*Pictured: Old Town Mogadishu - 1980. Image credit: Qoriley, Flickr.

Once known as the ‘White Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu was a blossoming coastal city with a deep history, and served as an essential East-African trading hub linking India and the Middle-East with the rest of the African Continent. Up until the 1991 coup and subsequent civil war, Somalia was home to an active and diverse local music scene that, over countless generations of trade with the African continent, the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, India, Southeast Asia, and even as far as China, resulted in a thriving musical culture that blended traditional Somali folk music with a myriad of influences that would eventually encompass Afrobeat (courtesy of Fela Kuti), Arabic music, reggae, Indian music and Western Funk. By the early 1980s, disco would be thrown into the mix, leading to the growth of ‘Mogadisco’, or the Somali disco wave, which lasted up until the early 1990s.

Much of the music scene found itself nationalised under the socialist military dictatorship, with state-run radio stations serving as some of the only musical platforms and recording studios in the country. Despite this state-controlled music industry, Somalia was home to several nightclubs that hosted local vinyl-DJs, as well as live bands such as Iftin, Shareero, and Dur-Dur Band (featured in today's mixtape.) 

There isn't much documentation of this nightlife culture available, but the few interviews and documentaries that have emerged in recent years paint a vivid picture of Somali culture during that era, with youth’s across the country sporting afros and bell-bottom pants in the 1970s (later trading them in for tight leather once the disco wave hit). Reportedly, at one point there may have been more night clubs than mosques in the Somali capital. Unique amongst many other music scenes in Africa, Somalia’s musical culture displayed a strong emphasis on female empowerment, with artists like Faadumo Qaasim, Hibo Nuura and Sahra Dawo were often more prolific than their male contemporaries, and leaders in innovation of the genre that would soon incorporate then-cutting edge technologies like synthesizers and drum machines.

However, at the onset of the civil war, these radio stations — essential hubs and archives of Somali music history — found themselves targeted by military groups due to their potential as communication centers for resistance. With knowledge of these incoming attacks, radio operators and archivists set about gathering nearly 50 years of recorded Somali music, mainly in the form of cassette tapes and reels, dispersing them throughout neighboring countries. In an interview with Ostinato Records (whose compilation Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes From The Horn Of Africa was essential to putting together this mixtape), one Radio Hardeisa journalist reported burying tapes underground in order to protect them from the bombings. 

It’s unfortunate that much of this music is not widely available, and has barely managed to find it’s way online in the past couple years through a handful of archival compilations and one-off records gathered from cassette reels, VHS tapes, and bootlegged radio and TV broadcasts by passionate teams of archivists and enthusiasts.

In the process of compiling this mix I was exposed to some of the most wondrous music to hit my ears in a very long time. I am truly thankful to Radio Mogadishu, Radio Hargeisa, Analog Africa, Ostinato Records, CAYKH recordings, and all the unsung archivists who set about preserving this music for future generations. This mix wouldn't have been possible without their work.

For further listening, please check out the following releases from Ostinato Records and Analog africa, which were essential in putting this together, and please consider supporting the artists by purchasing the albums on Bandcamp.


1) Aamina Camaari - Rag waa Nacab iyo Nasteexo (Men are Cruel and Kind)

2) Iftin Band - Sirmaqabe (No Secrets)

3) Sharaf Band feat. Xaawo Hiiraan - Kadeed Badanaa Naftaydani (My Life iss Full of Tribulations)

4) Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir - Hab l Soo Dheh

5) Libaaxyada Maaweeliska Banaadir – Naga Tag, Kac Hooyaa (Edit)

6) Shareero Band feat. Faadumo Qaasim - Qays iyo Layla (Romeo & Juliet)

7) Dur-Dur Band - Daraada Muxibo (Because of you Muxibo)

8) Iftin - Xubi Xoog Magalee

9) Dur Dur Band - Shaleedayaa (By Myself)

10) Hibo Nuura - Haddi Hoobalkii Gabay (If the Artists Lets You Down)

11) Mukhtar Ramadan Lidi - Check Up Your Head

12) Dur Dur Band - Ethiopian Girl