By Abdullahi Omar Qaadi
When Abdi Deeqsi( Abdi Sinimo) had his truck broke down in the middle of the Giriyad desert , near Zeila, he could have been bored when he began to softly tap with his fingers on a empty drum as well humming a rhythm tone. When he skillfully added a verses, it was the birth of Somali songs, known as “Balwo”. That was about seventy years ago. Professor John Johnson in his book “Heellooy” traces back the story of the Legendary Abdi Sinimo as narrated to him by both the great musical artist Abdillah Qarshe, and the great dramatist, artist and poet Hassan Sheikh Mumin, as how the Somali musical songs started to emerge.
The Somali musical songs started to develop gradually but in a various stages. When the small towns and rural villages took to grow into a larger urban settlements, a new urban culture was spreading among the young and the middle aged sects of the society. Musical songs began to be accepted as a new social past time and sophisticated new urbane culture. The elders and the conservatives shunned with a skepticism as alien culture while religious ones dismissed with a warning as the “Devil’s amusements”. Despite this, the Somali musical songs kept gaining popularity among the mainstream of the society. One thing that largely helped the music to keep gaining popularity, was the introduction of the patriotic songs and poems which awakened the nationalistic sentiments of the Somali people under the colonial rule.
When Radio Hargeisa was launched in late forties, the station offered a musically orchestrated songs in a more attractive melodies to its growing listeners. Besides Radio Hargeisa, the Sudanese musical songs from Radio Omdurman, in Khartoum, were highly admired. The smooth melodies of the Sudanese music and the rhythm beats of the Somali music brought both music to a new height of popularity. People found resemblance between the two music strikingly similar and enjoyed with a sensational pleasure. The lyrical music of the vocal giants, like Wardi, Kabuli, Khalifa and Saleh Ibn Badiye captured the hearts of musical lovers in Somaliland. The love for the Sudanese songs lasted long. This was evidently demonstrated in 1964 when the Sudanese singers visited Hargeisa to stage a remarkable musical concert. Some music lovers drove as far as from Burao and Borama to see the concert that night in Hargeisa. When the Sudanese artists proceeded to perform the concert that memorable night, the audience went wild and the massive applauses kept roaring over the starry cool night of Hargeisa. Still now, old folks sometimes remember with fondness that unforgettable night.
At the early times when the Sudanese music was becoming enthralling charm to the music lovers , one young man, named Abdillah Sh. Ibrahim, known simply as Gury, who happened to have extraordinary love for Sudanese and his employer Mr Dahir Hallas are the subject of my story in here. Gury's intense liking for the Sudanese music took him to an adventures that created life time memories. As a boy, he was employed as waiter in a local tea-shop owned by Dahir Hallas, a prominent figure in Borama. Dahir was known for his sardonic wits and sense of a humor, in which he took humor to the extreme limit of playing practical jokes on the employees.
Mr. Gury served the customers while singing or humming with a tone of one of the popular Sudanese songs, and his passion for the music kept growing. It was only from a radio set that a Sudanese music could be listened from. If he owned a radio, he could be the happiest man in the town. But that was not possible, as there was only one Radio in the whole town. That radio was placed in the Civil Centre – a public entertainment building – owned by the government. Besides this, the Civil Centre offered indoor games and served tea as beverage. Gury frequented the Civil Centre, just to happen catching up with one or two of the Sudanese songs tuned from the Radio. Dahir Halas too, felt the dire need for a radio to entertain his customers and boost the popularity of his business. This was years before the Japanese electronics invaded our life with flooding effect. And radio sets were scarce and expensive these days.
Dahir was creative and resourceful person and though other ways to entertain his customers in a special presentation but in an unusual way. He grouped four young lads who were known throughout the town for their undying love for music and songs. Having formed the quartet, he devised hidden “stage” to perform the dramatic presentation for entertaining the customers. He built a large wooden counter near the entrance of the tea-shop that would see the quartet sneak through a small backdoor behind the counter and would fit themselves inside like a Trojan Horse. But who were the quartet? One was Mr Gury, the second was Abdi Yonis Shode who later ended up in the Somali section of Radio Addis Ababa becoming a noted singer and musician. The third was Mohamoud Guleed who later became remarkable actor in Somali dramas, and the fourth was Omar Subuglle known through his life as great "OUD" player in Somali music. They mostly started the entertainment programme with Mr Gury briefly presenting the news he earlier heard it from the Civil Centre Radio, followed by a songs sung by the others. They would play tambourine (DAFF) melodically organized with rhythm clapping. The tambourine (DAFF) was the only available musical instrument to them. Dahir skillfully monitored the programme before the presentation commenced. The customers were not fooled but knew how the presentation was organized and nevertheless enjoyed what was Mr Dahir's version of Radio - a simple and direct artistic style.
