Reports: Music in Sudan

Foreign artists
During the 1960s, Ray Charles ("Hit the Road, Jack") and Harry Belafonte made a big impression on urban Sudanese musicians such as Osman Alamu and Ibrahim Awad, who became the first Sudanese singer to dance on stage. (Fast forward to 1985: Sherhabeel Ahmed, a quietly progressive musician and illustrator whose wife used to play bass guitar, sings "Kingston Town" at a famine concert echoing Live Aid. Harry Belafonte is in the audience, representing the charity USA for Africa, and is openly moved to tears.)

In the 1970s it was the turn of James Brown and Jimmy Cliff (who is still a frequent, low-profile visitor to Sudan, although not to perform). The ebullient Kamal Kayla modelled his funk-shout style on the hugely popular JB, although he was in retirement last I heard, raising exotic pigeons.

The 1980s made Bob Marley and Michael Jackson household names in the most unexpected places. Marley was recognised by some as the spiritual kinsman of Sudan's own Sufi dervishes, and an inspiration to thousands of ghetto children. As for Michael, well, he shared the Sudanese problem with skin colour (skin bleaching is still in vogue) and showed the nimbler ones the possibilities of moonwalking.

There was loveable trash, too. A trip to the cinema for the street-kids wasn't complete until they played Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" in the auditorium, vaguely in honour of Bruce Lee.

Quirks of fashion turned a short-lived Welsh disco queen, Tina Charles ("I love to love", "Dance little lady, Dance"), into an idol: buxom and heavily made-up, looking like the cover of an Egyptian magazine. They liked her even more than Diana Ross, who was a bit skinny for their tastes.

Dance and trance