The Light & Sound of Mogadishu

Posted May 20th, 2008 at 10:05 pm (UTC-4)
31 comments

Blue and White, the colors of the Somali flag, Blue and White, the colors of Mogadishu. This city, that over the last seventeen years has become a symbol of anarchy and suffering, was once one of East Africa’s most appealing capitals. Friends and colleagues who lived in Mogadishu in the early 1970s remember a city of whitewashed corral houses, with Arabic arches and elaborately carved rosettes, of Italian art-deco cafes and colonial administrative buildings, a city of tree shaded boulevards, and the cobalt blue of the Indian Ocean. They remember a city where young women in miniskirts strolled alongside older women in colorful and billowing Direh, where young dudes grew Afros and strutted, in bell bottoms, past groups of men in ma’awis kilts and white skullcaps. Today, living far from Mogadishu, these friends and colleagues feed their memories with a steady diet of thirty-year old recordings by their favorite poets and singers from ‘back home’.

These rich memories, and reveries, of the early 1970s are captured in this set of 45s on the ‘Light & Sound’ label from Mogadishu. The label was an offshoot of the successful ‘Light & Sound’ electronic appliance store located in the center of the city. The store, which shared a building with the famous ‘Cinema Hamar’ (which was the first enclosed movie theater in Mogadishu), and the label, were both owned by Dahir Omar. The recording studio was located in a back room off the main sales floor, and may have been the first private recording studio in Somalia (at the time most recordings were made in the studios of Radio Mogadishu or Radio Hargeysa). Today, both the store and the ‘Cinema Hamar’ are closed. I do not know how many singles were released on ‘Light & Sound’ (I have not yet been able to track down Dahir Omar, or anyone who worked at the store), but the 45s below represent some of Somalia’s most loved artists.

Although Somalis remain divided politically, and dispersed geographically, they generally agree that ‘Halima Khaliif Omar’, known as ‘Magool’, was the greatest singer of her generation. She was born on May 2, 1948 in the city of Beledweyne, the capital of the Hiraan region. In 1959, she made her professional musical debut with a Mogadishu-based group, and within the year had moved to Hargeysa (the capital of Somaliland) where she joined that city’s municipal orchestra. In the mid-1960s she returned to Mogadishu where she became one of the most popular singers in the Radio Mogadishu orchestra.

By the late 1970s, Magool was as known for her politically engaged songs as for her romantic repertoire, and by the early 1980s she was living in exile in the Middle East. In 1987, her triumphant return to Mogadishu was celebrated with a concert in the city’s stadium that drew over 15,000 people. Into the early 1990s, she continued to sing out against the depredations of the Siad Barre regime. She died, of breast cancer, on March 19, 2004 in a hospital in Amsterdam. Her fans still call her ‘Hooyadii Fanka’, or ‘the mother of Somali song’.

These two recordings are love songs (both songs are split between the A and B sides of the single). In ‘Wal’y Sita’ she sings, ‘I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t know where I am. Do I have to be patient? Should I sleep? I am waiting for you, what should I do?’

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    Magool ‘Wal’y Sita’

‘Shimbir Yohou’ is one of Magool’s most famous recordings from the 1970s. Addressing herself to a little bird, she sings, ‘where do you fly? Do you serve the people, or do you just follow the air streams? Can you take a message for me? I am lost and tired. Little bird can you find your way? If I tell you where to go, can you take a message for me?’

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    Magool ‘Shimbir -Yohou’

Hibbo Nuura, who today lives in Rochester, Minnesota, and has been performing for almost three decades, made some of her earliest recordings for the ‘Light & Sound’ label. Born in the Northeastern city of Boorama, she grew up in Mogadishu, and started singing at the age of 7. In 1970, when she was only 14 years old, the singer and composer Ahmed Rabsha discovered Hibbo, and three years later, he brought her to the ‘Light & Sound’ recording studio.

Ahmed Rabsha was born in Mogadishu in 1945, and started singing when he was only 13 years old. He made his public debut in 1963, performing at weddings and parties, and six years later formed his first group, ‘The Soul Full Five’. In 1970, he was hired as a music teacher at the Institute for Traditional Arts in Mogadishu. One of his first responsibilities was to recruit talented young female singers and teach them a new repertoire of patriotic songs (General Mohammed Siad Barre had taken power in 1969, and was just kicking off his ‘social revolution’). In 1974, Rabsha won a scholarship to study music in the Sudan, and by the end of the decade he had moved to Dubai, where he trained the Police Orchestra. He spent the last years of his life in London working on a history of Somali music. He passed away last fall.

