Reports: Music in Sudan
The Nuba are caught on the dividing line between the warring cultures of north and south Sudan, but are fighting back against a government programme of "ethnocide" with their own reawakening identity. Under the squeeze of the government's crude "Islamisation" campaign, the diverse, multi-religious Nuba communities are uniting in resistance, defending their own culture as much as their land. The Kambala, or harvest festival, is still celebrated, and there is a proliferation of new songs and artists. The vibrant Black Stars are part of a special "cultural advocacy and performance" unit of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the Nuba Mountains. Their most famous vocalist is Ismael Koinyi, an accomplished guitar player who sings in Arabic and in several Nuba languages. Other vocalists include Tahir Jezar, Jelle and Jamus.
When journalists were flown in to the Nuba Mountains for an anniversary celebration in 1998 by the charismatic Nuba SPLA leader Yousif Kuwa, they were treated to an amplified concert in the remote mountain retreat courtesy of solar power. Electricity is a rare luxury, however, so with stringed rababas, a clay-pot bass drum, tin bongos and shakers, Nuba bands usually play their form of "Je-luo" - a catch-all term for Kenyan or Congolese guitar styles - unplugged.
The lyrics of Nuba bands like the Black Stars dwell on the battles - military and psychological - through which the Nuba continue to struggle, and the dancing often goes on till daybreak.
Don't confuse the Nuba of south-west Sudan with the Nubians, like Wardi and Hamza al-Din, who are from Nubia in the far north of the country - between Dongola and the Egyptian border at Wadi Halfa (and beyond). Both groups are indigenous Sudanese, rather than of "Arab" origin, but any link is ancient history.