‘Sweet as Broken Dates’ – Lost Somali Tapes
Can music rebuild a country? That is the hope of Ostinato Records founder Vik Sohonie. Ostinato Records mission is to break from the conventional narrative about places like Somalia, which has been reduced to a failed state by 20 years of civil war. If we think about Somalia at all, we usually think about pirates or Al Shabaab. We don’t think about Somalia’s long history as a cultural and economic crossroads. We don’t think about the thriving, cosmopolitan culture that existed before the civil war.
Sweet as Broken Dates is Sohonie’s effort to unearth Somali music from the 1970’s and 1980’s. The songs on this compilation come from archives that were spirited out of the country during the war, or in the case of one catch of cassettes, buried in the ground for safe keeping. Listening to the unearthed sounds provides a window into a time when Somalia knew how to swing. There are broad similarities to the funk and soul coming from Ethiopia from the same period. There is a distinctive swing to the melodies and unique application of electronic instruments to fit the local palate. It’s also worth noting that women had a very prominent role in pre-war Somali music.
By sharing this music with the world, maybe we can view Somalia in a new light. Maybe we can see beyond the despair that grips the nation today to see when Somalia was a thriving country. More importantly, maybe uncovering and releasing these sound of Somali past, can help restore and rebuild the cultural confidence of a people torn apart by twenty years of war. Maybe, rediscovering this music can help the Somali people rebuild their country. It’s a lot to ask from random stashes of cassettes.
Check out Vik Sohonie’s Tedx talk about Sweet as Broken Dates: