Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa (Ostinato Records)
Before the era of Black Hawk Down and the endless civil wars that followed, Somalia was a functioning dictatorship with restaurants, nightclubs and a flourishing popular music culture—disseminated less through records than by broadcasts on state-run radio. The stations maintained an extensive collection of those broadcasts on reel-to-reel and cassette.
Sweet as Broken Dates is culled from those archives, whose heroic preservation in the face of the catastrophe that overtook the East African nation is a story to inspire a novel. Some of the 1970s-’80s music collected here sounds as if excerpted from a Bollywood soundtrack and reveals influences from the Near East and India—unsurprising, given the proximity of the Horn of Africa to the Arabian peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. Primitive electronic keyboards abound—an echo of reggae can be discerned on one track and on the next, the influence of organ-powered British rock. The diversity of Somali pop from its little known golden age is wide and appealing.