This duo with Ahmed Rabsha, which was released back in 1973, was Hibbo’s second recording. She described this music to me as Somali Rumba.

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    Ahmed Rabsha & Hibbo ‘Bohol You’

These next four tracks are built on the deep-grooves of Ahmed Naaji and his great ‘Sharero Band’. The Naaji family is from the Benadir ethnic minority, who have roots in Yemen and the Persian Gulf, and who were some of Mogadishu’s earliest residents. In the early 1970s, Ahmed, who for many years was a member of the Radio Mogadishu orchestra, formed a band to perform a new style of Somali music; one that was inspired by Santana, The Doors, and James Brown.

His new group was originally called ‘Gemini’, but by the early 1970s it was going by the name ‘Sharero band’. The core of the group consisted of Ahmed on keyboards, Ali Naaji on bass guitar, Anter Naaji on drums, Said Abdallah on lead guitar, and Mohammed Abadallah ‘Jeeri’ on lead vocals. They performed most weekends at the Jazeera nightclub in southern Mogadishu, at the Juba nightclub in central Mogadishu, or at the Al-Curuba nightclub, located in the majestic Al-Curuba hotel. The group split up some time in the 1980s. Today, Ahmed Naaji lives in Yemen, and continues to perform throughout the Somali Diaspora, Ali Naaji lives in Denmark, and a new generation of Naajis is making music in Toronto.

Here is the Sharero Band backing Faadumo Qaasim, one of the most appreciated Benadiri singers. She sings, in the Hamari dialect of the Benadiri, ‘whoever God brings down to earth will see many surprising things. Who should I trust? Who should I lean on? My luck has turned sour. Who should I blame?’

This next single features the voice of Ahmed Abukar, a blind singer from a Benadiri family from Northern Mogadishu. This is my favorite single of the bunch.

This song is the first of a series of five recordings that tell the story of Abukar’s tragic, and unrequited, love for a woman named Asha. Ahmed Abukar is currently living in Yemen, and is said to be in poor health.

Our final pair of ‘Light & Sound’ tracks are B-Side instrumentals (don’t pay attention to the 4A you see written on the label below).

Both of these tracks feature Ahmed putting the squeeze on his Farfisa organ, and Said Abdallah giving his guitar ‘the Shaft’.

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    The Sharero Band ‘Sharero 75′

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    The Sharero Band ‘Sharero’

Very special thanks to Hibba Nuura, Abdi Yabarow, and Farhia Absie for their time, memories, and help with translations!

31 Responses to “The Light & Sound of Mogadishu”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This took me straight back to the golden olden days and you succeeded in making me mawkishly emotional! But don’t worry ’cause joy emerged as
    the dominating result… Thanks loads!

    This must be extremely rare. Although all these songs are very familiar, I’ve hardly or maybe never heard the versions you uploaded. Besides, we danced
    quite a lot on Shareero-instrumentals live in discotheques back in the ’70s and ’80s but these tracks were hard/impossible to find on tape; only on
    video.

    The owner of Light & Sound is called Daahir Xaaji Cali, also written as Dahir Hagi Ali. I ran into him about 6 or 7 years ago in the Danish city of Arhus
    where he was living. Chances are he’s still there. If he’s not in the directory, it’s normal in Somali culture to call anyone form the land queen
    Hatshepsut allegedly dubbed ‘heaven of incense and fragrance’ – even after midnight! For that matter, any Daahir/Dahir in the directory is most
    probably a Somali.

    Thanks again and keep the priceless lost-and-found-meomries coming !!!

    P.S. Recordings of most of these artists are on YT, e.g. Magool with the band ‘Waaberi’ at her welcome-back-concert some 25-30 years after the 2
    songs on this posting: http://xrl.us/bktcy

    Concerning her singing this is, though, one of my favourites: http://youtube.com/watch?v=u2rJk6Exj10

    P.P.S. Minor enquiry: The URL’s in the mails never work for me and they’ve a rather strange structure as if they are truncated:
    /english/africa/blog/index.cfm?mode=entry&entry=086B93F6-0FAA-17C6-10DDD19954E8EDDC
    The error console says: ‘Unknown property’ or ‘Error in parsing value for property…’ . Anybody else with the same experience?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Beautifull music! Thanks for introducing me to Magool

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sanaag, thanks for the feedback and thank you very much for the lead on Daahir Xaaji Ali!! I will try and track him down in Denmark. I would love to learn more about the history of Light and Sound. If I have any luck, I’ll let you know. I am not quite sure about the technical problems you mention. I am forwarding your comments to our techs and hopefully they will solve the problems (I don’t understand the nuts and bolts of how this blog works). Dj. Rapsutin, I share your enthusiasm for Magool. I first picked up a few cassettes of hers, from a grocery store in Columbus, Ohio, in the late 1990s. Such a beautiful voice.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Listening again and enjoying! And yes, if you can get in touch with Daahir, he may have some mastertapes or valuable info. about their hiding places…

    Btw, I see my reference to Hatshepsut is so unclear that it doesn’t make much sense. What I meant is that burning too much incense while listening
    to e.g. Shareero’s funkrocky grooves ‘apparently’ results in heavenly/infernal insomnia; hence the patience with late callers.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I can’t thank you enough for posting this!

