Music of Sudan

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Sudan has a rich and unique musical culture that has been through chronic instability and repression during the modern history of Sudan.

Sudan Country in Northeast Africa

Sudan or the Sudan, officially the Republic of the Sudan, is a country in Northeast Africa. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea to the east, Ethiopia to the southeast, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west, and Libya to the northwest. It has a population of 39 million people and occupies a total area of 1,886,068 square kilometres, making it the third-largest country in Africa. Sudan's predominant religion is Islam, and its official languages are Arabic and English. The capital is Khartoum, located at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile. Since 2011, Sudan is the scene of ongoing military conflict in its regions South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

History of Sudan aspect of history

The history of Sudan includes that of both the territory that composes Republic of the Sudan, South Sudan as well as that of a larger region known by the term "Sudan". The term is derived from Arabic: بلاد السودان‎ bilād as-sūdān, or "land of the black people", and can be used more loosely of West and Central Africa in general, especially the Sahel.


Beginning with the imposition of strict sharia in 1989, many of the country's most prominent musicians and poets, like poet Mahjoub Sharif, were imprisoned while others, like Mohammed el Amin and Mohammed Wardi, fled to Cairo (Mohammed el Amin returned to Sudan in 1991 and Mohammed Wardi returned to Sudan in 2003). Traditional music suffered too, with traditional Zār ceremonies being interrupted and drums confiscated. [1] At the same time, however, the European militaries contributed to the development of Sudanese music by introducing new instruments and styles; military bands, especially the Scottish bagpipes, were renowned, and set traditional music to military march music. The march March Shulkawi No 1, is an example, set to the sounds of the Shilluk.

Sharia, Islamic law or Sharia law is a religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. It is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith. In Arabic, the term sharīʿah refers to God's immutable divine law and is contrasted with fiqh, which refers to its human scholarly interpretations. The manner of its application in modern times has been a subject of dispute between Muslim fundamentalists and modernists.

Mahjoub Sharif, born as Mahjoub Muhammad Sharif Muhammad, was a Sudanese poet, teacher and activist. He became known in Sudan and other Arabic-speaking countries for his colloquial poetry and his public engagement, both committed to further the causes of democracy, freedom, general well-being and national identity. His poetry was put to music by eminent musicians, such as Mohammed Wardi and Mohamed Mounir, but also led to repeated political imprisonment under different Sudanese governments.

Mohammed Wardi Sudanese musician

Mohammed Osman Hassan Salih Wardi was a Muslim Nubian Sudanese singer and songwriter.

Sudan is very diverse, with five hundred plus ethnic groups spread across the country's territory, which is the third largest country in Africa. The country has been a crossroads between North, East and West Africa for hundreds of years, and is inhabited by various ethnic groups, predominantly Arabs and African Muslims, and also some Christians mostly situated in the south of Africa.

Folk and Traditional Music


The Sufi Dervishes are a mystical sect that use music and dance to achieve an altered state of consciousness in a tradition called zikr . The drumming sessions of the women's Zār sect are a prominent part of Dervish music. [1] The Sufi orders engage in ritualized dhikr ceremonies. Each order or lineage within an order has one or more forms for group dhikr, the liturgy of which may include recitation, singing, instrumental music, dance, costumes, incense, meditation, ecstasy, and trance. [2] Dhikr in a group is most often done on Thursday and/or Sunday nights as part of the institutional practice of the orders.

Dervish someone treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path

Dervish or darwish in Islam can refer broadly to members of a Sufi fraternity (tariqah), or more narrowly to a religious mendicant, who chose or accepted material poverty. The latter usage is found particularly in Persian and Turkish, corresponding to the Arabic term faqir. Their focus is on the universal values of love and service, deserting the illusions of ego to reach God. In most Sufi orders, a dervish is known to practice dhikr through physical exertions or religious practices to attain the ecstatic trance to reach God. Their most common practice is Sama, which is associated with the 13th-century mystic Rumi.

In the cultures of the Horn of Africa and adjacent regions of the Middle East, Zār is the term for a demon or spirit assumed to possess individuals, mostly women, and to cause discomfort or illness. The so-called zār ritual or zār cult is the practice of exorcising such spirits from the possessed individual.

Liturgy is the customary public worship performed by a religious group. As a religious phenomenon, liturgy represents a communal response to and participation in the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication or repentance. It forms a basis for establishing a relationship with a divine agency, as well as with other participants in the liturgy.

