Album of the Day: Dur-Dur Band, “Dur-Dur of Somalia – Volume 1 & Volume 2”

In the 1970s and ’80s in Mogadishu, the airwaves were filled with funk, soul, reggae, and disco. Every night, Somali musicians rocking Afros, sequined jackets, and bell-bottom trousers performed traditional love songs with Afrobeat rhythms and deep funk grooves, filling both club dancefloors and beachfront hotels.

Artistic innovation flourished despite the presence of an oppressive regime: in 1969, General Mohamed Siad Barre led a bloodless coup and instituted a socialist government that promoted education and the arts, but maintained a tight grip on the results of that creativity. Undeterred, locals began creating masterworks that led to an artistic explosion in Somalia. Of all the art coming from the country at the time, Dur-Dur Band was perhaps its greatest export.

Founded in 1984 by keyboard player Isse Dahir Qassin, Dur-Dur Band’s music fused traditional Somali melodies with dance rhythms from all over the globe, from American funk and soul to Jamaican reggae.

The band’s first two albums—released in 1986 and 1987 respectively, and reissued now via Analog Africa—capture the exuberance of Dur-Dur’s music, giving us a glimpse into the sounds of Mogadishu in the 1980s. “Yabaal,” their first single, is carried by a deep funk groove and punctuated by infectious horn stabs, before it’s lifted even further by singer Sahra Dawo’s riveting vocals. Elsewhere on the album, “Diinleeya” opens with an unmistakably reggae-centric bounce; the origin of that beat was close to home, in the traditional dhaanto music of the Ogaden regions, which Dur-Dur electrified and incorporated into their sound. Similarly, “JaaJumoow Jees,” with its call-and-response and hypnotic rhythm, adopts many of the elements of saar, a traditional style of music used to summon spirits during religious rituals.

Dur-Dur’s sound took Mogadishu by storm, but by the late 1980s, many musicians were forced to leave Somalia due to increasing censorship and a crashing economy. Since then, the country has been unfairly presented as nothing more than an epicenter of war and violence, all but overshadowing its rich musical legacy and the brilliance of its artists. This reissue is a great step to ensure they are not forgotten.

-Megan Iacobini de Fazio

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