    Thanks X 10

  6. Anonymous says:

    Great posting. I’ve Somali friends and they sometimes talk about the good music of the 1970′s. I am sure they will be happy with this.
    The tracks here, specially Magool and Faadumo Qaasim, are a revelation for me. Thanks.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Matthew,

    great to have you back and posting such nice music. I don’t know if this has been posted elsewhere, but I came across a youtube clip of the sharero band backing Khadija Qalanjo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpY7vlipfKQ

  8. Anonymous says:

    The introduction to this post describes a Mogadishu that I have never imagined. The only images I have ever seen involve war and destruction. The words here fill me with sadness for what war has taken away from Mogadishu and Somalia. Yet at the same time they urge me to be hopeful for a future where the city can reclaim this past and be free of war.

    This is my first encounter with Somalian music. It is beautiful. I’m very glad that my internet-hopping brought me, somehow, to this post. Thank you.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Damian, I am so glad that you found us!! Here’s to hoping that Mogadishu will once again be the beautiful city it was. Sanaag, I have been trying to track down Daahir Xaaji Ali in Denmark. I haven’t knocked on the right door yet. The last few weeks have been too busy.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Mathew, be sure what you’ve already done is highly appreciated! Before your posting, I actually didn’t know L & S had a recording facility. A friend told me the other day it’s closed within a few years as some of their releases were adapted by the public as protest songs, but he doesn’t know of album or track titles. I remember, for ex., that one of Iftin’s songs called “Alif la kordhebey” (roughly meaning “a2+b2=c2″ meant to stimulate interest in science) was dubbed by the listeners as “Alif la hoosdhebey” (“a2+b2=c2″ or a2+b2=h2″, h standing for ‘hoos’ meaning low, dirty, despicable…) referring to the fact that the the Gov’t hardly respected its constructive commitments while over-honouring the destructive ones. I’ve that song but the sound quality is very poor. It’d be wonderful if you could put it up, providing of course it’s in your vaults ! No rush though as my GP, who never makes jokes, assures me I still have a century to live. Take it easy :)

    Thanks Mathew and Damian for the compassionate words. Losing the hope that the dogs of war shall one day, the sooner the better, be confined to the dungeons they royally deserve and peace shall reign would indeed be more nefarious than the war itslef. So, let’s all keep the flames of hope alive! …Btw, in my experience it’s not very practical to place links here since clicking or cutting and pasting are disabled but, since there is some interest, this is what Mogadishu looked like in the 60′s and 70′s: http://youtube.com/watch?v=yUo_E2jAQTc

    The buildings described in this article are on the footage below, with the one housing L & S and cinema Hamar from about 1:20 through to 1:30 (the yellowish building) and the hotels/discotheques Jubba, Jazeera and Al-Curuuba following each
    other from about 3:30 till the end: http://youtube.com/watch?v=SSfJp-4AQWY

    For Shareero, the following are of a better quality than the one already mentioned:
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=N6iTU6HxDDU
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=TuQFpeDd0zA&feature=related
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=0ShBAUoiDA4

    Mahad ballaadhan, thanks a lot!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Amazing stuff. Sharero Band was one of the tightest groups in Africa–I’d love to see Buda Musique build off its Zanaibara series and work out a comp of this stuff. People around the world need this music to help them amend their image of Mogadishu as a hell of perpetual war. Thanks for posting this stuff you can’t hear anywhere else.

