Showing posts with label Somalia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Somalia. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Echoes of Mogadishu Past

Happy New Year! Once again I must apologize for the infrequency of posts here on Likembe. There is no one reason why the spirit hasn't moved me to write more often, but I've made a New Years resolution to step up the pace in 2013. As luck would have it, reader/listener Sanaag has provided us with yet another glimpse at the wonderful Somali music and theater scene of the 1980s. This is a world that has almost disappeared but that, hopefully, may be on the verge of a renaissance with the coming of a measure of stability to Somalia. Sanaag has been an invaluable contributor to Likembe over the years, and I'm happy to announce that he now has his own blog, Tix iyo Tiraab, where this originally appeared. Here's Sanaag:
Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir (Banaadir Entertainment Lions)was a popular theater troupe founded in the late 70s/early 80s by a group of veteran artists and fledgeling talents. The project was intended to integrate young and old, tradition and modernity - a sort of Scorsese/Levin's "Godfathers and Sons" avant la lettre... but here with the Godmothers and Daughters, too. Besides entertainment, LMB's main goal revolved around the preservation and dissemination of the performing arts heritage of Banaadir, the region comprising Mogadishu and its immediate surroundings. In their, alas, ephemeral existence, they produced about a dozen plays which were highly appreciated nationwide.

This tape carries the soundtrack of the mid-80s play "Xiddigtii Is Xujeysay" ("The Self-Denouncing Star"). In that period, drama productions were staged in theaters and open stadia, and spread on VHS. The play/film scores were, however, rarely released apart on tape. Given the sonic flaws, this k7 is probably a bootleg recorded live outdoors by an audience member - Somalia's number one hobby at the time.

The play was written by Faynuus Sheekh Daahir (left), a renowned theater actress and folk dancer. To the best of my knowledge, this is her only play. Nevertheless, if the material on this tape is anything to go by, she is apparently equally proficient in spinning poetic lyrics (and thought-provoking dialogues). Besides the title of the play, some tracks gladly betray the burlesque tragi-comedy and tackled a number of socio-political issues as well. Songs like "Naga Tag! Kac! Hooyaa? ("Get Lost! Rise Up! Got It?") ) and "Abidkaay Ammaan Ma Sheegin" ("I Never Dish Out [Unjustified] Praise Words") must have flagellated the dictatorial heartbeat into higher and haunted spheres. . .

From memory: The female star (Somalia?) and the male star (Freedom?) are in love with each other while a third protagonist (the dictator?) is moving heaven and earth to drive them apart. Its political significance lies n my opinion in the fact that it and similar mid-80s-dramas preceded and may have partially inspired the second wave of armed opposition groups

All the tracks are sung or poetically recited by Axmed Naaji Sacad, Maxamed Cabdow Saalim and mainly Faadumo Qaasim, a brightly shining star since the '60s who sadly passed away last year. R.I.P !

For each play LMB toured with a different musical ensemble, almost always consisting of traditional and modern instrumentalists. The musical direction of this piece was in the hands of the aforementioned multitalented Axmed Naaji Sacad (below right) whose great '70s band "Shareero" is playing the lead role.

The modern instruments are up front and I, for one, would be content with less Hohner organ and more roars by the local instruments. The music and singing are, however, often based on the notes of time-honoured traditional poetry, dance and music genres. In addition to the readily recognizable modern instruments, anyone who is familiar with Somali culture will also frequently detect in this tape and get tingled - from head to heels - by an impressive array of currently neglected traditional instruments.

Although sparsely used and often overwhelmed by the electric instruments, some local lions are still holding their own. Particularly the reeme (roaring drum), shagal (metal hoe-blades), shunuuf (vegetable ankle rattles), shambal(wooden clappers), malkad (flute), and sumaari (double clarinet) casually manage to swing to the forefront. These precious and endangered instruments are setting the pace by generating distinct rhythms and melodies (see genres below) to send a call to a group of colourfully clad folk dancers who respond with graciously intoxicating and sinuously serpentine movements... gently enticing the spectators (occasionally including Yours Truly) to the dance floor.

Those were the days...!