Southern Sudanese folk music

South Sudan has rich folk music that reflect the diverse cultures of the region. For example; the folk music of the Dinka people include poetry, while the Azande are known - beside many other traditions and beliefs - for story-telling that feature a good wizard figure prominently.

South Sudan country in Africa

South Sudan, officially known as the Republic of South Sudan, is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa. The country gained its independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011, making it the newest country with widespread recognition. Its capital and largest city is Juba.

Dinka people ethnic group in South Sudan

The Dinka people are a Nilotic ethnic group native to South Sudan, but also having a sizable diaspora population. They mostly live along the Nile, from Mangalla to Renk, in regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Abyei Area of the Ngok Dinka in South Sudan.

Radio Juba, under control of the current Sudanese regime has erased the unique tapes of Yousif Fataki, a renowned southern singer.

Due to the many years of the civil war, the culture is heavily influenced by the countries neighboring South Sudan. Many South Sudanese fled to Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda where they interacted with the nationals and learnt their languages and culture. For most of those who remained in the country, or went North to Sudan and Egypt, they greatly assimilated Arabic culture.

Civil war war between organized groups within the same sovereign state or republic

A civil war, also known as an intrastate war in polemology, is a war between organized groups within the same state or country. The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, to achieve independence for a region or to change government policies. The term is a calque of the Latin bellum civile which was used to refer to the various civil wars of the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC.

Culture Social behavior and norms found in society

Culture is the social behavior and norms found in human societies. Culture is considered a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of phenomena that are transmitted through social learning in human societies. Cultural universals are found in all human societies; these include expressive forms like art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies like tool usage, cooking, shelter, and clothing. The concept of material culture covers the physical expressions of culture, such as technology, architecture and art, whereas the immaterial aspects of culture such as principles of social organization, mythology, philosophy, literature, and science comprise the intangible cultural heritage of a society.

Ethiopia country in East Africa

Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country in the northeastern part of Africa, popularly known as the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, and Somalia to the east, Sudan to the northwest, South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south. With over 102 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world and the second-most populous nation on the African continent that covers a total area of 1,100,000 square kilometres (420,000 sq mi). Its capital and largest city is Addis Ababa, which lies a few miles west of the East African Rift that splits the country into the Nubian Plate and the Somali Plate.

It is also worth noting that most South Sudanese kept the core of their culture even while in exile and diaspora. Traditional culture is highly upheld and a great focus is given to knowing one's origin and dialect. Although the common languages spoken are Arabi Juba and English, Kiswahili is being introduced to the population to improve the country's relations with its East African neighbors. Many music artists from South Sudan use English, Kiswahili, Arabi Juba, their dialect or a mix of all. Popular artists like Yaba Angelosi sings Afro-beat, R&B, and Zouk; Dynamiq is popular for his reggae releases; and Emmanuel Kembe who sings folk, reggae and Afro-beat

There are few female artists however that South Sudan has produced so far. Reflections BYG is a beautiful fresh voice [ according to whom? ] rocking the Zouk floor with her first single Ng'ume which means Smile, was a big hit in just a few days of its release. She has an amazing strong voice [ according to whom? ] for the popular Jazz as well as Afrobeat and Hip Hop; De-vine singing R&B and Zouk; Nyaruach on the Afro-beat and pop; Queen Zee is known for her rap music. Ray Harmony also known for singing RnB.


The Nuba live between the north and south of Sudan, and have long been caught in the middle of the Sudanese civil war. The traditional band Black Stars are affiliated with the SPLA, while other well-known singers include Jamus, Jelle, Tahir Jezar and Ismael Koinyi. [1]


Modern Northern Sudanese music has its roots in haqibah (pronounced hagee-ba). It originated in the early 1920s, and was originally derived from the Muslim musical style known as madeeh. Haqibah is essentially a harmonic a cappella and vocal style, with percussion coming from the tambourine-like riq and from other instruments. Occasionally tonal instruments such as the piano and the qanun (a stringed instrument) are used.

Northern Sudanese lyrical music

Northern Sudan has a tradition of lyrical music that utilizes oblique metaphors, and has historically been used as part of the Sudanese independence movement and in other political movements. The tambour, or tanbūra, (a lyre) was originally used as accompaniment, but this was replaced by the oud when it was imported from Arabia. The method of playing the oud continues to use a plucking method developed with the tambour, making a distinctive and characteristic sound. [1] Especially well-known is the late Nubian composer, oud player, tar player, and vocalist Hamza El Din.

