From the late 1960s until the early 1990s, a vibrant music scene in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu was teeming with pop and folk musicians exploring the boundaries of regional sensibilities. With influences spanning several genres of Somali traditional music, often meshed with Western pop, jazz and Middle-Eastern elements, a swirling diversity of sounds were being created, consumed, supported and encouraged.
Dur-Dur Band emerged during a time when Somalia’s distinctive contribution to the creative culture in the Horn of Africa was visible and abundant. Thousands of recordings made at the Somali National Theatre, Radio Mogadishu and other studios, were complemented by the nightclubs at Hotel Juba, Jazeera Hotel and Hotel al-Curuuba, creating a flourishing music scene.
Bands like Dur-Dur, Iftin, Shareero, on one hand, were inspired by everyone from Michael Jackson and Phil Collins to Bob Marley and Santana, as well as James Brown and American soul music. Equally active were groups performing regional folk musics and promoting the traditional side of Somali music. These groups helped develop a continuity with historical musical practices and oral literature that persist in popularity to this day. Seminal outfits like Waaberi and Horseed, in addition to a litany of celebrated qaraami musicians, generated a legacy of masterworks. These seasoned musicians’ efforts rippled through the music scene and spread to countries beyond as many artists began to emigrate when the country destabilized.
This recording, which was remastered from a cassette copy source, is a document of Dur-Dur Band after establishing itself as one of the most popular bands in Mogadishu. The challenge of locating a complete long-player from this era is evidenced by the fidelity of this recording. However, the complex, soulful music penetrates the hiss.
By 1987 Dur-Dur Band's line-up featured singers Sahra Abukar Dawo, Abdinur Adan Daljir, Mohamed Ahmed Qomal and Abdukadir Mayow Buunis, backed by Abukar Dahir Qasim (guitar), Yusuf Abdi Haji Aleevi (guitar), Ali Dhere (trumpet), Muse Mohamed Araci (saxophone), Abdul Dhegey (saxophone), Eise Dahir Qasim (keyboard), Mohamed Ali Mohamed (bass), Adan Mohamed Ali Handal (drums), Ooyaaye Eise and Ali Bisha (congas) and Mohamed Karma, Dahir Yaree and Murjaan Ramandan (backing vocals). Dur-Dur Band managed to release almost a dozen recordings before emigrating to Ethiopia, Djibouti and America.
Dur-Dur Band was considered a “private band,” not beholden to government pressure to sing about political topics. They practiced a love- and culture-oriented lyricism. Government-sponsored bands like those of the military and the police forces, as well as many of the well-known folk musicians, made songs that were chiefly political or patriotic in nature.
In a country that has been disrupted by civil war, heated clan divisions and security concerns, music and the arts has suffered from stagnation in recent years. Many of the best-known musicians left the country. Music became nearly outlawed in Mogadishu in 2010. Incidentally, more than ten years after Volume 5 (1987) was recorded at Radio Mogadishu, the state-run broadcaster was the only station in Somalia to resist the ban on music briefly enacted by Al-Shabab.
Dur-Dur Band is a powerful and illustrative lens through which to appreciate a facet of the incredible sounds in Somalia before the country's stability took a turn. But Somali music of all kinds continues to thrive thanks in part to the diaspora living in cities worldwide. An extensive network of news, music and video websites, along with dozens of voluminous YouTube channels, makes clear an exciting relentlessness among artists. Reports of musicians returning to Mogadishu from years abroad bodes well for the immediate future of music and expression in Somalia.