"Soo Xarakoo" ("Strut Out In Style") Put on your best suit, concoct your magic elixir and present your case for love. Genre: Batar/Botor.

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Soo Xarakoo

"Adaan Milkigaa Ahee" ("I Am All Yours") A double entendre. (Denunciation of) total submission to a spellbinding "suitor" Genre: Wiglo.

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Adaan Milkigaa Ahee

"Abidkaay Ammaan Ma Sheegin" ("I Never Dish Out [Unjustified] Praise Words"). Vocalists and instrumentalists exchange compliments while subtly emphasizing that gratuitous praise of the undeserving is nothing but self-deprecation. Genre: Sharax, Saylici

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Abidkaay Ammaan Ma Sheegin

"Naga Tag! Kac! Hooyaa?" ("Get Lost! Rise Up! Got It?"). Leaves no room for the imagination: The gun salvos, funeral processions, public rage... were in the mid-80s Somalia not yet pervasive but they're already an essential and gruesome part of the tyrannical policies and histrionics. Genre: Geblo shimbir.

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Naga Tag! Kac! Hooyaa?

"Diinle Kabiiroow" ("Diinle, The Great"). Disappointment in and fury towards the clique that usurps the key to your love/life/rights and a complaint about the chief and his entourage who are greedy, pompous, unreasonable, unjust... and don't listen to the wise elders. Genre: Kabeebey.

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Diinle Kabiiroow

"Hab I Soo Dheh" ("Jump Into My Arms"). The tragedy of unrequited love: He's hopelessly in love and she's diligently rejecting him. Genre: Walasaqo.

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Hab I Soo Dheh

"Haan Iyo Haruubkeed" ("Water Container and Its Cover/Milk Vessel and Its Lid") "United we stand! The lovebirds are tired of waiting for the blessing of the self-appointed chargés d'affaires and take matters into their own hands. Genre: Dhaanto.

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Haan Iyo Haruubkeed

"Waa Habeenkii Dhalashadaadee" ("It's Your Birthnight"). Happy with the decision they made in the last track and the rebirth of their freedom. Genre: Saddexley.

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Waa Habeenkii Dhalashadaadee

"Kun Qof Iiga Roonoow" ("More Valuable Than a Thousand Persons"). Boundless love. Genre: Niiko.

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Kun Qof Iiga Roonoow

"Sabraayaa Sedkii Hela" ("Patience Pays Off"). Those who are made for each other (lovers, people and their sovereignty...) always find each other. The two halves become One, no matter how long it takes. Genre: Hirwo.

Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Sabraayaa Sedkii Hela


PS. I'm not an expert and it's quite possible that my recognition of the multitude of Somali genres is, in some cases, off beat. Many genres ressemble each other and some are as deceptively similar as identical twins. I'd appreciate any corrections and additional info.

PPS. I've the impression a couple of tracks are missing. Anyone?

Download Xiddigtii Is Xujeysay as a zipped file here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Odds and Ends

Taking care of some unfinished business today. . . Many thanks to Ken Chijar Ekezie, who provides us with Part Two of the exceedingly rare "Yokolo" by Docteur Nico and Orchestre African Fiesta Sukisa (above). As far as I know, "Yokolo" has only been available in its entirety as Sides A & B of a single issued and re-issued (Sukisa 501 and Ngoma DNJ 5274) sometime in the late '60s. Part One was included on the Nigerian compilation Music From Zaïre Vol. 3 (Soundpoint SOP 043) which I posted here.

Here is "Yokolo Pt. 2":

Docteur Nico & Orchestre African Fiesta Sukisa - Yokolo Pt. 2

And here are Pts. 1 & 2 joined together:

Docteur Nico & Orchestre African Fiesta Sukisa - Yokolo Pts. 1 & 2

Loyal Likembe reader/listener Sanaag, who has done so much to enlighten us on the Somali music scene of the '70s and '80s, graces us once again with a better pressing of the LP Famous Songs: Hits of the New Era (Radio Mogadishu SBSLP-102, 1973), this time complete with liner notes! You can get it all here. And thanks once again, Sanaag!

