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Analog Africa Digs Into Retro Somali Funk Group Dur-Dur Band's Deep Cuts

Dur-Dur Band continues to be one of the most transfixing East African pop groups of the 1980s, and this release is a stellar collection of even more gems.

Dur-Dur of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 and Previously Unreleased Tracks
Dur-Dur Band

Analog Africa

21 September 2018

It's hard to imagine that, not so long ago, Dur-Dur Band was almost lost to the broader musical world, obscured by time and Somali political upheaval. Ever since Awesome Tapes from Africa reissued the 1987 cassette Volume 5 back in 2013, the band has become a staple for any collector of vintage African music. Now, Analog Africa returns with 18 more tracks from the legendary 1980s group on the heftily named Dur-Dur of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 and Previously Unreleased Tracks. Of varying technical quality, the recordings are invariably full of what makes Dur-Dur Band so captivating even decades after their initial rise to fame in Mogadishu: entrancing funk, disco beats, and East African melody.

Somalia, the tip and southern border of the Horn of Africa, wraps around Ethiopia, a nation that has long been seen as the world music jewel of East Africa. Though Ethiopia bears the distinction of having never been colonized by the European groups that ripped apart the rest of the continent, including its eastern neighbor, Somali popular music also has certain aesthetic features that mark it as East African. The modes and brass here will strike a literal chord with fans of classic Ethio-jazz, while hypnotic choruses recall any number of trance-like traditions, especially those found along the Nile. Dur-Dur Band was, in fact, almost blackballed from the Somali music scene for focusing on those sounds less meant for a global market - which is where the disco comes in.

Dur-Dur Band is often specifically marketed as retro Somali disco, especially in retrospect. Certainly, the repetition lends itself well to the unstoppable quality of disco, as do the horns and synths that make up the bulk of Dur-Dur's sound. The production values, though, make the Dur-Dur sound stripped-down by necessity. The group's straight reggae jam "Diinleeya" embraces this with slow and open textures, while "Caashaqa Maxaa Il Baray" compensates with singer Sahra Abukar Dawo's voice in full melismatic force over psychedelic electric guitar. Never does the group sound like a thin take on their more orchestral disco influences; to the contrary, differences in resources force the group to make something entirely unique, a style that is funk, is jazz, is Somali, is global - and is sometimes none of those things, but is surely infectious.

Between the tracks of Volume 1 and Volume 2 are the two previously unreleased tracks, which could hardly be more different from each other as samples of Dur-Dur's music. "Salkudhigey" is fast music for sweaty dance floors, rising vocals soft over a genius guitar ostinato and staccato trumpets. On the other side of the Dur-Dur spectrum, "Haddi Aanan Gacaloy" has soulful organs and reggae backbeats, a sweetly-crooned jam for a distant VIP lounge. They are fantastic finds, no question.

A detailed booklet tells the abbreviated tale of Dur-Dur Band's rise from radio-run singing competition winners to superstardom, and it makes for an enlightening read. The narrator of the story is lead singer Shimaali Ahmed Shimaali - another good move on the part of Analog Africa, a label that, unlike many, typically makes at least an effort to get the original artists of a reissue involved. It also includes the thrilling tale of label founder Samy Ben Redjeb's "discovery" of Dur-Dur in 2007 and his death-defying ventures into Somalia - and these come across as a little unnecessary and perhaps even inappropriate next to the actual story of a singer who had to flee his own country and risk musical obscurity. On the whole, though, Dur-Dur Band continues to be one of the most transfixing East African pop groups of the 1980s, and this release is a stellar collection of even more gems.

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