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"Mogadisco - Dancing Mogadishu - Somalia 1972​-​1991"

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It is difficult for me to imagine Analog Africa ever releasing a predictable or uninspired compilation, as Samy Ben Redjeb seems fundamentally incapable of ever focusing his attention on a scene or place that has already been anthologized by his crate-digging peers.  Mogadisco is predictable in one regard though, as Redjeb makes his return to the African continent after Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia's surprise detour into Brazil.  Characteristically, however, Redjeb swims against the tide, as he decided to go digging in one of the world's most dangerous and tourist-unfriendly places after seeing a video about the Radio Mogadishu archives.  A less driven person would have been immediately put off by the need to have an armed escort every single time he went outside, but that is the difference between Redjeb and everyone else: if he heard that there was a killer record hidden at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, he would either find a way to get to it or die trying.  As usual, Redjeb's efforts yielded some genuinely wonderful finds, though this latest batch of long-forgotten and obscure gems is not quite as rhythmically unique as those on other Analog Africa collections.  Fortunately, most of these artists managed to achieve a distinctive character in other ways.  Analog Africa's hot streak remains unbroken.

Analog Africa

This compilation, Analog Africa's first major overview of Somalian music, is primarily the result of a trip Redjeb made to Mogadishu back in November of 2016.  Naturally, the aforementioned archives were the focal point of Redjeb's brief residency in the city.  That was probably for the best, as the environment did not sound at all conducive for digging around flea markets or seeking out like-minded record dealers.  The fact that the hunt was mostly limited to just one building did not necessarily make it any easier than usual though, as being confronted with a collection of "roughly 20,000" undigitized tapes in a foreign country would be daunting for anyone.  Also, it is safe to say that Redjeb (as a perpetual outsider) is almost never looking for the sorts of albums that people would expect him to be hunting for, as he tends to be exclusively drawn to long-forgotten eras and stylistic outliers.

Fortunately, Redjeb did have a few reference points in mind beforehand, as he was a big fan of Iftin Band and Dur-Dur Band (he has previously anthologized the latter with a two-volume set).  That certainly helped the archive staff to focus their search a bit.  And, of course, there were a few welcome surprises both within the archive and beyond its walls.  Regarding the latter, Redjeb managed to locate a cassette warehouse, so he was able to put his hours to good use while awaiting updates from the archive staff.  In fact, his days of drinking coffee and digitizing boxes of warehouse tapes in his room actually wound up yielding a number of this album's better finds.  Redjeb's other bit of serendipity was the discovery of a box in the archive described as both "music nobody had managed to identify" and "mainly instrumental and strange music."  Two of the best pieces on the album actually emerged from that pile and both certainly fit quite comfortably in that latter category.  Both are by Iftin Band.

My favorite of the two is "Ii Ooy Aniga (Cry For Me)," a bittersweetly lovely instrumental carried along by a propulsive, high-hat-heavy disco groove.  Elsewhere, Iftin Band's other piece ("Sirmaqabe (No Secrets)") is the most surprising one on the album, as its surf-inspired guitars and organ melodies make it sound like an escapee from Sublime Frequencies' Shadow Music of Thailand compilation.  I guess some albums by The Shadows must have made it to Somalia too, though Redjeb's interview with Iftin Band's percussionist Salah Hariri mentions that they were in demand primarily because they could play funky music like Michael Jackson and James Brown better than other bands.  That may very well have been true at the time, but Mukhtar Ramadan Iidi easily steals the show as the funkiest artist on Mogadisco, as "Check Up Your Head" sounds like the work of someone who fully grasped and embodied the music's sexy and soulful intent.  Notably, Iidi sings in English, which causes him to be remembered as a "Western artist," but he also did time in the scene-dominating Shareero Band and later found even greater fame as an actor.

Unsurprisingly, Mogadisco also features a handful of solid songs from Redjeb favorite Dur-Dur Band, but that band's earlier, more bizarre incarnation as Bakaka Band turns up too and they are quite a unique entity: they were backed by the Ministry of The Interior and the Aboow Liberation Front and wrote songs designed to inspire the troops fighting at the Ethiopian border.  Musically, they were no less of an anomaly, as their "Gobonimada Jira (Choose Freedom)" is a remarkably effective collision of proto-rap, soul, reggae, and a goddamn marching band.  Somewhat less effective (yet no less interesting) is "Geesiyada Halgamayow (Brave Fighters)," which bizarrely bounces back and forth between an insanely funky and fiery disco groove and something that resembles a football half-time show.  I wish they had just stuck to the disco groove, but those moments are great enough to win me over despite my deep misgivings about the piece's perplexingly seesawing structure.

Characteristically, the liner notes are one of the most delightful aspects of this album, as Dur-Dur Band's history as government-backed funk propagandists is just the tip of a very weird and colorful iceberg.  In fact, Dur-Dur Band alone could probably be grist for quite a compelling book, as they were all arrested once because they accidentally chose a band name (Gor-Gor) shared by an anti-government revolutionary sect.  Beyond that, their singer was electrocuted to death while checking a microphone (and people thought he was dancing).  Also, the entire band once had to be smuggled out of Ethiopia by a fan after being entrapped by a sinister businessman.  For the most part, however, the story of these bands is mostly just that of a small, incestuous group of talented musicians eagerly assimilating eclectic new trends in hopes of landing a residency at one of Mogadishu’s hottest nightspots.  As a result, even the same band can sound quite different from song to song, which is a large part of Mogadisco's appeal: almost every song sounds like a several disparate stylistic puzzle pieces were somehow mashed together into a coherent shape.  For the most part, all of the songs Redjeb collected are unified by the grounding of a tight, funk-minded rhythm section, but it is rare for the finished product to quite resemble anything as straightforward as "funk," as there is always a winding organ motif, a traditional-sounding vocal melody, a twangy surf guitar, or a skanking, reggae-esque pulse thrown in to muddy the waters.  These songs do feel like they all belong together though.  I am a bit surprised that Redjeb limited this compilation to just twelve songs, but I suppose he wanted to stay stylistically focused in order to leave room for future collections.  And Mogadisco is a strong batch of songs, so diluting it with any added material would likely have been detrimental (unless it was great).  While I cannot say I love everything here, the misses are impressively infrequent and a few songs have instantly entered my personal pantheon of all-time Analog Africa favorites.  Which, of course, is exactly what I was hoping for.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 February 2020 09:58  


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