Update: Many thanks to African Music Recycler for providing us with a scan of the sleeve for "Yokolo." It gives credit to "Docteur Nico & Orchestre African Fiesta." I'm fairly certain, though, thanks to Alistair Johnston's Docteur Nico Discography, that it is by African Fiesta Sukisa. This was Dr. Nico's band following his split with Rochereau, which gave rise to two orchestras, African Fiesta Sukisa and African Fiesta National.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Happier Days

Back with a reminder of much, much happier days in Somalia, our good friend Sanaag passes on almost 80 minutes worth of music by the legendary Afro-funk band Dur Dur, who were among the most popular groups in Mogadishu back in the '80s. You may remember them from this post, and this one. I understand that after the collapse of Somalia in 1991, vocalist Sahra Dawo and other "newer" members of the group relocated to Columbus, Ohio, USA, where they have a presence on Facebook. Sanaag reports that the other members of the "old guard" featured here are scattered all over the world, except Muktar "Idi" Ramadan who unfortunately passed away a few months ago in Saudi Arabia.

As usual for Somali recordings of this vintage, the audio quality of these songs is not up to modern standards, but I'm sure you'll agree that their musical and historical qualities more than compensate. Here's what Sanaag has to say about them:
Durdur's songs are almost always drenched in love. To the best of my knowledge, they didn't address social or political issues during the military dictatorship and that's why their lyrics didn't make a lasting impression on me or flare up my interest in the band; hence my sketchy knowledge about their work and background. I was really delighted with the post-Siad Barre cassette Andreas posted at Kezira, in which they've several socially engaged tracks.

These songs are mainly in southern vernacular languages. I hail from about 1100 kms further up North and, though I understand the basics fairly well, I don't have the required baggage to fathom the linguistic and literary subtleties inherent to these dialects. Neither can I contextualize the songs since I don't know if, as was common during the military dictatorship, some of the songs were meant as protest double entendres, were adopted as such by the general public, if events were associated with them etc. That's why I'd rather not venture into summarizing, let alone publicly interpreting, the lyrics. Nevertheless, all the songs are conspicuously about love and I've tried to translate the tracktitles. Corrections are, of course, most welcome!

The following six songs are from the soundtrack of "Rafaad iyo Raaxo" ("Misfortune and Comfort"), a 1986 tragicomedy that was also filmed a couple of years later. "Duruuf Maa Laygu Diidee" means "Rejected Due to My Circumstances." The vocals are by Muktar "Idi" Ramadan:

In this song vocalist Shimaali Axmed Shimaali pleads, "Oh, Saafi! I Won't let You Go" (Saafi is a female name):

"Waanada Waxtarkayga Waaye" means "This Advice Does me Good/I'm Well Advised." Vocals by Cabdullaahi Shariif Baastow & Maryan Naasir:

"Muraadkay Waa Hellee" means "We've Reached Our Goal." Vocals by Muktar "Idi" Ramadan & Sahra Dawo:

"Ma Hurdee" ("I Can't Sleep"). Vocals by Sahra Dawo & Muktar "Idi" Ramadan:

"Rafaad iyo Raaxo" ("Misfortune & Comfort"). Vocals by Sahra Dawo & Muktar "Idi"Ramadan:

These next songs are from two tapes without album or song titles. The track names are thus the popular titles under which the songs were dubbed by the public (see the post on Iftin). "Waxan Sugi Ma Helayaa?" ("Shall I Get What I'm Waiting For?") is also known as "Saqda Dhexe Riyadiyo Sariir Maran" ("Midnight Dream in an Empty Bed"). Vocals by Sahra Dawo:

"Shaacaan Ka Qaadaa" ("I'm Revealing all of it") is also known as "Shallay Ma Roonee" ("Remorse Is Pointless"). Vocals by Sahra Dawo & Cabdullaahi Shariif Baastow:

Dur Dur - Shaacaan Ka Qaadaa

"Rag Kaleeto Maa Kuu Riyaaqayee?" ("Are Other Men Admiring You?"), aka "Reerkaagaa Joogee" ("Stay With Your Family"). Vocals by Cabdullaahi Shariif Baastow:

Dur Dur - Rag Kaleeto Maa Kuu Riyaaqayee?

