Music of Somalia

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The Music of Somalia refers to the musical styles, techniques and sounds of Somalia.

Somalia Federal republic in Africa

Somalia, officially the Federal Republic of Somalia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Ethiopia to the west, Djibouti to the northwest, the Gulf of Aden to the north, the Guardafui Channel and Somali Sea to the east, and Kenya to the southwest. Somalia has the longest coastline on Africa's mainland, and its terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains and highlands. Climatically, hot conditions prevail year-round, with periodic monsoon winds and irregular rainfall.



Traditional Somali music

Somali oud player Nuruddin Ali Amaan. Oudplyrsomhd3.png
Somali oud player Nuruddin Ali Amaan.

Somalia has a rich musical heritage centered on traditional Somali folklore. Somali songs are pentatonic. That is, they only use five pitches per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale. At first listen, Somali music might be mistaken for the sounds of nearby regions such as Ethiopia, Sudan or the Arabian peninsula, but it is ultimately recognizable by its own unique tunes and styles. Somali songs are usually the product of collaboration between lyricists (lahamiste), songwriters (abwaan), and vocalists (odka or "voice"). [1]

Somali mythology

Somali mythology covers the beliefs, myths, legends and folk tales circulating in Somali society that were passed down to new generations in a timeline spanning several millennia. Many of the things that constitute Somali mythology today are traditions whose accuracy have faded away with time or have transformed considerably with the coming of Islam to the Horn of Africa.

A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave, in contrast to the heptatonic scale more familiar to Western tradition that has seven notes per octave.

Pitch (music) Perceptual property in music ordering sounds from low to high

Pitch is a perceptual property of sounds that allows their ordering on a frequency-related scale, or more commonly, pitch is the quality that makes it possible to judge sounds as "higher" and "lower" in the sense associated with musical melodies. Pitch can be determined only in sounds that have a frequency that is clear and stable enough to distinguish from noise. Pitch is a major auditory attribute of musical tones, along with duration, loudness, and timbre.

Traditional instruments prominently featured in the music of the northern areas include the oud lute (kaban). It is often accompanied by small drums and a reed flute in the background. However, heavy percussion and metallic sounds are uncommon in the north. [1] The southern riverine and coastal areas use a wide variety of traditional instruments including: [2] [3] [4]

Oud pear-shaped stringed instrument

The oud is a short-neck lute-type, pear-shaped stringed instrument with 11 or 13 strings grouped in 5 or 6 courses, commonly used predominantly in the music of the Western Asia and North Africa, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, the Jewish diaspora, Iraq, Palestine, Kurdistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Armenia, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, North African Chaabi, Classical, and Andalusian classic music.

Lute musical instrument

A lute is any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back enclosing a hollow cavity, usually with a sound hole or opening in the body. More specifically, the term "lute" can refer to an instrument from the family of European lutes. The term also refers generally to any string instrument having the strings running in a plane parallel to the sound table. The strings are attached to pegs or posts at the end of the neck, which have some type of turning mechanism to enable the player to tighten the tension on the string or loosen the tension before playing, so that each string is tuned to a specific pitch. The lute is plucked or strummed with one hand while the other hand "frets" the strings on the neck's fingerboard. By pressing the strings on different places of the fingerboard, the player can shorten or lengthen the part of the string that is vibrating, thus producing higher or lower pitches (notes).

Flute Musical instrument of the woodwind family

The flute is a family of musical instruments in the woodwind group. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening. According to the instrument classification of Hornbostel–Sachs, flutes are categorized as edge-blown aerophones. A musician who plays the flute can be referred to as a flute player, flautist, flutist or, less commonly, fluter or flutenist.

Clarinet type of woodwind instrument

The clarinet is a family of woodwind instruments. It has a single-reed mouthpiece, a straight, cylindrical tube with an almost cylindrical bore, and a flared bell. A person who plays a clarinet is called a clarinetist.

Trumpet musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family

A trumpet is a brass instrument commonly used in classical and jazz ensembles. The trumpet group contains the instruments with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpet-like instruments have historically been used as signaling devices in battle or hunting, with examples dating back to at least 1500 BC; they began to be used as musical instruments only in the late 14th or early 15th century. Trumpets are used in art music styles, for instance in orchestras, concert bands, and jazz ensembles, as well as in popular music. They are played by blowing air through nearly-closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound that starts a standing wave vibration in the air column inside the instrument. Since the late 15th century they have primarily been constructed of brass tubing, usually bent twice into a rounded rectangular shape.

Horn (instrument) instrument

A horn is any of a family of musical instruments made of a tube, usually made of metal and often curved in various ways, with one narrow end into which the musician blows, and a wide end from which sound emerges. In horns, unlike some other brass instruments such as the trumpet, the bore gradually increases in width through most of its length—that is to say, it is conical rather than cylindrical. In jazz and popular-music contexts, the word may be used loosely to refer to any wind instrument, and a section of brass or woodwind instruments, or a mixture of the two, is called a horn section in these contexts.


Somali singer Saado Ali Warsame receiving a Gold Record, Lifetime Achievement Award. Saadoaliw1.jpg
Somali singer Saado Ali Warsame receiving a Gold Record, Lifetime Achievement Award.

The first major form of modern Somali music began in the mid-1930s, when Somaliland was a part of the British Somaliland protectorate. This style of music was known as dhaanto , an innovative, urban form of Somali folk dance and song. This period also saw the rise of the Haji Bal Bal Dance Troupe, which became very influential over the course of its long career.