In the 1930s, a number of music companies opened in Sudan, among them the Gordon Memorial College Musical company, which included Mohamed Adam Adham, whose Adhamiya was one of the earliest formal Sudanese compositions, and is still often played. [3]

The early pioneers were mostly singer-songwriters, including the prolific Karoma, author of several hundred songs, the innovative Ibrahim al-Abadi and Khalil Farah, who was active in the Sudanese independence movement. [1] Al-Abadi was known for an unorthodox style of fusing tradition wedding poetry with music. Other songwriters of the era included Mohammed Ahmed Sarror, Al-Amin Burhan, Mohamed Wad Al Faki and Abdallah Abdel Karim. [4] al Faki was one of many musicians from the area around Kabou-shiya, a region known for folk music.

Northern Sudanese popular music evolved into what is generally referred to as "post-Haqibah", a style dominating in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. This period was marked by the introduction of tonal instruments from both East and West, such as the violin, accordion, oud, tabla and bongo. A big band style came into existence, mirroring trends in the West. Post-haqibah, like haqibah, was based on the pentatonic scale. Haqibah mixed with Egyptian and European elements is called al-afghani' al-hadith.

The 1940s saw an influx of new names because of the rise of Omdurman Radio and World War II. Early performers included Ismail Abdul Mennen, Hassan Atya, Ibrahim Al Kashif and Ahmed al Mustafa. One of the most famous pioneers of this era was Ismael Abdul Queen, who was followed by Ahmed Ibrahim Falah and Ibrahim Alkashif (father of modern singing).

In this respect Ismael Abdul Queen was a pioneer who strived to adapt to the new conditions and desert the old style. He was followed by a poet-singer called Ahmed Ibrahim Falah. But both were soon overtaken by Ibrahim Alkashif who became known as the "Father of modern singing". Al Kashif began to sing under the influence of Haj Mohamed Ahmed Sarour and relied on what Karouma had started, but he renewed singing in three main facets:

The 1960s saw the importation of American pop stars, which had a profound effect on Sudanese musicians like Osman Alamu and Ibrahim Awad, the latter becoming the first Sudanese musician to dance onstage. [1] From the 1970s to the present, Northern Sudanese music saw a further Westernisation, with the introduction of guitars and brass instruments; guitars came from the south of the country, from the Congolese guitar styles. Congolese music like soukous, as well as Cuban rumba, exerted a profound influence on Sudanese popular music. [5]

An important shift in modern Sudanese music was introduced by the group Sharhabil and His Band - formed by a group of friends from Omdurman - namely Sharhabil Ahmed, Ali Nur Elgalil Farghali, Kamal Hussain, Mahaddi Ali, Hassan Sirougy and Ahmed Dawood. They introduced modern rhythms relating to popular and soul music using for the first time electric guitars, double bass, and brass instruments, with the emphasis on rhythm section. The lyrics were also informal and popular. Now Sharhabil's band is one of the leading establishments in Sudanese music.

For the first time in the 1960s, female singers became socially acceptable with the rise of Mihera bint Abboud, Um el Hassan el Shaygiya and Aisha el Fellatiya, who became famous for performing in front of the Sudan Defence Force during World War II. In the 1960s, a wave of female duos became prominent, including Sunai el Samar, Sunai Kordofani and Sunai el Nagam, while a few women with highly charged erotic images found audiences, including Gisma and Nasraa. Later prominent female musicians include the band Al Balabil, who formed in the early 1970s and became very popular across East Africa and are still popular until today. The 1980s also saw the rise of Hanan Bulu-bulu, a singer whose performances were sensual and provocative; she was eventually detained by the authorities and beaten. [1]

Introduced genres have had a profound effect on modern Sudanese music, especially British brass military bands, which attracted many young recruits who carried the model to recreational music. The result was a kind of dance music referred to as jazz, though unrelated to the American style of jazz, similar to analogous styles throughout East Africa. Prominent big bandleaders in the modern era include Abdel Gadir Salim and Abdel Aziz El Mubarak, both of whom have achieved some international fame. [1]