Cilmi Ismaaciil Liibaan (better known as Boodhari) is the main protagonist in a true love story that took place in in the 1930s in Berbera, a town in the current Somaliland. He was in his thirties when he fell head over heels in love with Hodon, a teenage girl whose parents were opposed to a relationship between the two due to the difference in age and social class; he worked in a bakery and she belonged to one of the richest families in the area. Hugely burdened and dismayed by the unrequited love, Boodhari composed numerous poems and songs about this forbidden love. Hodon eventually got married to another man and, though this is not corroborated by watertight evidence, Boodhari became so disconsolate that he finally committed suicide. It's not established beyond doubt that all the poems and songs attributed to Boodhari were indeed written by him, but his legend and compositions have certainly been part and parcel of Somali love stories ever since. The song "Boodhari Sidiisii" ("In Boodhari's Footsteps") is also known as "Maruun ii Bishaarey!" ("Surprise Me Once With Good News!"). The vocals are by Cabdullaahi Shariif Baastow:

"Doobnimaadey Maka Dogoownee" ("Getting Old Single") is also known as "Dersi Anaa Lahaa" ("I Need A Lesson [In Love]"). Vocals by Sahra Dawo:

Dur Dur - Doobnimaadey Maka Dogoownee

"Oh, Angelic Beauty!" Vocals by Cabdullaahi Shariif Baastow:

The title of this song means "A Joking Madman." Vocals by Cabdullaahi Shariif Baastow & Sahra Dawo:

"Waxla Aaminaan Jirin" ("Nobody To Confide In/NothingTo Trust"), aka "Is Yeelyeel" ("Simulation, Pretense"). Vocals by Sahra Dawo:

Download these songs as a zipped file here.

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:

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. . .'"

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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Heads Up

If you like the music of Somalia's Iftin and Dur Dur, featured some time ago in this space, let me direct your attention to Andreas Wetter's new blog Kezira, whose latest post features a whole cassette by Dur Dur, recorded some time in the early 1990s.

As Andreas tells it, the developing civil war in Somalia forced the group across the border to Ethiopia, where Africa was recorded and released by Elham Video Electronics in the provincial town of Negele. Vocalist Sahra Dawo, who has drawn raves hereabouts, features on several tracks.

While I'm at it, let me comment on the current state of the African music blogosphere, whose quality has advanced dramatically in the last couple of years. Notable in this regard are three sites -
African Music Treasures, Electric Jive and World Service, whose proprietors regularly grace us with their knowledge and insight. This is not to slight outstanding work also by Oro, Global Groove and Freedom Blues, whose copious postings of hard-to-find recordings have forced me to buy a new hard drive. I'm overwhelmed really - I just haven't had time to listen to all the great music that's come my way, thanks to these busy beavers.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Recent Blog Postings of Note

I've got a couple of posts in the hopper that will be ready to go in a day or two, but I wanted to bring to your attention a couple of worthy submissions over at other blogs.

At Matsuli Music Jonathan Ward of Excavated Shellac, inveterate collector of all things 78 RPM, gives us a wonderful collection of classic music from South Africa, Phata Phata: 78 rpm Records from the Birth of Mbaqanga. Amazingly, these recordings are all from the 1960s, long after 78s were phased out in most parts of the world. Well worth downloading!

I'm continually astonished at the stuff Matthew Lavoie over at African Music Treasures digs out of the Voice of America vaults. This time he's come up with some amazing 45s from early-'70s Somalia. Who would have thought such a thing existed? If you enjoyed the recordings by Iftin I put up here some time ago, hie thee over and check them out.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

More Somali Funk: Sahra Dawo & Durdur

I wrote in my first posting that through Likembe I sought to educate but also hoped to be educated. The response to the post Somali Mystery Funk has certainly borne out that expectation - in fact it's yielded an embarrassment of riches. Our friend Sanaag, who so kindly provided information on the songs in that posting, has answered a number of questions I posed to him, which provide essential background on Somali music. I specifically asked about Sahra Dawo (above), who sang lead on two of those tracks by Iftin, and the group Durdur, which she fronted. I'm just going to let Sanaag speak for himself. This is the first of several postings.

