Friday, 18 August 2017 17:19

Uncovering Somalia's forgotten music of the 1970s

In 1331, famed Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta arrived in Mogadishu, on the Banaadiri coast, in what is today Somalia.
Battuta came across the richest, most powerful port in East Africa, at the fore of the Indian Ocean trade system, then the centrepiece of the global economy.
Anchored off the coast, he was greeted by "boatloads of young men … each carrying a covered platter of food to present to one of the merchants on board," writes Ross Dunn in The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century.
Such renowned hospitality welcomed seafarers and merchants from across the Arabian peninsula, Persia, India, Southeast Asia, and even China.
Mogadishu derives from "Maq'ad-i-Shah", Farsi - one of the lingua francas of Indian Ocean merchants and traders - for "Seat of the King". Its local name, Xamar, was given by Arab traders, after the Arabic word "ahmar" for the red soil along Somalia's coastline.
The East African coast's role as multicultural crossroad imbued Somali culture with the traditions of its biggest trading partners, leaving an indelible mark on language, cuisine, dress, worldview, and, revealingly - its music. Indian scales, Yemeni chord progressions, Sumatran melodies, and the rhythms of Bantu peoples just to the south created a sound that reveals not only the intermingling of Somalia's past but of the world's.
That rich legacy could be heard in a newly recovered archive of more than 10,000 cassettes and master recordings we came across last year in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Radio operators hid this music, recorded in the 1970s, until 1987, to protect it during the bombardment ordered by Somalia's then military dictator.


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