Once a while, the Information Department from Hargeisa would visit the town bringing a big event. For public entertainment, the Information Department would project films s on the wall of the Civil Centre
featuring various stories. One particular film that excited Mr Gury was one film showing Sudanese musicians and singers performing a musical show along the bank of river Nile. This was enough to mesmerize Mr Gury like a child watching a magician. His intense passion for the Sudanese Music took him head over heels. If I'm crazy about Sudanese music, why not go to Sudan?. But where is Sudan? Gury pondered but had no idea about where Sudan could be located.
Mr Gury persuaded his friend Abdi Yonis Shodhe to join him going to Sudan. They took a truck to the small town of Qulojeed and from there they started their attempt to walk all the way to Sudan with a deep inner resolve but barely knowing the bearings of their journey. Their travel plan was just to keep travelling westward direction. Next day they arrived the small town Gogti and while keeping their plan secret, proceeded to travel to the unknown country side. This was many years before the "TAHRIIB" was invented. After travelling just a day and one night, they found the rugged wilderness of the countryside inhospitable, and their meager ration diminishing. Finally they met a camel caravan travelling from Djibouti who, after seeing young urban boys travelling in this wilderness, suspected their misadventure. The caravan people pointed to them the perils of taking such unusual adventure and sincerely persuaded them to give up the mission and go back to Gogti. Abdi Yonis Shodhe had a sudden change of heart and decided to give up and go back. For a little time, the two friends were engaged in bitter argument. Gury was adamant and determined to continue the venture, finally, Abdi joined the caravan back to Gogti but Gury opted to continue his walk to Sudan. The two young friends parted for ever with a sad hearts each pursuing the same dream but in a different path.
Still urged by irresistible impulse, Gury continued to walk westwards towards what he believed to be the direction reaching Sudan. Next day he felt that he was lost in the wilderness and felt helplessness. The apparent loneliness of the situation compelled him to give up the mission and turn back. He come upon a rough motor road with a tracks. After a while he heard the distant sound of a motor engine which was growing nearer. Then a Bedford truck appeared from the horizon carrying soldiers.
They picked him up and took him to an army garrison. After learning his failed venture, they treated his case as something motivated by childish whims and made crude jokes on his condition. Next day, The Liaison Officer of the Reserved Area, Mr Abdurahman Abbay Farah happened to visit the army garrison (The Reserved Area was part of the western Somaliland that was illegally ceded to Ethiopia by the British in 1954). From the way Mr Abbay treated the young Gury, we can picture that he was courteous and kind hearted gentleman. After learning his innocent misadventure, he sympathetically thought a way to brighten the young lad, Mr Gury, and uplift his spirits with a surprise, a one that arrived two months later and flabbergasted him. Mr Abbay ordered his aide to see that the young Gury be taken back to Borama and certain official letter be dropped at the post office.
Mr Gury was back at Borama and was hardly prepared for the curious and inquisitive masses of the town
About two months later, Mr Gury was surprised to learn that a posted box was waiting him at the post office. He knew that he was not expecting any mail and thought that there was a mistake. When he appeared at the post office, the post master surprised him with a box containing a radio set and for a moment he stood there in disbelief. He was laden with a fervor and excitement for a days, but as well overwhelmed with a joy. He remembered the kindness with Mr Abbay treated with him and immediately sensed the noble surprise was from him. But how Mr Abby managed to give lavishly when radio sets were as rare as diamonds? Mr Gury only thought it was the boundless generosity from the humane spirit of Mr. Abby. The news quickly spread like a wild fire throughout the town. For some time he was the talk of the town but had to confront a barrage of questions - as what he is going to do with radio set. Mr. Dahir sensed something quite different from the usual local gossip as what Gury will do with Radio.
Dahir who greatly aspired himself to own a radio approached to him, and after artful persuasion wheedled Gury to place it in the teashop where he was employed before. Finally, Gury rather reluctantly agreed to it. He immediately placed the Radio Set at his teashop in lordly manner. Dahir's dream was finally fulfilled, thanks to Mr Gury's unfulfilled dream. At last, the teashop was able to compete with the Civil Centre, and in 1957, when the BBC's Somali Section was beginning to gain popularity, the authorities awarded the teashop with a two metal poles and aerial wires for better reception.
Mr Gury is the only surviving person of these people, and is weakened by old age and slowly treads the streets of Borama . If you happen to shake hands with him, you will see that he is always never without a benign grin which indicates that he is a person of big heart and proud of his humbleness. When I asked him of what he thinks about his young days adventure, he grinned and said ' may be because I was young and bold'.
Abdullahi Omar Qaadi