By: Mohamed Ahmed Shunuuf and Mohamoud Ahmed Shunuuf
It is difficult to avoid being everywhere. From Harta Sheekh, Hargeisa, Berbera, Burao, the music squeaks and scratches itself out of every restaurant and shop, not even buses, taxis and private cars are safe. To a non-Somali speaking person some of the music must seem unbearable, pscychodelic, weird and indeed to a certain extent the quality of some of the harsher emissions emanating from the omnipresent tape recorders and distorted radios is unbearable. But, this unbearable problem is of reproduction, not music. Any live music by an outstanding Somaliland singer ‘Caqaarta’ singing and ‘Gin’ playing the ‘Oud’ or ‘Faysel’ singing and ‘Xodeydeh’ on the ‘Oud’ will soon convince the untrained listener of the finer qualities of the “Somaliland sound”.
Somaliland music as opposed to clan music, based on folklore traditions consists of a combination between the tender melodies of the nomads, the explosive hot drumbeats of black Africa and just a little colorful instrumental accompaniment. This music as transmitted by radio and tapes and performed at innumerable afternoon and night parties and weddings, is comparatively young. It is an urban sound. This urban population created a distinctly characteristic musical style, as yet untouched by the vampire grip of the international music business (lately music abroad is penetrating deeply into the country). An early ancestor of the music is the traditional folklore music of Somaliland called “Hees” which includes “Dhaanto”, “Jiifto”, and others. This traditional folklore music is performed during weddings and special occasions. The singers both women and men sing original pieces on the spot, on a ‘call’ and ‘response’ fashion. Another ancestor of the music is called “Baar Cadeh’. This is similar to “Saar”, a religious social cultural dance and song, performed by someone in trance or is possessed by evil spirits or “Jin” as is known by the locals. The singer usually is a male who dances with a sword in his right hand in front of a circle of women clapping their hands. Yet another ancestor of this music is the ‘sufi’ influenced singing. The singers poetically describe their love for God and the prophet, accompanied only by some rhythmic clapping and drums. You can still hear this fascinating kind of ritualized Sufi music on Friday nights in almost all cities and towns in Somaliland. For instance the powerful drums and its complex rhythms and choruses can be heard in Hargeisa from a far away distances at night. “Abdi Qays”, a Somali poet, composer, singer and musician popularized the Sufi music through the recordings of his well-known song called “Saints help us” or in Somali “Awliyo Allaay Adeeg” in the 1970’s.
Saxardeel Mohamed “Jabiyeh” known to be one of the forefathers of Somaliland music, points out that, “The music’s decisive progress was made, however, in the ‘thirties and forties, when the Oud finally joined the scene”. The Oud which is originally from Africa is the predecessor of the Lute and even the hardest electrical guitar in American Rock/Reggae band is a mere offspring of an instrument which made its way through Spain and France during the time of the Arab/Islamic conquest, one thousand years ago. It was brought to Somaliland by some music-loving Somalis and Arabs from Aden-Yemen. The names of the Arabs who contributed were Mohamed Saeed, Mohamed and Hassan Nahaari. An Indian by the name of “Raaw” who played the lute contributed too. A group of young men called “Kaba Cad” or “white shoes” popularized and contributed immensely to the music’s formative year. The name of some the “Kaba Cad” are:
Mohamed Haji Ali Guhaad (San Yareh)
Mohamed Ismaaciil “Barkhad Cas”
Abdisalan H. Adan
Yusuf Xaaji Aadan
These men were also known as the “ten guys who light the lantern” or in Somali “Tobanka Innan ee Tiriiga Shitah”. It is because of them that Hargeysa is known as the “Home of Arts” in Somaliland or “Hoyga Fanka”.
The oud today stands at the center of contemporary Somali music. Some call it supernatural (especially when its ten strings are plucked by a virtuoso like “Xodeydi”, playing and ‘Faisel’ or ‘Kinsi’ singing.
