Choose Freedom!

Rather than raise your eyebrow quizzically at this, a second post in a month, think of this more as a faltering Part Two to last week’s post about the wonderful Mogadisco record that you’re all getting for Christmas this year.

This is an absolute banger from the same record.

Bakaka Band / Dur Dur Band

Just lend an ear to the lumbering bass line that sprawls all over the vocals and off-beat reggae sound of this track. You’ll be hooked in no time at all.

I’ve said “reggae” but as I am thinking about it, it occurred to me that it’s kinda like an idea of reggae that someone once read about in a book, or heard rumours of and thought they’d have a bit of lash at, without having heard the original.

[It turns out that interpretation is a little crass (who’da thunk…?) – the Dhanto rhythm from the north of Somalia is apparently remarkably similar to the Jamaican bluebeat.]

Be that as it may, that monstrous bassline is the thing that jumps out straight away but the brass riff is also something of a collar-grabber and it’s hard to ignore the I-Threes style girlgroup in the background, not so much complimenting Shimaali Ahmed Shimaali’s lead vocals as much as leading him by the nose through the song.

The Bakaka Band (for it is they) were one of the state-sponsored outfits that were a result of Siad Barre’s extravagant policy of promoting Somali culture as inspiration during the war with Ethiopia of the late-seventies, which often led to them playing dates on the frontline itself. The title of this track itself translates as “Choose Freedom!”

After the war, the band were left in limbo and gradually transformed themselves into the Dur Dur Band. Vocalist Shimali took the Dhanto songs, but for their other directions they used the beautiful Sahra Dawo and a second male vocalist known as Baastow (his nickname apparently derived from the Somali word for “pasta”, with some sort of connection to his languid style).

There are quite a lot of clips of the Dur Dur Band on YouTube (and they’re now the subject of an Analog Africa compilation – which is ace) but the best one, I reckon is this one. Forty six minutes of quivering, Somali funk that is somehow complimented by the less-than-perfect quality of the original VHS. The other Bakaka Band track on the Mogadisco collection is much more like this.

It’s actually some sort of collection of TV performances, mangled a little by the recorder (God love him, whoever he was) but all the more beguiling for it. It’s far from clear what all the songs are, let alone the musicians, but I’m pretty sure the female vocalist heavily featured in the first half will be Sahra Dawo and that by half way through we’re being treated to the spaghetti-limbed stylings of Baastow.

Throughout, the Dur Dur Band are superb, rock solid and as loose-limbed and horizontal as the recordings suggest, with the rhythm section standing out, delicately embroidered by the frailest of electric guitars. Even the trees seem to sway along…

If you can’t make it through the whole forty minutes (and frankly, if you can’t, we need to talk…), I’d at least suggest you skip onto 37:50 where Baastow (resplendent in custard-yellow shirt and slacks) is crudely cut off and the Sharero Band, complete with a troupe of abrasive chanteuses, begin to hove into view (through a hedge). The lead vocalist looks to me a little like Fadumo Qasim, but who knows? It’s a massive treat you can’t afford to deny yourself….

Heady, exotic stuff.

I Like You

I’m a creature of habit, like most people I suspect, and become easily disorientated at times of uncertainty. I’m sure I’m not the only one who seeks out the comfort of what I know and love when change seems to be all over. Our lives are right now dominated by the greatest period of strangeness we’re likely to have experienced before and the knowledge that we’re still some way from an end can’t help but leave us a little… insecure.

The prospect of the world that surrounds us attempting to keep calm and carry on is somehow stranger than ever. We go to work on emptier buses, we sit further away from each other in meetings, offices, pubs, restaurants. We watch footballers running around in empty stadiums, with digital crowds and piped-in crowd sound. Artists strum on bravely in front of Zoom screens. I’m not reassured…

I think I’ve written before about a certain thrill that exists listening to the outlandish and unfamiliar, as long as you can still glimpse the road between the trees, providing some reassurance and orientation. It’s an analogy I’ll have wheeled out a few times before, probably with relation to Beefheart or Sun Ra. But I’m no longer quite so sure of the thrill in it all, these days…

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about finally ditching my eMusic subscription and venturing confidently off into pastures new. Actually, I’ve spent most of these couple of months since the summer, trawling through a ridiculously expansive hoard of mp3 albums and assorted downloads, rediscovering old friends and giving other records the attention they’ve been sadly lacking. It’s been good.

The only record I’ve bought since the summer, is this one:


Released by the devoted folk of Analog Africa, available via Bandcamp and subtitled “Dancing Mogadishu – Somalia 1972-1991”, this is a wonderful and exotic trip through disco sounds of the seventies and eighties through an uncommon lens.

The liner notes of the CD are beautifully presented and pretty informative. They give quite an account of the extent to which label owner Samy Ben Redjeb had to go to unearth some of these wonderful recordings of 70s Mogadishu, from armed escorts and chaotically missed meetings to being holed up with a mountain of crates to dig through in the basement of Radio Mogadishu. There’s a great interview with him here – he’s something of a champion.

The music is … rare, at times jaw-dropping and always a groove. All of it demands my weird-but-familiar analogy. It’s full of nightclub sounds but not like any nightclub I’ve ever been to. A visit to Studio 54, but a left-handed, green on red version from the bottom half of the world – recognisable but at the same time wholly anti-clockwise.

There’s a lot of tracks I could write about to be honest – there’s a whole lot to delve into and each track needs a consideration  that I’m not really in a position to give it. Suffice to say, my current favourite is this by legendary (I now find) Somali singing queen Fadumo Qasim:

The song title apparently translates rather charmingly as “I like you” but the sheer breathy longing with which she delivers what I’m going to call the chorus suggests otherwise.

In these times, something strange and unfamiliar, something strangely familiar…