Sahra Dawo was a pop star in the 80's and probably up 'til now. As the lead singer of Durdur, she was very popular with the younger generations, specially teenagers and twentysomethings, including me at the time. I am not sure how she did with the general public. As far as I know, she didn't strike a strong chord with the older audience probably because of the obvious dissonance between her lyrics (often emotional) and music (usually joyful with sometimes an over-the-top acts in live performances).

Durdur (rivulet, creek, streamlet...) was simultaneously Iftin's little cousin and rival; they started their career in the late '70s or early '80s and were quite influneced by Iftin which was founded about a decade earlier, I think around 1970. I vaguely remember that some of Durdur's musicians had learnt their craft as trainees with/friends of Iftin.

In "Juba Juba Aaka Aka Sholo Lob" Sahra Dawo & Durdur are singing about their mutual love in a Southern dialect that I don't understand very well as I come from the North, a + 1000 km walk. The title sounds like a sort of Somali scat singing without any specific meaning. Juba or Jubba is the biggest river in Somalia. It's also the name of a famous hotel in Mogadishu where Durdur often performed. I believe some/many of their videos were recorded there:

By the way, this kind of music is quite popular in Somalia. It's actually the transcription of shareero music on modern instruments. Shareero is an old Somali instrument:

In comparison with many/most contemporary bands, Durdur & Iftin were quite atypical in the sense that their lyrics were often simple, almost exclusively about (the pains of) love and totally non-political. Iftin also sang about the importance of education (a ministerial obligation, I suppose) as illustrated in this song, "Toban Weeye Shaqalladu" (The Ten Vowels):

Iftin - Toban Weeye Shaqalladu

For most Somalis, the lyrics are at the very least as important as the music. 'The Nation of Poets' is one of Somalia's nicknames; hence the wild popularity of poetry cassettes you referred to in your post. Moreover, art was one of the major channels - if not the major
channel - to ventilate dissidence during the [Siad Barre] dictatorship. Even when love was the subject matter, as was often the case in lyrics, the socio-political message was up for grabs beneath the surface. Iftin's (forced?) marriage with the authorities was probably the culprit for their political and poetic castration. I don't know why Durdur acted like an ostrich; as far as I know they were not sponsored by the Government.

"Ligligaan Jacaylkiii Hayaa" means "Holding On to Love With Tremors." It is also known as "Mays Af Garanaa?" - "Shall We Strike A Deal (and Become Partners)":

Sahra Dawo & Durdur - Ligligaan Jacaylkii Hayaa

"Wax la Aaminaan Jirin" - "Nobody to Confide In, Nothing To Trust." This is a parable for 'betrayed love and careless environment'. The girl is pregnant but the guy is shunning the responsibility and she's reluctant to talk with her family/friends as pregnancy out of wedlock is a social stigma:

"Gucliyo Orod" - "Trot and Gallop/Dawdling and Darting." I am hardly familiar with this song and the sound is so distorted that it's difficult to decipher what exactly she's saying:

Sanaag has more coming up on the veteran singer Sahra Axmed, as well as a few comments on one of the new Somali artists, Aar. If you didn't catch this before (I linked to it in the last Somali post), here's another killer video by Sahra Dawo & Durdur:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Somali Mystery Funk

(Note: This post was updated considerably on November 29, 2007. The MP3s were replaced with new stereo versions on November 30, 2007.)

I've said this before, but I'll repeat it: The coolest blog out there is Frank Soulpusher's Voodoo Funk. Frank travels throughout West Africa digging up old obscure soul and funk records by local musicians. He posts mixes of his discoveries that usually have me dropping my jaw in wonderment. . . Whaaaa?

Of course, West Africa wasn't the only place that was obsessed with American-style R&B. Every African country had its own practitioners, some of them quite original. Ethiopia in particular created its own fusion of soul and traditional music that has drawn international acclaim.

Twenty years ago I thought that Somalia was immune to the funk virus. There was one recording of Somali music on the market, Original Music's Jaamila (OMA 107, 1987), recordings of oud, flute and voice that were interesting but not especially funky. Somali friends loaned me static-filled cassettes of artists like Sahra Axmed and others that were in a similar vein. There was a wildly-popular genre of home-made cassettes of recitations of Somali poetry. I began to wonder if there even was such a thing as modern Somali music at all.