British Somaliland former British protectorate

British Somaliland, officially the British Somaliland Protectorate, was a British protectorate in present-day Somaliland. For much of its existence, the territory was bordered by Italian Somalia, French Somaliland and Ethiopia.


Dhaanto is a style of traditional Somali music and folk dance. It is cultural folk dance native to Somali-speaking areas in the Horn of Africa region.

Abdullahi Qarshe, popularly known as the father of Somali music. Cabdilaahi qarshe.jpg
Abdullahi Qarshe, popularly known as the father of Somali music.

Somali popular music began with the balwo style, pioneered by Abdi Sinimo, who rose to fame in the early 1940s. [5] [6] This new genre then in turn created the Heelo style of Somali music. [7] Abdi's innovation and passion for music revolutionized Somali music forever. [8]

Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional or "folk" music. Art music was historically disseminated through the performances of written music, although since the beginning of the recording industry, it is also disseminated through recordings. Traditional music forms such as early blues songs or hymns were passed along orally, or to smaller, local audiences.

Balwo is a style of music and poetry practiced in Somalia as well as Djibouti. Its lyrical contents often deal with love and passion. The Balwo genre was founded by Abdi Sinimo.

Abdi Sinimo was a Somali singer, songwriter, poet and musical innovator. He is noted for having established the Balwo genre of Somali music, which was the forerunner of the Heelo genre and thus gave birth to modern Somali music..

Introduction of melody in modern Somali song is credited to Abdullahi Qarshe, who is recognised for introducing the kaban (oud) as an accompaniment to Somali music. [9] Qarshe is revered by Somalis as "father of Somali music". [10]

Many qaraami songs from this era are still extremely popular today. This musical style is mostly played on the kaban (oud). Prominent Somali kaban players of the 1950s include Ali Feiruz and Mohamed Nahari.

During the Siad Barre regime, music was suppressed except for a small amount of officially sanctioned music. There were many protest songs produced during this period.

Bands such as Waaberi and Horseed have gained a small following outside of the country. Others, like Ahmed Ali Egal, Maryam Mursal and Waayaha Cusub have fused traditional Somali music with pop, rock and roll, bossa nova, jazz, and other modern influences.

Music recorded in the 1970s was preserved in Hargeisa, buried underground, and is now available at the Red Sea Foundation at the Hargeisa Cultural Center, and in Radio Hargeisa. The Barre regime effectively nationalised the music scene, with bands and production under state control. Bands were operated by the police, the army and the national penitentiary. Female singers were encouraged more than was the case in most of East Africa. Most musicians had left the country before 1991. Hiddo Dhawr is now operating as the only live music venue in the city. [11]

Ostinato Records, a U.S.-based label dedicated to African music, has digitized much of the recovered collections housed at the Red Sea Foundation [12] . In 2017 Ostinato along with Nicolas Sheikholeslami, a Berlin-based music researcher and collector, released Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa. The compilation album features material from the preserved recordings, as well as new recordings from the Somali diaspora [13] . The album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Historical category [14] . Artists such as Abdi Holland have popularised Somali nationalism in Somali music. [15]

Music institutions

The first radio station in Somalia to air popular Somali music was Radio Kudu based in Hargeisa, Somaliland. It started broadcasting in 1943 in English, Somali and Arabic, before being renamed the following year to Radio Somali. [16] Somali music is now regularly broadcast on the state-run Radio Mogadishu, as well as a number of private radio and television networks such as Horn Cable Television.

List of Somali musicians

Popular Somali singer Aar Maanta. 58634321 aar.jpg
Popular Somali singer Aar Maanta.

See also


  1. 1 2 Abdullahi, pp.170-171
  2. Somali Culture and Folklore (1974) pp.63-64
  3. Historical Dictionary of Somalia (2003) p. 166
  4. The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. p.57-58
  5. African Language Review, Volume 6. The University of Michigan: F. Cass. 1967. p. 5.
  6. Andrzejewski, B. W.; Pilaszewicz, S.; Tyloch, W. (1985-11-21). Literatures in African Languages: Theoretical Issues and Sample Surveys. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780521256469. Cabdi Deeqsi, who created a genre of love poetry called Balwo
  7. Johnson, John William (1996). Heelloy: Modern Poetry and Songs of the Somali. Indiana University Press. ISBN   1874209812.
  8. Mukhtar, Mohamed Haji (2003-02-25). Historical Dictionary of Somalia. Scarecrow Press. p. 12. ISBN   9780810866041.
  9. Brinkhurst, Emma (2012). Music, Memory and Belonging: Oral Tradition and Archival Engagement Among the Somali Community of London’s King’s Cross. University of London. p. 61.
  10. Farah, Gamute (2018-10-28). Coming of Age: An Introduction to Somali Metrics. Ponte Invisible (Redsea Cultural Foundation). ISBN   9788888934471.
  11. "Uncovering Somalia's forgotten music of the 1970s". Al Jazeera. 18 August 2017. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  12. "Somali songs reveal why musical crate digging is a form of cultural archaeology". The Conversation. 29 July 2018. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  13. "The Lost Songs From Somalia's Golden Age of Music Are Compiled In This New Mix". Okay Africa. 20 March 2017. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  14. "These lost and found Somali tapes are now nominated for a Grammy award". Quartz Africa. 30 November 2017. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  16. Journal of the Anglo-Somali Society, Issues 30-33. Anglo-Somali Society. 2001. p. 56. Retrieved 28 June 2014.

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