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:


"Big Al" Maghreb said...

This is all mindblowing! I look forward to future posts on it.

jon said...

Fascinating stuff, thanks. I love the way Sanaag describes the distance from north Somalia to the south as a '1000 km walk'. A proper way to measure distance imho. Can you imagine anyone in Europe or the States even conceptualising distance in those terms? ;-) Thanks Sanaag for reminding us how easily we in the lazy and wasteful countries lose touch with the basic human scale of things.

Anonymous said...

I am a university student conducting my senior thesis on music in the somali diaspora. I just met with Abdinur Daljir in his music store (Dur-Dur Band Studio). He was a member of DurDur and his wife is Sahra Dawo. He offered a lot of insight into the chronology of Somali music. I appreciate your blog- could you describe a little more the instruments like the uud, etc. I am also interested in the distinction between "pre-" and diasporic music: new technology, new style (hip-hop: k'naan), etc. Do you have any information about these topics?

Anonymous said...

I admire Sanaag's profile of this iconic singer. Sahra Dawo is an icon of Somali music and some of her work in Durdur Band is displayed above . The writer seems to portray her as a singer for the younger generation who is out of touch with people from Northern Somalia and adults. You probably need to do more research about he r.

Sahra Dawo grew up and launched her music career in Hargeisa, the biggest city in Northern Somalia. She was born in Brava in Southern Somalia. She is one of the few Somali stars who can sing both in Northern and Southern dielects.

She is admired in all regions by all age groups. Her hit songs include: Laanta Ubaxa, Dawo Caafimaad, wiirsi (which was copied by Ethiopians), and much more. To know more about Dawo, you can e-mail me at

Sanaag said...

Hello Jama,

Thanks for the reaction. I wonder where I said or implied that she's "out of touch with people from Northern Somalia and adults"! Isn't it obvious from the very first sentence that I'm talking about the eighties? In my experience, her fans in that period WERE mainly teenagers and twentysomethings who ARE now 40 to 50 years old. Moreover, it goes without saying that she'd sing in both Southern and Northern dialects and that is clearly depicted in (my description of) the videos. Finally, the term 'iconic' is imo a huge exaggeration but she's of course her place in modern Somali muisc.

Unknown said...

Many thanks! I've been here a couple of times in the past and have just stumbled on sahra dawo's page on myspace. They have copied the story above almost verbatim, only removing the doubts. For instance: " I am not sure how she did with the general public" is discarded to confirm that "she didn't strike a strong chord with the older audience probably because ..." etc.

The "new" songs there don't match the live versions here, but for what it's worth:

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the great postings on Somalia. I lived in Mogadiscio in the peaceful days of the eighties. I enjoyed many aspects of the Somali culture, including boundless hospitality and artistic resistance to oppression. As for the music, Iftin and durdur were definitely hot but they were the underdogs in comparison with Horseed, Shareero, Halgan, Waaberi, Heegan etc. I'm realy sad I lost their tapes!

"Toban Weeye Shaqalladu" is sung by a school choir and was one of the soundtracks launching the 1973-74 literacy campaign. The name Iftin is based on the Somali proverb "aqoon la'aani waa iftin la'aan" (lack of knowledge is equal to lack of sunshine) which was the slogan of the ministry of education in that period. I sincerely hope the sun will shine again brightly for Somalia!