Sunday, January 2, 2011

More From the Ministry of Information and National Guidance




Note: This post was updated with better-quality rips of the original vinyl on July 26, 2012.

Our good friend Sanaag comes through once again with Famous Songs: Hits of the New Era (Radio Mogadishu SBSLP-102, 1973), Volume Three in the series that began with Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era, one of Likembe's most popular recent posts.

These records were issued under the aegis of the Somali Ministry of Information and National Guidance to rally support for the military government of Mohammad Siad Barre, which in the early '70s had "socialist" pretensions. For all their propagandistic aspects, it would be a mistake to dismiss their musical qualities. Waaberi, the Somali super-group featured on Somalia Sings and Famous Songs, pre-dated the 1969 military coup and was a training ground for many great singers, including Xaliimo Khaliif Magool, Maryam Mursal and Sahra Axmed. Moreover, some of Somalia's greatest poets and songwriters, in a burst of revolutionary enthusiasm, contributed to this project. Like Somalia's "revolutionary socialism," this support was destined not to last.

By the way, diligent readers/listeners may be interested in this blog post (also brought to my attention by Sanaag). As far as I can understand what this fellow is trying to say, he's drawing a parallel between Siad Barre's dictatorship in Somalia and the current U.S. Administration. Or something like that. Although his logic seems a little convoluted to me, I'm glad he appreciates what we're offering here at Likembe.

Heres is Sanaag's take on Famous Songs: Hits of the New Era:

[Break.jpg]
A couple of the songs are in the same vein as in Somalia Sings Songs of the New Era but there are notable differences. I'll try to provide some context while commenting on the tracks.

"Aabbe Siyaad" ("Father Siyaad") is sung by Ubaxa Kacaanka ("The Revolutionary Flowers"), destitute and often orphaned children raised in government-sponsored centres. In this song, they are deploring the hardships they and the whole nation had to endure before that period. They're also expressing their gratitude and loyalty to their adoptive father, i.e. Siad Barre, for the "striking structural changes overall" and particularly for "the light he brought into their lives". Although caring for these children was an excellent deed, the flipside of the medal was that they were horribly indoctrinated to the extent that some eventually had to spy on their families and friends. I'm not familiar with composer Cabdikariin Faarax and I couldn't find anything about him.

Waaberi & Ubaxa Kacaanka - Aabbe Siyaad

"Itaageer Allahayow" ("God, Stand by Me!"): Composer Maxamed Cali Kaariye (left) was a fertile songwriter and playwright. He's arguably the king of the love genre of his generation. In this track, he's exhibiting his admiration for the initial achievements of the military regime while putting the emphasis on the necessity for each Somali to support the revolution by contributing his/her best to the development of the whole society. In short: One for all, all for one and god/the revolution for us all. N.B. The title is probably wrongly printed. "Itaageer Allahayow" was another love hit from the same period sung by Mooge. If my memory doesn't fail me, this track is called "U Bogaadinee Allhayow!" ("By God, We Congratulate Them!").

Waaberi & Students - Itaageer Allahayow

"Magac U Yaal" ("Pronoun"): The composer is Maxamud Cabdullahi Ciise ("Sangub," right) who, despite his immense contribution to Somalia's contemporary poetry and prose, fell from popular grace by allegedly supporting the dictatorship till the bitter end. The track is dealing with the widespread joy that came with the official standardization of the Somali language in 1972. Somali is an agglutinative language with a rather complex grammar.This song introduces a number of ingenious and dexterous tricks to the trade of remembering and applying the new grammatical rules correctly.
Prior to the formalization, a score of scripts existed for the language - some for centuries. The discussions, overheated debates and tug-of-wars around this issue started in the late 19th century but couldn't materialize because of differences in interest and allegiance. For practical convenience, an 'independent' advisory committee set up right after the independence finally chose one of the Latin-based alphabets. That decree didn't go down well with some of the supporters of the original Somali scripts or Arabic-based alphabets. The ensuing conflict had eventually led to the imprisonment of some cacophonous antagonists, who were supposedly offered to set an example for any prospective dissonance:


"Tolweynaha Hantiwadaagga Ah" ("The Socialist Community") is in spirit comparable to "The Internationale" and calls for justice and equality by and for all humans, as well as solidarity among the working classes.

