Somalia is rarely described as on the musical vanguard but there was a time, before its turmoil, when the Horn of Africa nation bustled with an electrifying mix of the world’s sounds.
A new album aims to bring a wider audience to the music of Somalia through the restoration of dusty cassette recordings from the 1970s and 1980s, a time when “Swinging Mogadishu” came alive with free-flowing nightclubs that became a crossroads for funk, pop, reggae and Bollywood.
“Sweet as Broken Dates,” which comes out August 25 on two LPs or one CD, took more than a year of exploration led by Vik Sohonie, a former news reporter whose New York-based label Ostinato Records seeks out music from countries whose cultures are often overlooked.
“As someone who has a degree in history, I always knew that these places had more to offer than what’s in the media,” Sohonie said.
Somalia has lacked a functioning government for a quarter-century and its leading musicians have drifted around the world.
Making the project even more complicated, Somalia had no record labels releasing albums; the music industry was entirely managed by the now crumbled state, with Siad Barre’s military regime putting bands on the government payroll and tightly controling selections of state radio.
“This is a music universe that has been just completely untapped,” Sohonie said.