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Album Review

The Dancing Devils of Djibouti: The Dancing Devils of Djibouti

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The Dancing Devils of Djibouti: The Dancing Devils of Djibouti
A historic cultural achievement, The Dancing Devils of Djibouti celebrates the first recording to emerge with international distribution from the East African nation of Djibouti.

Djibouti, among the smallest and youngest nations of Africa, sits on the historic Bab El Mandeb (Gate of Tears) strait, a global trade corridor that connects the Indian Ocean with the Red Sea and Suez Canal. Through this geography, the native Afar and Somali music of Djibouti washes in musical streams originating in East Asia, the Arabian peninsula, India and other distant places.

The Dancing Devils captures the first studio recording by Djibouti's national ceremony musical ensemble Groupe RTD, which performs for national events by day but unleashes their own joyous music when they're off the state clock. Led by guitarist Abdirazak Hagi Sufi and Mohamed Abdi Alto (a saxophonist so talented that he adopted his instrument into his legal name), Groupe RTD describe their sound as the meeting of Jamaican dub and reggae, more subtle African rhythms, sleek American jazz horns, and singalong synthesizer melodies, led by reggae toasting and Bollywood-style male and female vocals.

This recording fits the bustling dynamics and colors of that description. "Buuraha U Dheer (The Highest Mountains)" and "Raga Kaan Ka'Eegtow (You Are the One I Love)" feature female vocalist Asma Omar, who then drops back to duet and support male vocalist Hassan Omar Houssein through the rest of the set. These first two tunes— with bubbling reggae basslines, communal African rhythms and grooves and celebratory lead vocals, all wrapped up in the majestic colors of India and Africa plus a delightful Arabian wiggle—absolutely explode out of this production.

"Suuban (Joy)" is smartly titled, with Houssein's voice tying together the call and response between the rhythm and melody instruments that keep this powerful music rolling like a strong and implacable river. "Wiil Wille (The Jumping Man)" ends the set with vocals and drums that march Groupe RTD off to fight another day.

The COVID pandemic has been particularly hard on Djibouti and other African nations. A portion of Bandcamp sales is donated in equal parts to the Djiboutian Embassy in Germany to purchase masks and other essential supplies for Djibouti, and to the Amref Health Africa COVID-19 Fund.

Track Listing

Buuraha U Dheer (The Highest Mountains); Raga Kaan Ka'Eegtow (You Are the One I Love); Kuusha Caarey (The Pearl Necklace); Raani (Queen); Alto's Interlude; Uurkan Kaadonaya (I Want You); Halkaasad Dhigi Magtiisa (That's Where You'll Leave His Reward); Iiso Daymo (Look at Me); Suuban (Joy); Wiil Wille (The Jumping Man).

Personnel

Asma Omar: voice / vocals; Guessod Abdo Hamargod: voice / vocals; Hassan Omar Houssein: voice / vocals.

Additional Instrumentation

Mohamed Abdi Alto: saxophone; Omar Farah Houssein: drums; Moussa Aden Ainan: keyboards; Abdirazak Hagi Sufi “Kaajaa”: guitar; Abdo Houssein Handeh: bass; Salem Mohamed Ahmed: dumbek.

Album information

Title: The Dancing Devils of Djibouti | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Ostinato Records


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