In the 1980s, Mogadishu swung in spite of the country's oppressive leadership, and one of its best-known acts was the Dur-Dur Band. Awesome Tapes From Africa has reissued some of their other albums before this, but this release of Dur-Dur's Volume 5 is true to the label's name-- it's directly mastered from a cassette copy of the album, one of about 10 that the band recorded. As you might imagine, the preservation of master tapes has been low on the priorities list in Mogadishu for the last 20-odd years, so this is a case of making the best of what's available. For the most part, the sound is excellent. What hiss there is can easily be chalked up as part of the experience-- this music has never existed in a state of digital clarity.
Like many of the great African dance bands, Dur-Dur was a big, versatile group, with three horn players, four lead singers, three backing singers, two guitarists, a keyboardist, a drummer, two percussionists, and a bass player. The vocalists trade off from song to song, singing what the liner notes reveal to be mostly songs about relationship trouble (the novelty for Western listeners will be that a few deal with competition between wives in polygamist households), but unless you speak Somali, you'll be following the melody and not the story-- and the melodies are excellent.
The band's sound is funky throughout, with apparent influences from American funk and soul and possibly even West African music-- the static harmony of their heavy vamps is well matched to the modal, more traditional Somali vocal melodies. The group's one female singer, Sahra Abukar Dawo, also may have watched a handful of Bollywood films-- the edge on her held notes and the way she makes sudden leaps from legato to staccato phrasing is reminiscent of Asha Bhosle.
The songs on the tape were clearly not recorded at the same session, as the instrumentation and audio quality vary a fair amount. I wonder whether the musicians may have been updating their gear around the time they recorded this music-- some tracks feature meaty, old-school organ, while others feature tinny synth and what's either a drum machine or a very convincing approximation of one; the Caribbean-styled "Dholey" is replete with bendy synth lines and accent percussion that would sound at home on Phil Collins' No Jacket Required.
In the early 90s, unable to continue playing in their city, Dur-Dur Band broke up and scattered abroad. Their competition did too, and the cinemas, studios, hotels and theaters that once played host to their music closed, or were forced to. In 2006, Mogadishu was briefly dominated by Islamic extremists who attempted to outlaw music. The place where this music was made is still listed on the map as though nothing changed, but it's not the same city today as it was in 1987. This record is a superb glimpse of what was and what's been lost.
As African countries endured the violent anguish of post-colonialism through the 60s, music culture found itself in a struggle to define a modern African identity and the resultant sounds have taken decades to find occidental ears. Great strides are being made by some dedicated souls these days: Soundway‘s extensive discography spans the entire continent, while Now Again reissued Zambian blues-rockers WITCH (an amazing, raw parallel to the heaviness of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Budgie et al.) Sublime Frequencies, based out of Seattle, unearths lost gems from all over the world in stunningly informative reissues, including many of my favorite African artists, and the Athens-based label Teranga Beat has reissued some crucial psychedelic funk from Senegal and The Gambia in the past few years. Awesome Tapes From Africa dredges up, well, awesome tapes from just about everywhere, including this album by Mogadishu’s pride and joy. Is this enough to reverse centuries of cultural hegemony? Could we see a day in which Dur-Dur Band, the Funkees, or Sinn Sisamouth are known just as widely as Parliament, James Brown, or Elvis? This incredible reissue is evidence that anything is possible.
|A1||Dur-Dur Band Introduction|
|B3||Garsore Waa Ilaah|
|C1||Aada Fududey Iga Ahow|
|C2||Tajir Waa Ilaah|