Small in size and with a population of just under a million people, the nation of Djibouti is nonetheless a crossroads by both land and sea. Situated at the intersection of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia and centered around a port city at the juncture of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Djibouti’s location on the Horn of Africa makes it best known as a site of strategic foreign military interests.
With “Uurkan Kaadonaya”, Groupe RTD’s first single from their upcoming international debut, The Dancing Devils of Djibouti, the band show us another Djibouti, one at a brilliant confluence of cultural influences. The first artists to release music for an extra-Djiboutian audience since the country’s independence from France in 1977, Groupe RTD is “one of East Africa’s best-kept secrets”, as Ostinato Records founder Vik Sohonie puts it. They possess a colossal sound.
Penned by singer Hassan Omar Houssein, “Uurkan Kaadonaya” starts with a bouncing guitar and cool drumbeats that instantly bring to mind the sounds of Bollywood dance hits. Soon after come horns and keyboards, as indebted to “Somali funk [and] American jazz” as to “the synth melodies of the Red Sea”, Sohonie continues. From start to finish, the energy is electric, the sounds ferocious. This is a track full of fire and soul, dazzlingly complex and fast-paced.
To get to this point was no easy process. Djibouti’s government, which tightly controls the production of commercial music, among most other things, allowed the recording team from Ostinato a tight three days to record an entire album. Listening to Groupe RTD, though, there’s no question that the struggle was worth it. As Sohonie points out, this track is “a perfect example of Djibouti’s cosmopolitan sound”, one that is about to floor a global audience for the first time.