Somalia seems to have finally turned the corner. In 2011 Al-Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu and last year Somalia’s first formal parliament in more than 20 years was sworn in. Now Mogadishu is booming with a returning diaspora and skyrocketing house prices. What is next for Somalia? A music revival against the odds?
The Somali hiphop collective Waayaha Cusub (meaning ‘new era’ in Somali) recently launched the Somali Sunrise Tour for Peace 2013 which will peak Wednesday and Thursday this week with the Mogadishu Music Festival. Yes, the festival is actually taking place in Mogadishu. The Somali Sunrise Tour is headlined by Waayaha Cusub and has featured performances by Somali stars as K’naan along with international acts from Afghanistan, Kenya, Sudan and the US. This festival – the first modern concert to take place in Mogadishu in two decades – is co-produced by the Humanitarian Bazaar who is also behind the brilliant ‘Music Too Powerful to Ban’ documentary about the brave young Somali musicians defying Al-Shabaab to promote peace in their country through music.
While Somalia has become more secure it is still far from safe. And music shopping in Somalia is still something of a challenge as I discovered during a recent visit to the country. Safety is the obvious hurdle to crate digging in Somalia but the limited availability of music is another obstacle. After the collapse of the Siad Barre’s regime in the early 90′s many musicians fled Somalia. In recent years, the ban on music (as well as movies, public sports watching on tv etc.) enforced by Al-Shabaab made most privately owned radio stations turn off music leading to a further weakening of the music scene in the country. The return to Mogadishu of musicians like Waayaha Cusub is the best testimony of a tide that is at last turning for Somali music.
While we are waiting for the Mogadishu music scene to bloom once again we are lucky to have Awesome Tapes From Africa around. Last week the blog/label reissued the incredible ‘Volume 5′ by Dur-Dur Band, one of the most popular bands in Somalia in the 1980′s, ensuring that these legendary recordings by Dur-Dur (meaning ‘little stream’ in Somali) are finally accessible to a broader audience. I was lucky to – via skype from Nairobi to Columbus, Ohio – get the chance to talk to Abdinur Daljir, one of the famous Dur-Dur singers featured on Voulme 5 (1987). I asked him what happened to Dur-Dur Band and their music in the past two decades after they left Somalia in 1992.
”First we went to Ethiopia, later some of us settled in Ohio, some band members went to London, others to Nairobi. We have spread all over the world but we still keep in contact,” he tells me. In Ethiopia, Dur-Dur performed and recorded in Negelle Borena and Somali region in the south of Ethiopia as well as in Addis on numerous occasions. They played with great Ethiopian singers such as Tilahun Gessesse and Mahmoud Ahmed plus Sudanese legend Mohammed Wardi at the national stadium in Addis. In Columbus, Ohio, they later performed with another Ethiopian music icon, Ali Birra, who Abdinur without hesitation names the greatest artist of Ethiopia.
In Mogadishu much have changed since Abdinur and the rest of Dur-Dur Band left. “The situation there now is not so bad but being a musician in Somalia is still dangerous,” he underlines. Throughout our conversation it appears that insecurity has been one of the few constant elements over the past decades for musicians in Somalia although the sources of insecurity have changed considerably. ”Now there’s no government. Back then the government was strong but it was still be dangerous to be a musician. Especially if your lyrics did not follow the government rules. We did not sing what the government told us to,” Abdinur explains. He adds that while the band was not popular with Siad Barre’s government, most Somalis adored Dur-Dur: ”The people of Somalia loved us. We were some of the best Somali musicians at that time.”
Abdinur tells me that the last time the Dur-Dur collective played together in the original line-up was 10 years ago in Ethiopia. Now they are eager to reunite and a potential return to Somalia is not out of the question. Abdinur has not been back to Somalia since 1992 but other Dur-Dur members have recently revisited Mogadishu. ”We are still waiting for peace. Then we will go back. And we will perform there again. Inshallah,” he emphasizes. While Dur-Dur Band’s return to Mogadishu might not be imminent, Abdinur reveals that the band has concerts scheduled in London in May and possibly also in Nairobi and Djibouti in August. My fingers are crossed for a joint performance with the Dur-Dur heirs in Waayaha Cusub. Inshallah.
For further insights on Dur-Dur Band have a look at the great work done by Kezira and Likembe (The Dur-Dur tape posted by Kezira features the ‘Ethiopian Girl’ cover version of London Beat’s ‘I’ve Been Thinking About You’ among other gems). Dur-Dur Band also has a presence on Facebook. Corrections and comments to the above are welcome.