Ostinato Records’ Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn Of Africa
is a beautiful compilation of sacred music that charts the musical landscape of pre-war Somalia.
The archive provides an audio history of Mogadishu in the 1970s and 1980s when the coastal capital was known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’. Bands like Iftiin, Sharero, and the Dur Dur Band rocked some of the best nightclubs in East Africa and singers such as Mahmud “Jerry” Hussen, Faadumo Qaasim, Hibo Nuura, and Sahra Dawo wowed the revelers. The three aforementioned female singers were often more prolific than their male counterparts and half the compilation is sung by women.
Somali music’s golden age occurred during a socialist military dictatorship and a nationalised music industry. Music was recorded by national radio stations and only disseminated through public broadcasts or live performances. The music was never made available for mass release and there were virtually no private labels or distributors. Somalia was backed by both the U.S and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, with Western music also influencing music at certain times.
Somalia’s authoritarian ruler Siad Barre launched punishing air strikes on the north of the country in 1988, known today as Somaliland. The people there had been pushing for independence and the intense bombing leveled the city. Barre also targeted Radio Hargeisa to disable a central communication system that could organise a resistance. In the face of the attack a few brave radio operators and dedicated protectors of Somali culture wanted to preserve the archives that contained over half a century’s worth of Somali music. Thousands of cassette tapes and master reels were quickly removed and buried in neighboring countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia.
All of these artifacts were excavated very recently and are now kept safe in the 10,000-strong cassette tape archive of the Red Sea Foundation, the largest collection of Somali cassettes in the world, in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. The Ostinato Records team has digitised 15 songs for this precious release. Most of it has never been heard outside of Somalia and the immediate region.
Click here for the Ostinato Records Bandcamp.