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!


Comb & Razor said...

you never cease to amaze me with the stuff you pull it out of the stash, man! now i gotta try to find more of this stuff!

Anonymous said...

John, I've just stumbled on your blog after making extensive use of your SOO discography. I've collected something like a dozen of the Nigerian CD versions of the old LPs-- you've given me a couple of new suggestions for future purchases here. What a musician!... Thanks so much.

zim said...


this is about as cool as it gets.


Anonymous said...

Another great post with amazing music!

Thanks a lot.


matt said...

Great tracks, thanks John...I think you may be challenging Frank for African blog of the year at this rate

Anonymous said...

Wow. Excellent stuff. I've always wondered what the scene in Somalia was like before the chaos--I wonder if there's more where this came from. You'd have to think there is...

Also, Djibouti was heavily used by Western militaries as a stopover port, so I have to think there were at least a few bands that popped up.


Sanaag said...

I stumbled upon your site via
'awesome tapes from Africa'. And woow, what a pleasant surprise to find Ethiopian and Somali vibes; both genres that nourished my childhood and adolescence as I'm originally from Somalia where Ethiopian music was/is also a part of the daily diets! Thank you loads!

Thanks again and keep the jewels coming.


Iftin (= sunshine) was a big hit in Somalia in the 70's and 80's. initially, they made theaters & schools 'unsave' 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 bandmembers 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 you remark?). He's called Shimaali and some of his solo efforts are on youtube.

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.

Here is the set-list to the best of my ability and memory; the poor transaltion is from my hand and the brackets are my attempts to disambiguate on basis of the lyrics.

1. Gabar ii noqee - Be my wife; aka Ohiyee Ohiyee - Yeah, yeah
2. Codkeennii kala halow - Our voices have lost each other
3. Haka yeelin nacabkeenna - Don't heed our enemies (= those who're against our love)
4. Lamahuraan - (Love is) Indespensable; aka sida laba walaalaa - like 2 siblings; aka Qays & Layla - Romeo & Juliet
5. Weynoow - My Great (love); aka Ciil Kaambi - Sorrow and bitterness (due to frustrated love)
6. Jacayl iima roona - Love is not right for me (now)
7. Hir aanii dhowyen ma halabsado - Longing to bridge the big distance; aka Ruuney - Oh, Ruun (Somali female name)
8. Caashaqa maxay baray? - Why get acquainted with love? (= I'm too young to take the burden of love on my shoulders} --> Same song and singer with another band called
'Durdur' on:
9. Baddaa Doon Baa Maraysoo - A (fragile) boat is rocking on that ocean

A couple of links to Somali music:

Downloads & streams: (free membership required);


BBC-Blog (quite outdated):

Another vid. by Iftin:

Thanks again and keep the jewels coming!

John B. said...


Thank you, thank you for this valuable information!

I will be updating the posting accordingly!

John B. said...


I wrote when I started this blog that I wanted to educate but that I also expected to be educated, and that is definitely the case here. I've been following some of the links you've provided and I am amazed! A whole new universe has been opened to me. I take it all of these videos were made before 1990? I wonder if the master tapes for these recordings are secreted away somewhere? They'd make a wonderful compilation. I definitely like the old stuff better than a lot of the newer Somali music I've heard.

Sanaag said...

Thanks for the kind words, John. I think most of the videos were made in the 70's and 80's and some of the songs even date from the 50's and 60's. I, too, prefer the pre-civil war Somali music, modern and traditional. I suppose it'd more soul and was made with talent and toil, pain and (self-)trained artists and poets using good and tangible instruments. As the surviving musicians had to get off with their naked lives and fled to the four corners of the globe, hardly any band remained intact. I even suspect that not many master tapes were saved. The bulk of what I've or come across from that period is the umpteenth copy, sometimes pretending to be an original.

Somali stuff of the last couple of decades is mainly a sort of new age made by solo artists, sometimes with no/limited talent or experience, supported by computers. I can seldom feel it, smell it, taste it, live it... I'll watch out for early-days' master tapes and give you a signal if any crosses my path. Btw, I've an album called 'African Popular Music 1926-1952 ( In my taste, an amazing album with some funky, rumby and afrobeaty tracks avant la lettre! The CD itself sounds much better than the samples on the link. Let me know if you don't have it and are interested.

John B. said...


Could you email me? I have some questions that I'd like to ask you.

beadlejp at yahoo dot com


"Big Al" Maghreb said...

You are the African crate-digger par excellence! Great stuff.

jon said...

Wicked stuff sir! Thanks a lot for this.

Pieter said...

Hi John,

Listening to your Somali tracks (I'm in Europe for 2 weeks and am enjoying normal internet bandwidth!).

Wow! Who knew? I spent a few weeks in the Somali part of Ethiopia a couple of years ago (Jijiga, also visited Harar): very good khat :-)

I should check my stack of tapes and listen to the Somali tapes again. I don't do that often enough...

Hopefully someone somewhere knows where the masters are of Iftin. And maybe someone can go digging for Yemeni funk!!

Thanks for reel-to-reel tapes! And for posting this!