I couldn't find when exactly the song was written but I believe it predates the coup d'état of 1969. The composer, Abdi Muhumud Amin (left), was a genuine socialist and a quintessential patriot who firmly believed that the Government should use its authority and resources justly, and primarily to empower the poor, the powerless and the voiceless silent majority. In addition to the general indignation towards the egregious crimes committed by the regime, his longstanding personal commitment to high morality was probably why he was extremely offended by Siad Barre. The latter abused socialism and other ideologies merely to deceitfully contrast himself with the preceding corrupt and loathed authorities, therefore hoping to bolster his power base.

Under the illusion that Barre and his minions embraced socialism, Abdi initially composed revolutionary songs for which he later publicly apologized and even nullified by composing new songs with exactly the opposite meaning. For example, "Caynaanka Hay" ("Hold the Bridle/Lead Us") on the album you've already posted became "Caynaanka Daa" ("Let the Bridle Go/Resign"). His scorching criticism of the system and personal attacks on Barre became subsequently legendary material. It culminated in the staging of his play "Muufo mise Laankruusar" ("Dry Bread versus Landcruisers") opposing goatee-sporting, Gucci-dressed and SUV-driving elites to the common man and woman, some of whom couldn't even afford a dry bread. It's widely believed this was one of the plays that incited the people to rise up against the tyranny, hence precipitating the downfall of the dictatorship. It would amount to a miracle if this drama was approved by the omnipresent Censorship Board. It's more plausible the artists circumvented the long claws of the bureaucratic red tape by presenting a different play or programme for the customary preemptive inspections.

The play premiered on 1st May 1979, in the presence of the plenary upper echelons of the government and the top brass of the army. As the theme of the production was crystal clear right from the very first sentences, some of the disconcerted and vexed all-loyalist spectators jumped up immediately to interrupt the performance. It's alleged that the splendid conductor Barre faced the audience and mockingly rebutted with: "Let them have their moment of glory and make us laugh. Nobody here agrees with them, anyway, and we shouldn't spoil this festive Labour Day". Maestro, let the festivities begin! Or not? Well, Barre's honourable admonition and solemn vow, for which he's rewarded with the single standing ovation of that fateful night, vanished like vapour. Abdi and most of the artists were arrested on the stage (long) before the curtains fell. The celebration was thus metamorphosed into a tragedy, with a brilliant final chord: An original method to preserve a night for the posterity saw the daylight! (Note: See update below).


"Beletweyne Pts 1 & 2": This is an epic about a love at first sight. The singer catches a glimpse of a stunning beauty queen in Beletweyne, a city in south-central Somalia. It was during a short working visit "in the prosperous, blithe, rapturous, golden days" and he instantly falls in love with her. Their paths cross each other once more and they exchange very brief but amorously charged amenities. Unfortunately, the "cursed, insensitive leader of the group" decides they'd be leaving on the very same day and his appeals and pretexts were not heeded. The story ends dramatically as our Cupido's profound yearnings remained (involuntarily) unrequited. In fact, he never sets eyes on the obscure object of his desires again and he's still looking for his Beerlula (a nickname meaning "bellydancer", symbol of freedom and freedom of expression). He "now realizes, like Boodhari (Somalia's Romeo) did ages ago, that love can be an incurable disease, a dagger in your heart and liver, a reason to commit suicide. . ."

As of mid-70s, a growing number of observers interpreted it as a depiction of the various stages of the military dictatorship - from the initial immediate infatuation, through the subsequent intense disappointment to the prediction of the final demise of the crown and the current on-going disaster. That's why it's branded with the ominous term "kacaandiid" (anti-revolutionary) and was banned from the airwaves. Ironically, the roots of this ill-chosen compound word is "kacis" (to rise up) and "diidis" (to reject). As people and language are both endowed with the capacity to remember and retaliate, it's thus only a matter of happy coincidence that those frequent prohibitions consequently and justly abetted the public appetite to rebel and to shower the forbidden fruits with more (underground) exposure and accolades. "Beletweyne" was indeed the most played song in the whole decade. It's banned from the official channels but the volume surged up in homes, cafes, buses, street corners etc. If they wanted to arrest everyone who defied the ban, they would have been obliged to transform all government offices into prisons:

Waaberi & Xasan Aadan Samatar - Beletweyne Pt. 1

Waaberi & Xasan Aadan Samatar - Beletweyne Pt. 2


As far as I know, Maxamed Ibraahim Warsamehe ("Hadraawi," left), composer of "Beletweyne," one the most famous and highly esteemed living poets and playwrights in Somalia, declined all requests to provide footnotes as to to the whys and hows behind the lyrics. However, he's well known for his vehement and unremitting protest against the dictatorship. He even passed more than a decade behind bars and in exile, including five years in solitary confinement in the notorious Qansax Dheere - Somalia's "Robben Island" where many dissidents were incarcerated. He left the country a few years after his release to join the Somali National Movement (SNM), the front that defeated Barre's army in the current secessionist Somaliland. He's nonetheless against the dismemberment of the country and didn't take part in any of the post-Barre political factions. Instead, he undertook many activities stressing the importance of unity and rule of law. For example, he organized an arduous "Long March for Peace" together with other bardic heavyweights belonging to all clans and regions who were joined along the way by an ever-growing number of citizens. They categorically declined to be protected by body guards, and that was tantamount to risking their lives in the face of the pervasive and undiscriminating war. Their premonition that peace couldn't strut with weapons paid off well. In (almost) all the districts they visited, the guns were briefly silenced and the marchers were welcomed with an overwhelming warmth and hospitality, as if they were long lost friends and relatives. A Somali proverb goes "Gabayaa geyi waa gubi karaa. Abwaan asay waa aasi karaa" ("A poet can set a land on fire. A poet can put an end to the mourning!") More on Hadraawi here.

Waaberi - Tolweynaha Hantiwadaagga Ah (Reprise)

Download Famous Songs: Hits of the New Era as a zipped file here. For more music like this, two songs from Volume Two in this series are available here.

Update: Sanaag writes, "Thanks to Baraxow who contacted me after this entry was posted. According to him, the play was staged again in the late 80s, at the sunset of Siad Barre's regime. It started with the following short poem, spoken in choir while pointing fingers at Siad Barre and the rest of the bigwigs:

Dalkan dadkiisii baannahayoo
Muufo maraqle baan dalbanaynaa
Laankruusarkiinna waan diidnayoo
Dacalladaan ka dalandalin doonnaa

Annagu weli* muufaan rabnaa
Muufo macaan baan rabnaa
Maraqaan ku dhuuqnaan rabnaa
Markan maqaloo yeelo miyir waasacan


We're the people of this land
We demand dry bread with sauce/soup
We reject/resent your Landcruisers
We'll throw them down a steep cliff

We still demand dry bread (or we demand dry bread from the saint)*
We demand delicious dry bread
We demand sauce/soup to imbibe/imbue it with
Listen this time and be wise and just
* The Somali word "weli" means both still and saint, a derogatory epithet for the big sinner/human rights violator Siad Barre.

Update 2: An interesting commentary on this post here.

Update 3: Liner notes available below (click to enlarge). Sanaag writes, ". . .
The sleeve notes are a real gem. Just like those on the other record, they are manipulated to say what the dictatorship wants to hear and not necessarily what the artists say in the songs. In popular speech and folktales, Siad Barre's leading ideologues are called Askar (Somali for non-commissioned officers or colnoial soldiers) and they prove that majestically. The basic tenets of (Somali) culture and socialism were apparently rocket science to those so-called intellectuals and culture connoisseurs. Even the Internationale was alien to Siad's finest "socialist" experts! Hilarious! It's reminiscent of Nuruddin Farah's trilogy 'Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship. . .'"



3 comments:

Sanaag said...

John,

Your remark on Waaberi is very relevant. All the more that, when it became clear the regime was just a classic dictatorship, most Waaberi artists became openly critical and many of them were arrested and /or exiled.

cisbio said...

Hail John B
blog master
dance music sentinel
the Chief of the Groove
Hail john B
Admiral of what is, on the internets, always
What you have, we receive, with thanks
Hail John B

Comb & Razor said...

Great stuff! I've been looking to get a lot deeper into the Somali music scene, and this is just the ticket!