  12. Anonymous says:

    After i heard from Somali VOA radio some special Somali Musics brought by Leo Sarkisian in early 70 from Somalia, I was really delighted and enjoy listening. Then, I search the internet for more. Luckly, i found the Somali Music page but only few songs were there. For sure the one i heard from the radio was not there. So, my question to Mr. Matthew Lavoie, are there any more Somali Songs remaining to be uploaded into the net or that is it! My second question, can i buy some CDs? and how do i buy it or pay for it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hello Abdi, thanks for getting in touch. Yes, I put together a selection of old Somali recordings from our archives for our Somali service. These recordings were made at Radio Mogadishu some time in the 1970s. We have a series of reels that they gave to Leo when he visited Somalia. I will be getting some more of these together for the Somali service and at some point I am sure I will post them on the blog. I don’t know if any of these recordings have been reissued. My impression is that the only older recordings of Somali music that are available are very poor quality dubs that have circulated for years on cassettes, and many of which are now on the internet. The recordings we have are very good quality. We do not produce CDs for sale. Thanks again for getting in touch.
    best matthew

  14. Anonymous says:

    One CD/LP you might be able to find was put out by original Music, John Storm Robert’s Label
    Jamiila: Songs of a Somali city (OMCD007; OMA107 (lp))

    Though i don’t think its in print, you occasionally see it in thrift stores and on ebay, and many libraries have a copy of it.

  15. Anonymous says:

    This is my 1st listen to Somali music and I’m totally stunned! The contrast with the current newsreels about that country can’t be bigger. Thanks for reminding us that truth has many colours and I hope Somalia will re-experience those days soon.

    Fantastic blog and I’ll certainly come back.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I discovered this blog by accident and once I clicked to Somali songs found real treasures of unparalleled qualities. I relate to those times when these songs were recorded. I vividly remember when we used to go seashore facing Al-Curuuba Discotheque. Once we dance with the melodies of “Jeery” from Shareero or Iftin Band’s Sulfa, we used to come out for a fresh breeze – right in front of the door – from the beach and listen a different natural music from nature – waves hitting the around us -!!!!!
    Mogadishu/Somalia will rise again and become even more beautiful than ever before !!!!
    Thank you for posting those beautiful songs.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Amazzing stuff…..!!! And it reminds me of the golden years of
    Somalia and different Somalis (Somalians).
    I would like to thank VOA and the COMPOSER of the song and
    ALL SOMALI COMPOSERS 4 their creativity.

  18. anonymous says:

    many many thanks for the somali music ….really great world class quality….this sould be avalaible on compilations like the “ethiopiques” sooooo gooood!!!!!!!

  19. Ropert says:

    really i like somali songs,so sweet and so good music,
    wow.
    wonderful.

  20. Elen Lackner says:

    Ahmed Rabsha & Hibbo ‘Bohol You’

    I liked the only i listened… I´ll comeback to know others music. It´s interesting to know music round the world because I´m musician too. I greet you from Argentina. Elen Lackner

  21. Mike says:

    Thanks for this and all the other beauties you posted. Your blog deserves its name triple.
    An insolent question: You didn’t post for a while, Is more coming?

  22. Fantastic article, thanks for posting the concept, I’ve been previously attempting to amount this certain out

  23. Kurt Surma says:

    Superb capture,beautiful writing with prosperous colours

  24. We are awaiting r replies. thanks.

  25. Elen Lackner says:

    Hi.. I´m music. I´m listening from Argentina . I like a lot your music, it´s interesting. Live the music of the world. I love every kind of melodies, all is beautiful . I greet you. Elen Lackner

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  28. Magool: Shimbiryahow Ma Duushaa Lyrics

    Shimbiryahow ma duushaa
    ma dabeylla raacdaa
    dadka ma u adeegtaa
    howl ma u dadaashaa
    Lyrics by Maalmo.com
    dalanbaabi baan ahay
    daallaa dhacaayee
    kala qaad dibnaha oo
    dal yaqaan ma tahay oo
    dagmadii fogaatiyoo
    meeshi laguu diroo
    dowdgeed ma garataa

    Shimbiryahow dawaafee
    ku dul jooga laantoo
    aan ku dan sheegtoon
    dood kuula aadee
    ruux aan ku daalloo
    ley diidanyahoo
    ana aanan deyneyn
    yaan doonayaayoo
    dawadeydu noqotee
    ma i diir naxdaayoo
    diil ma i galisaa

    Gudcur damboo habeen dumay
    hasha taal duleesho
    dabdeed u yeeroo
    inyar daadaheeyo
    meel durugsan geeyoo
    deeqsii warkeygoo
    soo saar dushaadoo
    bada soo dabaaloo
    soo maax daruurtoo
    aashu ha dilaacdee
    soo dago agteydaa

    [Dhextaal]
    Shimbiryahow ma duushaa
    ma dabeylla raacdaa
    dadka ma u adeegtaa
    howl ma u dadaashaa

    dalanbaabi baan ahay
    daallaa dhacaayee
    kala qaad dibnaha oo
    dal yaqaan ma tahay oo
    dagmadii fogaatiyo
    meeshi laguu diroo
    dowdeed ma garataa

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  31. osman lugayare says:

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Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the Africa Music Director for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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