Dur Dur Band Int. The Berlin Session
Review by Bruce Miller
I finally got access to high speed internet at home in the fall of 2007, just in time to dig into “sharity” blogs that hosted endless mp3 downloads of rare, out of print, and obscure music from around the globe. I stumbled into these sites by accident as I was no doubt looking up some 70s-era West African band or other, not knowing such blogs existed.
What I stumbled into went on to fill hard drives and rapidly, almost overwhelmingly expand my knowledge of records even as much of what was posted on such sites as Voodoo Funk, Radio Diffusion International, and World Service, to name a few, led to tons of reissues and belated global attention for many otherwise forgotten artists. And any good blog had a list off to the side of other kindred spirits in ripping and posting music heretofore unknown to many of us in the west.
One such blog, likembe, curated by John Beadle, added nine tracks of otherworldly, dance floor-saturating funk from Somalia supposedly by a band called Iftin, a group by whom the good folks at Ostinato records have recently released a fantastic collection. But in ’07, these tracks, downloadable at a click, were the first many of us had heard of anything from Africa’s horn. Needless to say, minds were blown.
As it turned out, Analog Africa’s Samy Ben Redjeb got the skinny on this music a few years later, as he was trying to find recordings of Dur Dur, another popular golden-age dance band from Somalia, a group whose music Awesome Tapes from Africa had already released. As it turned out, the first LP of the 3-record set he eventually released as Dur Dur of Somalia Vols. 1 & 2 were the exact tracks likembe had first made downloadable, but they weren’t by Iftin after all.
No matter, as it appears that Beadle’s initial posting (as well as some more Somalian grooves he’s posted in the years since) sparked reissue interest in what Mogadishu had on offer at the end of the 1970s and over the next decade or so before this once international destination full of night life and gorgeous beaches fell prey to civil war. As a result, both Ostinato and Analog Africa have released several compilations of Somali sounds, from Mogadishu, but also Djibouti, a country that is primarily made up of Somali culture.
What makes The Berlin Session so spectacular is that its existence is the direct result of new attention directed at this highly infectious, speaker-rattling music from Somalia’s more stable past. Just as Ostinato managed to release cotemporary recordings from Djibouti’s currently active Group RTD, Outhere Records has captured new tracks from Somali music legends. And nothing has changed. Organs and guitars underpin a rotating cast of vocalists, always penetrating in their ability to sail over the music. Picking a standout track is futile, though those familiar with Nimco Jamaac’s “Buuraha U Dheer” from Ostinato’s Sweet as Broken Dates collection will immediately recognize Dur Dur Int’s “Heeyaa” as the same track.
Recorded in Berlin in 2019 with equipment that picked up the room’s echo perfectly as the band played live, the reunion served to bring exiled singers such as Xabiib Sharaabi, Cabdinuur Alaale, and Fadumina Hilowle together with Dur Dur’s original bassist Cabdillahi Cujeeri, as well younger players who keep the flame of this music burning. Aside from the local Dhaanto rhythms that many mistake for reggae, Somali music of this type is a natural blend of East and West, unlike anything else but oddly familiar to anyone hearing it for the first time. Because Africa’s horn is the place where the continent meets the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, a radical blend of cultures have left their marks on the area, which is why one might hear the middle east in the vocal timbres or melodies that sound almost South East Asian embedded in a type of groove that could come from nowhere else but Africa.
The Berlin Session conjures an era when Somali ensembles jetted all over the African horn or played long residencies at Mogadishu’s National Theater. Recording at Radio Mogadishu by day, Dur Dur, Iftin, Sharero Band and others cranked out sweaty sets at Al-Caruba Hotel, Lido Beach, or the Juba Hotel by night. More importantly, the album’s release timing is perfect, considering the much-deserved attention this music is now receiving around the globe.