Reports: Music in Sudan

Song and Dance
No matter how severe the social stresses, however, the songs themselves endure - the poetic ones and the vulgar ones - circulating in a culture where nearly any group of people can reproduce them by drumming or singing or clapping.

Lyrics come first in the Sudanese appreciation of music, whether they are made up on the spot or relate an epic poem. The lyricists and poets are as celebrated as the singers themselves. Spontaneous songs of praise for the bride and groom are common at weddings. Along the Nile in the northern region, semi-settled nomads display their machismo by baring their backs for the groom to beat them with a camel-whip, working up a massive adrenaline buzz to the sound of massed women's drumming, then cooling off as the local bard strings together extended doggerel about the qualities of the newly-weds. Young unmarried women then take turns to strut past the line of men, holding the worn-down whip handle aloft in a triumphant - not to say suggestive - manner.

Of course, modern urban weddings are not as raw as this, but they remain probably the best place to hear musicians and witness the dove-like bridal dance or kashif, which can be powerfully erotic.

Words, in the strictest sense, are not always necessary. The Nubian hm bee, a regular wordless chant, is used to add weight to stamping and clapping behind the singer. In western Sudan, too, animal and bird sounds are mimicked in the backing chants that flesh out complex, interweaving hand-clap rhythms. One bewitching example sounds at first like sampled sheep and goat noises with a belching chant of "Rambo" pulsing through it. Meanwhile the singer is urging his girlfriend to fetch him a packet of Gold Leaf cigarettes (ilbat Bahari) and asking if he can go to her house to refresh himself with cold water. (This is clearly a man who knows what he wants, and doesn't bother with the simpering odes to a woman's eyes, forehead or other anatomy above the neck that characterize the less direct Arabic love songs.)

This acapella form is often called al-tanbour. A less consistently rhythmical, more improvised form of story-telling in song, again without instruments, is known as dobait.

Women singers