2. Archives in Hargeisa
In London, there is this annual event, called Somali Week Festival
, where Somalis from the global diaspora are invited to perform or to give talks. I contacted the organizers several times, but they never replied, until three days before the event, when I got a message from the lady organizing it, who invited me there. Ali Sugule Egal
, a great composer, playwright, actor and poet, a key figure of Somali culture, had just died in Dubai, and the festival was paying tribute. She explained that this event is where all the musicians and artists in London gather, so if I could attend, she could introduce me to everybody. I booked a flight to London and attended. Besides Martin Orwin
, an English professor who teaches Somali at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, I was the only non-Somali in this event. I couldn’t understand anything. I paid attention to the gestures. These days you will find a lot of young Somali people in Hamburg and Berlin, but back then, not so many. It was an enriching experience.
The lady whom I met in London organizes the diaspora’s cultural events. She is the wife of Jama Musse Jama
, proprietor of the Hargeisa Cultural Center
and Red Sea Foundation
, which purchased cassette tape stocks of “music studios” that were quickly going extinct, in an effort to prevent these prized catalogs from being destroyed or ending up lost. “Music studios” meant something different from what we would associate with a studio today. Imagine opening up a shop, we have a tape player, we record what is on the radio for all day long. Then, one day, a guy would come in and say ‘I want a collection of this singer’
, and the studio owner would tell them: ‘OK, come back tomorrow,’
after which he would make a compilation of that singer’s best songs.
Most of the tapes were not recorded in a proper studio. Sometimes, it was a living room session, sometimes it was recorded from the radio. We later spoke to one of the guys from the Iftiin Band
, Mahmud Abdalla "Jerry" Hussen, now a pianist at the restaurant of a 7-star hotel in Dubai, who said: ´We never went to studio to record. They just put a small tape recorder in the mixer. All live from the stage. I remember this guy who was the mixer guy, he used to put a tape recorder in the mixer. And they went to the market and they sold them. There is no copy-right, nothing.’
At the archive in Hargeisa, we started searching through the cassettes for the singers we had re-searched on YouTube. We would take, let's say, 100 tapes, with two tape decks and we skipped through. A lot of the material was traditional music consisting of vocals, oud and drums. But we were looking for a particular sound that thrived during the 1970s & ‘80s. Once we found some-thing that might be interesting for us, we put it aside. When we later revisited that material, we couldn't use seven out of eight cassettes, even if we like low-fi aesthetics, because the sound quality was too poor. Sometimes I would cry as there was a beautiful song, but you just couldn’t enjoy it because the sound was more noise than music. Most of these cassettes were copies that already have been dubbed many times before. So it is really hard to find a proper sounding copy. You have to be very lucky. The compilation is built from those tapes in the Red Sea Foundation
’s archive, tapes that we found in neighboring Djibouti’s markets, and some from private collections in the diaspora, and the personal stock of a man who works at Radio Hargeisa
Note: Those two tracks are already equalized and the hiss of the cassette tapes has been reduced as much as possible. As much as we love those tracks we decided to not include them due to their sound quality.