The Dancing Devils of Djibouti
Djibouti is a small country in the Horn of Africa. The former French Colony is surrounded by Somalia, Ethiopia and Eretria and the Red Sea. It’s the smallest country in continental Africa but is hugely important to trade and shipping in the region. While the music of Ethiopia and Somalia have gained world-wide attention, the music of Djibouti hasn’t gone far beyond their borders The reissue label, Ostinato, gained access to the archives of Radiodiffusion-Televsion Djibouti with the intent to put together a compilation from old recordings. They quickly changed their plans when they heard Groupe RTD playing in the studio next door.
Groupe RTD is the national ceremonial band of Djibouti. By day, they perform for presidential and national events. When not on official duty, they’re a fantastic dance band. Ostinato negotiated to get access to Groupe RTD for three days to make the first record by an artist from Djibouti to ever gain internationally release.
For the recording sessions, Groupe RTD ditched the formal, ceremonial stuff for the free spirited after hours jams. As befitting a crossroads nation, the sounds the group explores are a mixture of influences. There are clearly elements of Somali funk and Ethiopian jazz. Bollywood vocal styles and Jamaican reggae are all in the mix too. The rushed recording sessions didn’t hurt the performances. There are a few bits of conversation and studio noodling included in the mix. The sound has a joyous, in the moment spontaneity.
The Dancing Devils of Djibouti is a fantastic release to mark the shift from being a purely reissue label to documenting the living music of Africa. Ostinato has been providing a great service in their effort to preserve recorded music that might otherwise be lost. Bringing current musicians to worldwide attention confirms that music making is an ongoing and important element of life.