on a short report from '91; it's also possible he just wanted to drive a specific point home... In any case, one can certainly find Somali poems and songs praising or denouncing a wide range of topics, including war and peace. Nevertheless, "dominance by force asserted in the battlefield and looting of those who are defeated" is not consistent with any Somali trad. value I know of. Quite on the contrary! While defending oneself is a strong value in Somali culture and the battles won are often lauded in poetic or prosaic forms (mainly serving as a historical record), treating the defeated equitably and mercifully is also applauded as a noble virtue and is often glorified.

Traditionally, conflicts are normally tackled through a centuries-old customary law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xeer). Trad. courts don't have the means to enforce the law (effectively). In this light, I can imagine that looting may be excused only as a last resort, i.e. when an aggressor/looter refuses to make the compensations ordered by the court and is defeated in an ensuing conflict - with the restriction that the spoils shouldn't exceed the initial loss. Imo, that's not different from what modern powers do in comparable cases.

Where to start? Not much is published in foreign languages or online; try the following:

1. Articles
- Several articles on poetry : http://www.mbali.info/docs.htm
- Introduction: alturl.com/wxqhe
- Nomenclature: alturl.com/jed87
- Translations: alturl.com/zu3q2
- About combat/duels online: alturl.com/z87ba
- A land of bards: alturl.com/7rmgk

2. Books
- Anthology: alturl.com/hv9hy
- Nationalism: alturl.com/7zbwf
- Women's Voices in A Man's World: alturl.com/b9jwx
- War and peace: /alturl.com/jrvpj
- Therapeutic: alturl.com/isgo3

Google books:
- Heelloy: modern poetry and songs of the Somali
- A Pastoral Democracy: a study of pastoralism and politics among the northern Somali of the Horn of Africa
- Songs and politics in Eastern Africa

3. Younger generations:
- Poems: alturl.com/3awfp
- Forum: alturl.com/bwutj

Hopefully you'll find in the above some helpful leads.

Take care!

Sanaag said...

Peace,

Thanks for the reaction! Unfortunately, I don't know what the report is called. I attended in 93 or 94 an evening in Amsterdam on the civil war in Somalia. One of the speakers was an AI representative who cited passages in that report, including a quote or more to the effect of my paraphrasing here. Unlike the foreigners, Somali attendees were not surprised as this is in line with what was already known. Throughout the Somali history, powerful people and institutions were ousted by means of (inflammatory) poetry. Even a single (misconstrued) poem called "Leexo" is believed to have brought down the Gov't in 1967 (tinyurl.com/3efn6y4). That's why I didn't bother about the AI report... until I wanted to look at it when I was writing the commentary for this post, but I couldn't find it online. Likewise, I remember that AI adopted in the 70s and 80s Somali artists and poet-playwrights, such as Abdi Muhumed Amin, as prisoners of conscience and campaigned for their release. Here again, I couldn't find anything online. This pre-digital-era material is apparently not (yet) digitized. Hopefully it'll be available soon and I'll let you know if I find it.

It seems the report you've linked to is repeatedly taking short curves. The author may have been wrong-footed by lack of sources on the subject as he clearly bases his assertion solely on a short report from '91; it's also possible he just wanted to drive a specific point home... In any case, one can certainly find Somali poems and songs praising or denouncing a wide range of topics, including war and peace. Nevertheless, "dominance by force asserted in the battlefield and looting of those who are defeated" is not consistent with any Somali trad. value I know of. Quite on the contrary! While defending oneself is a strong value in Somali culture and the battles won are often lauded in poetic or prosaic forms (mainly serving as a historical record), treating the defeated equitably and mercifully is also applauded as a noble virtue and is often glorified.

Traditionally, conflicts are normally tackled through a centuries-old customary law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xeer). Trad. courts don't have the means to enforce the law (effectively). In this light, I can imagine that looting may be excused only as a last resort, i.e. when an aggressor/looter refuses to make the compensations ordered by the court and is defeated in an ensuing conflict - with the restriction that the spoils shouldn't exceed the initial loss. Imo, that's not different from what modern powers do in comparable cases...

Sanaag said...

"The subject of Somali poetry is fascinating though - any recomendations about where to start researching the topic?"

Well, not much is published in foreign languages or online; try the following:

1. Articles
- Several articles on poetry : http://www.mbali.info/docs.htm
- Introduction: alturl.com/wxqhe
- Nomenclature: alturl.com/jed87
- Translations: alturl.com/zu3q2
- About combat/duels online: alturl.com/z87ba
- A land of bards: alturl.com/7rmgk

2. Books
- Anthology: alturl.com/hv9hy
- Nationalism: alturl.com/7zbwf
- Women's Voices in A Man's World: alturl.com/b9jwx
- War and peace: /alturl.com/jrvpj
- Therapeutic: alturl.com/isgo3

Google books:
- Heelloy: modern poetry and songs of the Somali
- A Pastoral Democracy: a study of pastoralism and politics among the northern Somali of the Horn of Africa
- Songs and politics in Eastern Africa

3. Younger generations:
- Poems: alturl.com/3awfp
- Forum: alturl.com/bwutj

Hopefully you'll find in the above some helpful leads.

