It's hard to remember a time when Somalia was mentioned in reference to something other than bloody civil war, greedy warlords, harsh Islamic fundamentalism, and open seas piracy, but ever since the days of the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, when rebels shot down a U.S. helicopter (aka Black Hawk Down), that has seemed like the only context for information about the east African country. Of course, things weren't always like that, and the great folks—well, Evanston Glenview native Brian Shimkovitz—behind the Awesome Tapes From Africa blog and label are offering a modest antidote to all of the bad news and negativity. In February Shimkovitz is releasing Volume 5 by Mogadishu's Dur-Dur Band, an impossibly rare cassette from 1987 that reflects the exciting popular music scene that Somalia once possessed. The sound quality is pretty murky, with loads of hiss, but the performances are too good to ignore.
I really can't say I know much about music from Somalia. In 2008, when Matthew Lavoie was running the once invaluable African Music Treasures blog at the Voice of Africa, there was a post of some amazing Somalian music cut in the 70s which had a more acoustic, traditional sound than Dur-Dur Band, but in both you can hear some of the pentatonic harmonies familiar in Ethiopian music and the rolling grooves and casually soulful vocals of great Sudanese music. (A year earlier the equally great Likembe blog posted a bunch of electric Somalian music from the 70s/80s, too.) Despite the clear Western pop and funk influences on the Dur-Dur Band, the core sound still reminds me of something from Sudan. The whole album, to be released on February 5, 2013, is terrific, and for today's 12 O'Clock Track you can get a nice peek at its goodness by listening to "Garsore Waa Ilaah."