Dur-Dur of Somalia ‘Vol. 1 and Vol. 2’ 3LP/2CD/Cassette/DIG (Analog Africa) 4/5

In the continuing search for hard to find African-flavoured funk and associated music forms, the Dur-Dur band out of Somali must rate as one of the most remote, and for that reason alone the music contained here is a very welcome addition to enhancing our knowledge base of African music, and one that goes beyond the traditional roots-based genres. It has to be stated that discovering this music was no easy task. Indeed, the whole enterprise was one fraught with danger, and the personal security of the crate diggers was at risk at all times in a country that has regularly suffered from war and economic depravation. In the heart of the capital city, Mogadishu, two of the main music shops selling largely cassettes were fertile terrain for determining who the key bands of the 1980s were and, ironically, the shop owners were members of a rival band. In the mid-1980s. two volumes surfaced of the music of the Dur-Dur band, and they make for vastly contrasting sides, specifically in terms of the recording sound quality. Of that first album’s contents (only part is available as a review copy), the fast driving Afro-funk of ‘Deen Baa Maraysoo’, immediately catches the ears, as does the dense percussion accompanied by a wailing saxophone of ‘Hiyeeley’, complete with some lovely rhythmic singing. Opening up the first volume is the multi-layered ‘Ohiyee’, which features brass ensemble, wah-wah guitar and distinctive organ. There are certainly parallels to be made between this outfit and the early manifestation of the Rail Band in Mali, and in the case of the Dur-Dur Band, they honed their craft by regularly performing live at the national theatre in the Somalian capital of Magadishu. A significantly enhanced sound quality greets the listener on volume 2 and that includes only the second 45 that the Dur-Dur Band recorded ‘Dab’. Interestingly, a 1986 hit single, ‘Yabaal’, which is on the first volume has a markedly improved sound quality and has what became band trademarks of heavy bass line, funky wah-wah guitars, brass and organ in tandem, and some fine female lead vocals. Male lead vocalist, the legendary Baastow (thus nicknamed because of his slim ‘pasta’ like shape), regularly features and comes across as something of a visionary and a clear leader of the group. What really impresses is the versatility that the band display. Not only are they accomplished on the funk-tinged pieces, but they are just as adept on roots reggae numbers, and this writer has a slight preference for the reggae which is more expansive as on ‘Juba Aaka’, and the lovely introduction to volume two with a spoken monologue. Hybrid forms come to the fore on, ‘Aduun Hawli Kama Dhamaato’, which fuses proto-Motown beats with funk, or the excellent semi-instrumental ‘Jaajumoow Jees’, with synthesizers prominent and joint male-female lead vocals in the second part.

One caveat with reviewing this particular item. Only part of the complete is available in the press promotional copy, leaving out whole chunks of volumes one and two, and thus the reviewer is unable to provide a fully comprehensive account of the music. Nonetheless, the music provided is of high enough quality to garner the four-star rating.

Tim Stenhouse