Reports: Music in Sudan
Kafka by the Nile
The fact that you can still find plenty of music in northern Sudan might give the impression of freedom, but it's a system that Kafka would recognise for its arbitrariness, in which repression can descend at any moment. It is still possible to find, for example, cassettes of Mohammed Wardi on open sale despite the probability that the singer himself would be imprisoned if he returned because of his outspoken role in opposition to the National Islamic Front. In this schizoid atmosphere, nothing is straightforward. Cab drivers can be punished for playing unacceptable music, too. But since they thrash their car stereos until everything sounds like comb-and-paper or kazoo, how can anyone tell? The NIF both fears and seeks to manipulate music and musicians. Any references to past freedoms in Sudan prior to the 1989 coup are unacceptable. Periods of repression are alternated with periods of coercion; officials differ in their interpretation and application of the 1990 Public Order Acts which regulate performances. Hostile to art that it cannot control, the NIF has introduced an "Islamisation of Art" programme in an attempt to dictate the terms of the discourse. All performers and works of theatre, cinema and music are supposed to be approved by religious jurists. Songs in praise of the para-military Popular Defence Force and jihad are broadcast all the time. Sporadic prohibition is enforced on "low grade" Western music. More important, the diverse range of folk music and dance within Sudan itself often fails to meet the criteria, or is relegated to condescending "ethnological" broadcasts.