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VIDEO Mogadisco – Dancing Mogadishu (Somalia 1972–1991)

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For years, Samy Ben Redjeb has been traveling across Africa and Latin America in search of forgotten sounds: vintage funk and myriad hybrids, offshoots, and variants that proliferated in the post-colonial era. Since 2006, his label, Analog Africa, has turned up dusty recordings from Benin, Togo, Ghana, Angola, Burkina Faso, Congo, Senegal, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Brazil—many of them rarely, if ever, heard outside of the communities that produced them. But it’s likely that Mogadisco – Dancing Mogadishu (Somalia 1972​-​1991) represents his most ambitious project to date, given Somalia’s woes. A former colony of the UK and Italy, Somalia endured a 22-year military dictatorship throughout the 1970s and ’80s, followed, in 1991, by a civil war that continues today. Though civil life in Mogadishu has rebounded since a new government was formed in 2012, the Al Qaeda-linked militant group Al Shabab remains a threat: In late December, terrorists plowed a truck laden with explosives into a busy intersection in the capital, killing at least 79. Amid such persistent security threats, a city once described as “the pearl of the Indian Ocean” is widely considered a danger zone for travelers—Ben Redjef was accompanied by armed security escorts—which only makes his archival efforts there that much more valuable. Analog Africa previously explored Somalian music via a reissued pair of LPs by the Dur-Dur Band, a legendary Mogadishu group and long-time house band at the city’s Jubba Hotel, who blended funk, soul, and disco with styles like daantho, a northern Somali rhythm resembling reggae’s relaxed cadence, and saar, a trance-inducing ritual style, into a rich, intoxicating fusion at once familiar and strange. But Mogadisco represents a far more extensive look at the country’s recent musical past.

In 2016, equipped with little more than the names of a few Somali acts gleaned from diggers’ lore and dubbed cassettes, Ben Redjeb turned up in the port city and finagled an introduction at Radio Mogadishu, whose archives house decades’ worth of the country’s musical history. He spent weeks going through stacks of aging reel-to-reel tapes and digitizing the most enticing finds; he spent years more tracking down surviving musicians, many now living in exile, and interviewing them. As is typical for Analog Africa’s releases, the liner notes here constitute a vital complement to the music, illuminating the stories both personal and societal—a young shepherd who found fame thanks to a singing contest in the big city; a beloved bandleader electrocuted on stage by faulty wiring—that lend meaning and emotional resonance to unfamiliar sounds and opaque cultural cues. Ben Redjeb’s tastes run toward the heavy and mind-bending—as one might guess from a release like African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s—and Mogadisco follows suit. (The liner notes document an amusing exchange with Omar Shooli, who is displeased that Ben Redjeb has chosen the echo-soaked, reggae-inspired “Hab Isii,” never a hit in its day, over one of Shooli’s “nice” songs, the ones he performed at weddings and important ceremonial occasions.) The best material here sounds unlike anything else. Shimaali & Killer’s “Hoobeya” runs lilting call-and-response vocals through tinny reverb and wraps them up in reggae guitar and slinky drum machine; Iftin Band’s “Sirmaqabe” pairs spacey synthesizers with spaghetti-western twang and horse-clop drumming. Both songs make a strong argument that dividing lines, whether geographical or musical, are purely notional. It is a sad irony that musicians so opposed to the fixity of borders would have their fates determined by the whims of mapmakers: All three Dur-Dur songs here were recorded abroad, while the band was exiled in Ethiopia and Djibouti; Shimaali and Killer fled to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where Killer died in 2008……

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