I'll be in Lamu for Christmas and New Year: I'll be looking for vinyl and will let you know what I find.

All the best up in Milwaukee,


Anonymous said...

Wow, amazing music!

I always wondered if they're were some funky tunes from Somalia since I found a 45 from there on Philips Ethiopia I think it was. Is there any actual records from Somalia with funky tunes on them?

If anybody is wondering about Sudan then Kamal Kayla and Sharabeel Ahmed did some amazing tunes. Kamal being a singer and a funky one might I add. Sharabeel did two great 45s which sounds like a garagy Bill Hailey sung in arabic.


Dress, Denmark

Kevin said...

I have to say that I stumbled onto your blog and have been absolutely captivated by the breadth of amazing material here. Thanks for providing these rare gems.

I have featured a few african record on my blog called Eclectic Grooves. If you feel like it, please stop by and say hi.


mr brett said...

this Somali funk is my new favourite sound!!!! thanks so much.

Unknown said...

nice one on the somali funk - good to see other states making their stamp on the funk brand

Moncef said...

Gabar ii Noqee borrowed the main riff of Manu Dibango's "New Bell":

le soleil est rare said...

wow !

i thought vintage somali music would be impossible to find. well, it's impossible to dig on site, but thanks to music addicts like yourself, chances remain.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this amazing blog, your writing about Iftin reminded me the good old days in Mogadishu, where you didn't need to buy the hit album becouse you can hear it from all the corners of the city; from mini-buses, restaurants and cafes and from almost every house! you didn't need the hit board lists, the public decides by themselves! Iftin band became a dominant band in the somali music scene at the end of 70s.

the most well known Iftin lead singers were the late Ahmed Rabsha (in the first video deceased in london 2003), Abdullahi Sulfa, Bashir Ali Hussein and of course Shimali, the last well known lead singer before the war!

I would like to correct that not all the songs you published belong to Iftin band but some of them blong to Dur-Dur band, an other 1980s pop band.

Here comes the songs which belong to Dur-Dur:
1-Jaceyl iima roona (the original name is Aw-baahilowlow and the singer is Abdullahi Bastow)
2- Caashaqa maxaa i barayee and Haka yeelin nacabkeena, the singer is the lovely Sahro Abukar Dawo who runs now with her artist husband Abdinur Daljir a recording shop in Columbos Ohio.

Its worth to mention also that Radio Mogadishu the only recording studio survived from the long civil war not olnly has treasures dates back to 50s but also all the details related to every song!

link to Dur-Dur band in 1980s, funky and soul, lead singers Sahra Dawo and Buunis

but my all time favorite somali singer is the late Omar dhuule (God bless his soul) check this

thanks again

John B. said...

Abdi: Thanks for that comment. My understanding is that Sahra Dawo, the singer on those two tracks, sang with Iftin before going on to Dur-Dur. But I could be wrong.

Sanaag said...

@Abdi: Iftin and Durdur's singers occasionally performed on each other's albums and concerts. The music on this album is imo vintage Iftin and I guess Dawo was just featuring here.

I think the singer on Jacayl Iima Roona (+ Baddaa Doon Baa Maraysoo and Gabar ii Noqee) is Rabsho. Baastow and his brother Axmed Shariif "Killer", who also was a member of Iftin, were influenced by their (distant) uncle Rabsho and, in some singing modes, all three sound very similar.

The original name is, indeed, Hoobaa Hilowlow/ Aw-baahilowlow; I don't know what exactly this title means, do you? It's probably an old traditional standard covered by many artists such as Magool in the '60s, Iftin with Sulfa in the '70s (before the version here), Harbi (Djibouti), Shego Band...

Last but not least, Cumar Dhuule is also one of my favourite Somali artists of all time. R.I.P.

@John: To my knowledge, Sahra Dawo has never been a member of Iftin. She started with Waaberi and I think the duet "Dawo" with Xasan Aadan Samatar is (one of) her first song(s), hence her nickname - her official name is Sahra Abuukar. She then switched to and possibly co-founded Bakaaka which a short while later was renamed Durdur.

Anonymous said...

Hey you should check the artist magool -song afrikay hurudoy(oh sleeping africa).. it was done in 60s... it was to inspire angolans to step up against opression.. the music is funky groovy...

Anonymous said...

And my grand father is a somali historian... he is called ahmed farah idaja...

beeden said...

Dear Likembe, recently gave this to a friend and when he got back to me he mentioned that Iftin Band is on Youtube(apparently put up in last six days, by the band?), (71), (9), /user/MrBanaadiri/videos (8)

Anonymous said...

this is a mix of pre-war somali sounds also including iftin and dur-dur:

beeden said...

Iftin Band have their own Youtube channel now, , for anyone who would like to know them better.

Young Jay said...

Get Latest Music and Videos

Doug S. said...

The song listed here by Iftin as "Gabar ii Noqee" is identical to "Ohiyee" (also spelled "Oohiyeh") credited to Dur-Dur Band as heard here:

While I would love more clarity, I am also entirely enthralled by the sounds, whoever the artists happen to be.

Thank you, John!