After radio broadcasting started in 1940, during WWII, Somaliland music, especially in Hargeisa, the capital city developed quickly. The new media amplified its popularity. Orchestras of violins played by Mohamed Nahaari and Mohamed Saeed, flute played by “Raaw” and accordians, trumpets, and saxophones played by Alli Faynoos and Ismail Abdi (Ismaile Yare) were called to join in. The singer and ‘loud” player created much of the music, which is played today. Pioneers of this besides the “Kaba Cad” mentioned above, include Abdillahi Qarshe (Nationalist singer), Saxardeed Mohamed, Ali Sugleh, Ahmed Ali Dararmleh, Gudoodo Carwo (the first female singer on the radio), Ahmed Saleebaan Bideh, Maandeeq, Bulweeyeh, Mohamed Ahmed, Mohamed Yussef, Omer Dhuuleh, Mohamed Suleman, Mohamed Yusuf, Rashiid Bulo, Xaafuun, Ilbir, If tin, Ismail Sh Ahmed, Ismaciil Yare, Cismaan Mohamed and the great nationalist poet Mohamed Ismaciil (Barkhad Cas).
In the sixties a new generation of musicians and composers appeared. Among them, Ahmed Mohamed Good (shimber), Faisel Omer Mushteeg (they both went to the Cairo’s prestigious college of music and drama with their friend Ahmed Ali Dararmleh), Ahmed Moogeh, Mohmed Moogeh (considered to be the best male vocalist ever in Somaliland), Ahmed and Ali Saleebaan Bideh, Abdi Iidan, Sahra Ahmed, Ahmed Gaceyteh, Zeynab Egeh, Abdi Qays, Hadraawi, Abdirahman Hassan, Sahra siyad, Shankaroon, Magool, Abdulla Zagzag, Mohamed Ahmed, Marwo Mohamed, Mohamed Jama Joof, Mohamed Abdillahi (gujis), Haji Gugis, Basbaas, Gin, Bashiir Xadi. They too collaborated with great poets of their time and adhered to traditional patterns, putting emphasis on ‘Oud’.
In the seventies, singers began to experiment with bass guitar, saxophone, bongo and tabla. Indeed, many musicians believe Somaliland music has proved itself too easily adaptable to foreign innovations without losing its distinctive characteristics. Singers such as Faysel, Dararmleh and more numerous music lovers would argue, however, that with the importation of western electronic gadgets, many of the originalities and peculiarities of Somaliland music have been lost; witness the host of the cheap and vulgar imitations of rap, pop and reggae inspired recent recordings, they point out. Mohamed suliban, Hassan Aadan Samatar, Sado Ali, Abdiwahab .A. Naji, Abdihakim, Sulfa, Mariam Mursal, Abdi Jabar, Mahad Yare, Mohamed .M. Koshin, Adnlkadir Juba, Laba dhagax are all good examples of those who by their cheap imitation of Western music destroyed the very fabric of Somaliland music and songs. Furthermore they stole the lyrics and songs of our heritage without paying respect to those individuals who originated this music. All they want to do is to make quick money by abusing and destroying the aesthetic value of Somaliland’s music. Some of the old musicians call this “blood money”. Since they don’t compose the original music, the Somaliland community should boycott this type of music. Composers and playwrights such as Hassan gini, Hadraawi, Abdi Qays, Ahmed Saleebaan Bideh, Mohamed Omer Huuryo, Cali Saleeban Bide, Xudayde, Omer Dhuule, Aadan Tarabi, Ahmed Cali Weyd dominated the 70’s era with unbelievable lyrics and music.
Good Somaliland music today displays a good variety of interchangeable elements. Reflecting however, its early roots, a gentle melody and a pressing rhythm remain unchanged as the most important components. Among the most advanced group of singers in the 80’s and 90’s or in contemporary Somaliland style are: faysal Omer Mushteeg, Xodeydi (king of Oud), Ahmed Ali Dararmleh, Kinsi Xaaji Aadan (one of the best female vocalists of all time, the Diva of Somaliland), Gin (exceptionally talented oud player), Abdi Nasser Macalin Aideed (master of Oud), The late Omar Dhuule (the first female impersonator in 1955), the late Yusuf Osman (xaraaro), Musa Huuno (good Oud player), Ilma Hassan Maygaag, Omer Gabas, Ahmed Gacyte (one of the best composers of all time) Mohamed Ahmed (busy, singer and Oud player, Ikraan Jaama, Abdillahi Omer Haji Yusuf, Mohamed abdillahi (Gardaf), Mohamed Faarax, Omer Aadan Qalinleh (BootoBooto), playwright, poet and composer, Sahra Axmed (halgan), Kayd Mohamoud, Mohamed Ahmed kuluc, Zeynab Egeh, Sahara AIi, Suleekha Afyar, Khadra Daahir, Hassan Xaaji Yusuf, AbdiTahliil, Sahra Ahmed and Maandeeq. The latter although a performer in 1959, is regarded as the best female singer who ever lived.