Take care!

Art of Peace Collective said...

Wow Sanaag! I don't know how to thank you for this wonderfully detailed, considerate response - it's certainly more than I ever expected.

Those links are excellent! Your insights and goodwill are an inspiration for me, so much so that I am determined to organise something here where I live using some of that insight.

I think it's very relevant in South Africa, considering the current climate here, that one
of only noteworthy songs lyrics wise is in support of the
anti-apartheid struggle, and another about life as a refugee.

There is a very nasty xenophobic attitude which has seen the grievences of the poor turned on foreigners who are used as scapegoats for the failure of "the rainbow nation" - and the successful Somalian shopowners have been especially targeted.

Maybe poetry & song can be used to remind the people of their history - and the importance of unity!

Sanaag said...

You make me blush,(wo)man! Don't worry, nobody can see the red dapples on my face. I'm really flattered!

Before we'd to leave home, a colleague of mine was in the process of translating Sepamla's "The Soweto I Love" into Somali. I don't know if the project ever came to fruition but The Soweto Poetry movement, which was a compulsory part of the lit. curriculum in my schooldays, illuminated my soul when these unfortunate scapegoat-incidents were dominating the news. "The Blues is You in Me"! We'd never underestimate the healing powers of poetic hope and, in the face of petty man-made adversity, unity is definitely a way to go.

Is that Johnny Dyani watching over your site? Wishing you all the best! Hamba kahle!

Art of Peace Collective said...

So you guys were all studying the Soweto brothers! Things have really changed...

Dyani used to talk about how everything, from louis armstrong to fela kuti was all part of a common "great black music" - which was actually a widely held idea back then.

We used to support the freedom struggles in Zimbabwe, in Mozambique, we used to read the literature from all over continent and beyond.

Now it seems like people don't even care what happens to their neighbour, let alone the people of their neighbouring countries.

It's moments like this, blogs like likembe and people like you that show me that those ancient fires have not been completely extinguished just yet - and this is why I have to thank you so strongly.

Keep travelling the spaceways!

Sanaag said...

You're wholeheartedly welcome! It's def. deplorable that nowadays many people/governments don't see further than their backyard. I think Sipho Sepamla (fore)saw the implications of such a ravine as he includes all who share the same cause/ideals/values, irrespective of their specifics, by addressing them as the Blues People:

I want to holler the how-long blues
Because we are the blues people all
The white man bemoaning his burden
The black man offloading the yoke
The blues is you in me

All the best!

P.S. "Here we have two reports basically saying the opposite thing!". Could you please give the titles of these reports or links online? Thanks!

Art of Peace Collective said...

I remember doing a recital in school (not for literature class but "Life Orientation"!) of Sipho Sepamla's poem "Da same da same" (where he echoes Shakespeare!)

I mean for sure now
all da peoples is make like God
an' da God I knows for sure
He make avarybudy wit' one heart

So now
You see a big terrible terrible
how one man make anader man feel
da pain he doesn't feel hisself
for sure no dats da whole point

Sometime you wanna know how I meaning for
is simple
when da nail of say da t'orn tree
scratch little bit of da skin

only one t'ing come for sure
red blood
dats for sure da same for avarybudy

so for sure now
you doesn't look anader man in de eye

My colleagues were certainly entertained by the accent I put on but unfortunately it seems too few of my brothers are listening to the message if they are able to set their neighbors on fire without feeling the slightest bit of shame

The reports are the Amnesty one you referred to claiming poetry helped overthrow those in power and the one I linked earlier to alleging poetry assisted those in power.

Peace to you comrade Sanaag

Sanaag said...

Hello John, hope all is fine.

Sad news: Faadumo Qaasim, featured in this post, passed away on 6 October 2011 in London, after a sudden and short sickbed (a couple of days) of which the cause couldn't be clarified. Her legacy, spanning over 5 decades, covered a wide range of topics - from protest and peacemaking songs to love ballads in Somali, Swahili, Arabic, Urdu, Chinese... - and remains one of the highest respected and most poignant in Somali music. Sh'll be grievously missed. AUN / R.I.P.!


- 1971: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lh3zX03NhUU&feature=related

- '80s/'90's: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbvZaxkjxzc

- Surprise: "Dalkeygow" straight from this post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVsd4F-FtzY

Sanaag said...

Hello John, hope all is fine.

Sad news: Faadumo Qaasim, featured in this post, passed away on 6 October 2011 in London, after a sudden and short sickbed (a couple of days) of which the cause couldn't be clarified. Her legacy, spanning over 5 decades, covered a wide range of topics - from protest and peacemaking songs to love ballads in Somali, Swahili, Arabic, Urdu, Chinese... - and remains one of the highest respected and most poignant in Somali music. Sh'll be grievously missed. AUN / R.I.P.!


- 1971: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lh3zX03NhUU&feature=related

- '80s/'90's: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbvZaxkjxzc

- Surprise: "Dalkeygow" straight from this post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVsd4F-FtzY

John B. said...

Thanks, Sanaag. I'm sorry to hear this sad news.