Sunday, December 8, 2013


The music from the Afars and Somalis, the two major ethnic groups in Djibouti, has characteristics of the music from neighboring Ethiopia (and other regions in the Horn of Africa) as well as from Arab music. 

In the Somali traditions, their music is closely tied to their oral folklore traditions. This is also true in the Afar cultures as well.  I normally think of the pentatonic scale as being distinctly Asian (the pentatonic scale is one that is built upon five notes, as opposed to most Western music which is built on a seven-note scale – the pentatonic scale is like playing all the black keys on a piano.)  I found it very interesting how Somali songs were composed. It’s not just the idea from one person – it’s a collaboration effort, a group expression.  The lyricist, the composer, and the singer all have their say and input into coming up with the song. 

A style of music called balwo was started in the mid-1940s.  Its foundation is attributed to Abdi Sinimo.  Balwo is a combination of music and poetry that often deals with love and passion.  The poetry these are generally built around a type of short poem. 

Some of the common instruments featured in Djiboutian music are the tanbura (a long-necked stringed instrument somewhat similar to a sitar and goes by a lot of different names), bowl lyre (similar to a lyre that I think of in Greek Antiquity, but most of the time larger; usually made from a gourd, shells, bones, or wood, and in many African lyres, there isn’t a bridge, so the strings will vibrate against the soundboard, creating a buzzing sound), the oud (a short-necked string instrument with a large resonating chamber, often considered the ancestor of the modern guitar, folklore says the oud was created by Adam’s sixth grandson after the death of his son), and a variety of drums. 

Popular music in Djibouti is a little harder to find. There was very little in Spotify, although there was a Wikipedia page that listed several artists.  And there are also several websites that I came up with when I did a Google search for the best Djiboutian musicians.  One musician that I did come across is Fatouma Mansour. I've found a few videos of her music.  

And I also found this:

And this, which is around two hours long, but the first few minutes remind me of the Delta Blues a bit...

There aren’t too many traditional dances that I found information for. There are a few folkloric dances out there, like in this short video.  One traditional dance of the Afar people that I did find mentioned is an oracle dance called the jenile.  This dance is tied to their ancient Cushitic religion, predating the Islam that is practiced today.  There are parts of these dances that were actually incorporated into certain ceremonies that are held in Sufi Islam (the dominant Islamic sect in this area).  As far as this dance goes, it’s not so much necessarily what we might consider a “dance” per se. The jenile, who can be a man or woman, will enter a trance and then delivers oracles.  The men will then for a circle around the jenile while chanting and clapping their hands together.  Then the men in the circle – without moving their feet – will bend forward, chanting faster and faster, until the jenile in the middle answers their questions. I think it’s more or less an example of how the arts (music, art, dance, literature) are so incorporated in their ways of life, their views on how societies work, and their views about the world in general that it’s really hard to pull it apart. 

Up next: the food


  1. doesnt show any vids or pics!!

  2. doesnt show any vids or pics!!

  3. Thanks for the info I would not have known if it wasn't for this blog