Then my friend Ali handed me a cassette, an over-the-counter Sanyo stamped "Iftin." No case, no track listing; Ali couldn't even tell me anything about the group Iftin. He thought they may have been from northern Somalia, possibly from Djibouti or the Somali-speaking part of Ethiopia. But they definitely made modern Somali music.

Since this was first posted, we have heard from a Mr. Saanag, who provides much valuable information on Iftin. He writes:

Iftin ("Sunshine") was a big hit in Somalia in the 70's and 80's. Initially, they made theaters & schools "unsafe" with their brand of (slow) dance music and later discotheques & marriage ceremonies were conquered. It's one of the bands initiated by the Ministry of Education and Culture and they were based in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, where most of the band members originally came from. The lead singer with the "Woweeee!" hair is a Somali of Yemenite origins (does his Yemeni ancestry shed a little light on your remark?). He's called Shimaali and some of his solo efforts are on YouTube.
Before I gave the tape back to Ali I dubbed it onto a 10-inch tape reel at WYMS-FM, where I used to do my radio program "African Beat." When I stopped doing the show in 2001 I had no way to listen to it, until now. I recently rented a reel-to-reel tape deck and have digitized it, so now I can give it to you!

Keep in mind that this cassette was produced in the do-it-yourself spirit that is common throughout Africa. It was no doubt duplicated on a boom box, so the sound quality isn't terrific. I think you'll agree, though, that the quality of the music outweighs this technical drawback.

This post is entitled "Somali Mystery Funk" because when I first wrote it I had no idea what the titles of the songs were or what they meant. Sanaag writes:

I think I've recognized all the tracks but keep in mind that many (old) Somali songs don't have an original title and the name of many others is unknown to the public. No-case-and-no-tracklisting is/was the daily pot-luck you just must take or leave in Somalia. So, each song gets several popular names.
So, here are the song titles in Somali & English, thanks to Sanaag.

"Gabar ii Noqee" ("Be my Wife") aka "Ohiyee Ohiyee" ("Yeah, Yeah")

Iftin - Gabar ii Noqee

"Codkeennii Kala Halow" ("Our Voices Have Lost Each Other")

Iftin - Codkeennii Kala Halow

"Haka Yeelin Nacabkeenna" means "Don't Heed Our Enemies" (or those who are against our love).

Iftin - Haka Yeelin Nacabkeenna

"Lamahuraan" means "Love is Indespensible." This song is also known as "Sida Laba Walaalaa" (like two siblings) or "Qays & Layla" ("Romeo & Juliet")

Iftin - Lamahuraan

"Weynoow": "My Great (love)" aka "Ciil Kaambi": "Sorrow and Bitterness (due to frustrated love)"

Iftin - Weynoow

"Jacayl Iima Roona" means "Love is Not Right for Me (now)"

Iftin - Jacayl Iima Roona

"Hir Aanii Dhowyen ma Halabsado" means "Longing to Bridge the Big Distance." This song is also known as "Ruuney" - "Oh, Ruun (a Somali female name)."

Iftin - Hir Aanii Dhowyen ma Halabsado

"Caashaqa Maxay Baray?" "Why Get Acquainted With Love?" or in other words, "I'm too young to take the burden of love on my shoulders." The same song and singer, Sahra Dawo, are featured with another band, "Durdur," on this YouTube video.

Iftin - Caashaqa Maxay Baray?

"Baddaa Doon Baa Maraysoo": "A (fragile) boat is rocking on that ocean"

Iftin - Baddaa Doon Baa Maraysoo

Nowadays, there's a thriving modern Somali music scene, centered in Toronto (conditions in Mogadishu these days obviously not being too conducive to recording and distribution). For a sample of what young Somali musicians are up to these days, go here and here. Sanaag also recommends: Banadir City, and The Real Africa.

Here are two videos of Iftin performing in the Eighties. Check out the hair on the lead singer in the second one. Woweeee!