Album Review by Dominic Valvona

Dur-Dur Band Int. ‘The Berlin Session’
(Outhere Records) 3rd March 2023

Marking the first session of new-recorded music since the halcyon days of their heydays in 80s Somali, the revivalist legacy incarnation of the Dur-Dur Band is back with a truly “international” sounding groove. The International addition in that ensemble title not only references the sound – Somali in origin but spreading throughout the region and across the seas to evoke the rhythms of Indonesia, Thailand, the Caribbean and beyond – but also the history and consequences of a band that has been forced to split up and flee abroad to escape the civil war.

A band for decades now in a diaspora, the original line-up that first caused a sensation on the Euro-chic Via Roma stretch of Mogadishu’s cafes, cinema and music culture has changed over time. But founding member and bass player Cabdill Cujeeri (some names can be confusing as people switch between their Somali spellings and English, which in this case is Abdillahi Ugery) with vocalists Xabiib Sharaabi (the Somali “king of pop”) and Faadumina Hilowle have been joined by a number of other talented Somalia’s: even members from rival groups.

It must be stated – depending on what source you use or find – that the band’s history is a complicated one. Sharing the stage with that other famous and popular Somali group, the Iftin Band, the initial Dur-Dur Band could be found hotfooting across both the stages of the Jubba Hotel and the Mogadishu National Theatre before civil unrest and war forced them to disband in the 90s and scatter to the four winds. At one point they reconvened in Addis Ababa, over the border in Ethiopia. A move that makes perfect sense musically yet came with its own drawbacks. Members then emigrated to Djibouti, the USA and UK. It would be a fundraiser that brought them back together, or rather a loose configuration of that troupe, in 2003 with the Somali “revivalist” and community advocate Liban Noah’s benefit concert for the restoration of Somalia’s Hargesia’s National Theatre. A strong tradition in the country, with pop bands and the like often state-funded, you find groups like the Dur-Dur used as backing for plays – one such run being for May One Of Us Fall In Love. This stepping out would later lead to the formation of the Dur-Dur Band Int., paying homage to their legacy and keeping the flame alive as it were. It helped of course that John Beedle – not entirely aware of who it was – uploaded a cassette tape of the band to his popular Likemba blog. Labeled as “Mystery Somali funk”, it started a whole Western clamour for both the Dur-Dur Band and their peers music. All of a sudden a flurry of compilations and collections followed, building up a picture of a near fabled, undiscovered African music scene.

The most recent chapter of a story that is vey much ongoing, finds the band going into the studio to lay down some new material ahead of a HKW performance in Berlin. With a performative enthusiasm and trio of vocalists (the Djibouti singer, founder of the Sharef Band, Cabdinuur Alaale joining Fadumina and Xabiib) the energy in the room is palpable, starting with the familiar sunny-side-up funk, radiance and looseness of ‘Wan Ka Helaa’ – which I think is a riff or meant to be a version of Fadumu Qassim and the Waaberi Band’s ‘Waakaa Helaa’ (or, “I Like You”). Afro-beat, shades of Cambodia and Ethiopia, a touch of the Hues Corporation lilted upbeat, the Lijadu Sisters and Gyedu-Blay Ambolly converge on one soulful introduction.

We’re into a reggae vibe, or to be exact the North Somali and Ethiopian neighbour’s “Dhaanto” style that’s said to have inspired that Jamaican honed phenomenon, on the simmered and Compass Point Allstars (Cabdinuus – I think – sounding almost like Grace jones) sounding ‘Riyo’. On the next song that Dhaanto gait starts to merge with slackened ska and Ethio-jazz. But it’s back to a shuffle and swing of Mogadishu funk, soul, zappy keyboards and ray-fanned organ on the second half of the album. There’s even room for some spells of Kuti, a little Ebo Taylor and Xasan Diiriya in that magical mix of yearned and excitable love and plaint.

Simultaneously familiar whilst offering a fresh songbook (of a sort), the Dur-Dur Band Int. Berlin Session is as lilting as it is dynamic. Above all it’s always grooving to a unique fusion of worldly rhythms and beats, catapulting that Somali funk to new heights and hopefully making new fans with lively and cool performances. Nothing should keep you buying a copy.   

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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