Reports: Music in Sudan

Attacks on artists
In 1996 the Cairo-based Sudanese media workers association reported to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan, Dr Gaspar Biro, on harassment of musicians in Sudan by the NIF. The Morality Monitoring Unit of the shadow "police force" known as the General Administration of Public Order extends its remit to musical performances at wedding parties - the most frequent venue for music. Weddings are regular targets for raids on the grounds of Public Order Act offences, mixed dancing, or "unapproved" songs or singers. Seven singers were arrested in one week at the beginning of 1993. Broadcasting editor Salma al-Sheikh was interrogated for hours after allowing a student at the Institute of Music and Drama to use a radio tape of Sudanese songs banned by the regime. She played music by Mohammed Wardi, Mohammed el Amin, Abu-Araki, Mustafa SidAhmed and Yousif al-Mousli on her daily radio programme "Good Morning My Country" until it was taken off the air in 1992. In the early 1980s, song lyrics referring to women's bodies were among those banned. The official decree remained on the books after Nimeiri's overthrow, but was ignored by broadcasters. The NIF coup in 1989 was followed by a decree in which the Director-General of Radio Omdurman prohibited the broadcast of any song other than those glorifying religion or the jihad of the National Islamic Front. Video and music cassettes of songs mentioning kisses or wine, or with political allusions, have been erased and pro-NIF speeches and religious sermons recorded over them. Large amounts of irreplaceable studio archive material have been lost in this way. In 1995 singer Sayyid Khalifa declared that all songs in the archives of the national radio station, Radio Omdurman, were being reviewed and revised. New "moral" versions would be made, excising all unacceptable references.

Staying out of the political arena and thus reasonably free of persecution are two major musicians - Abdel Gadir Salim and Abdel Aziz el Mubarak - who made their impact on the international world music scene at the end of the 1980s, and a third, the equally important Abdel Karim el Kabli. Kabli, now in his sixties, is one of those walking cultural memory banks, a folklorist who can talk in depth about the background of any number of Sudanese songs, and who plays oud in a variety of styles with deceptive ease. The differences between the styles of Abdel Gadir Salim and Abdel Aziz el Mubarak become apparent in the lyrics. While Abdel Gadir sings of a farm girl tired of waiting for her man to come and wipe the sweat off his face, Abdel Aziz is more likely to proclaim his admiration for a woman's high heels.

Institute of Music & Drama