The imposition of sharia law in 1989 came along with the imprisonment of Mahjoub Sharif, a poet and songwriter who continued writing even in prison. The singer Abu Araki al-Bakheit was banned from performing political songs in the early 1990s, but he claimed to prefer remaining silent than not performing the objectionable material; the news of his retirement, prompted intense reactions from his fans, which eventually led him to continue performing in defiance of authorities. The Southern Sudanese celebrated singer Yousif Fataki had all his tapes erased by Radio Umdurman - the official government media. Southern Sudanese popular music was important in the 1970s and 1980s, with the capital Juba hosting nightclub bands like Rejaf Jazz and the Skylarks. [1]

Other popular imported musicians included reggae superstar Bob Marley and American pop singer Michael Jackson, while the funk of James Brown inspired Sudanese performers like Kamal Kayla, to adopt the same style. Other modern popular performers include Abdel Karim el Kabli, with a notably long and diverse history of performance, Mohammed al Amin and Mohammed Wardi. [1]

Hip hop

The hip hop community in Sudan is attempting to utilize its unifying power and global popularity as a universal language to bring unity to the country. Artists, such as the extremely popular Bangs of YouTube fame, see the genre as a way to emancipate themselves from the surrounding culture. Hip hop represents an avenue for peace, tolerance, and literacy for millions of African youth, who are powerful in numbers, but politically neglected, as witnessed with the exploitation of child soldiers. The lyrics have the unique ability to reach child soldiers as an educational tool to imagine a different lifestyle. Sudanese hip hop preaches that through education and peace, there is an opportunity to achieve a better life. The genre combines traditional music with the music of the younger generation, hip hop. It empowers them with the power of a voice in society without being forced to use guns or violence. The genre serves not only as a tool that “makes audiences move, but that moves audiences –toward education, civil action, and peaceful change.” [6] It empowers them with the power of a voice in society without being forced to use guns or violence. According to Jimmie Briggs, author of Innocence Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War, “A music group is not an army, but it can get powerful social messages out before trouble starts.” [7]

Southern Sudanese modern music

The city of Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, was home to the thriving nightlife prior to the current strife in that area. Top local bands of the 1970s and 1980s included the Skylarks and Rejaf Jazz. [4]

Music is one of the most important aspects in South Sudan, because it is used to celebrate their independence. Most of their music is about making peace and being proud of their country. Popular South Sudanese also known Ray Harmony transforming it.

Modern tribal music

The Dinka, on the front lines between the north and the south of Sudan, have retained a vibrant folk tradition. The musical kambala, a harvest festival, is still a major part of Nuba culture. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) include a group called the Black Stars, a unit dedicated to "cultural advocacy and performance". Members include the guitarist and singer Ismael Koinyi, as well as Jelle, Jamus and Tahir Jezar. [4]

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Music of Egypt

Music has been an integral part of Egyptian culture since antiquity. The Bible documents the instruments played by the ancient Hebrews, all of which are correlated in Egyptian archaeology. Egyptian music probably had a significant impact on the development of ancient Greek music, and via the Greeks was important to early European music well into the Middle Ages. The modern music of Egypt is considered as a core of Arabic music and Oriental music as it has been a source for or a main influence on other regional styles. The tonal structure of Oriental Arabic music is defined by the maqamat, loosely similar to Western modes, while the rhythm of Arabic music is governed by the iqa'at, standard rhythmic modes formed by combinations of accented and unaccented beats and rests.

The music of Iraq or Iraqi music,, also known as the Music of Mesopotamia encompasses the music of a number of ethnic groups and musical genres. Ethnically, it includes Arabic music, Assyrian, Kurdish and the music of Turkmen, among others. Apart from the traditional music of these peoples, Iraqi music includes contemporary music styles such as pop, rock, soul and urban contemporary.

Music of Mongolia

Music is an integral part of Mongolian culture. Among the unique contributions of Mongolia to the world's musical culture are the long songs, overtone singing and morin khuur, the horse-headed fiddle. The music of Mongolia is also rich with varieties related to the various ethnic groups of the country: Oirats, Hotogoid, Tuvans, Darhad, Buryats, Tsaatan, Dariganga, Uzemchins, Barga, Kazakhs and Khalha.

Music of Botswana

Botswana is an African country made up of different ethnic groups, although the Batswana are the majority of the population. Music is a large part of Botswana culture, and includes popular and folk forms. Botswana church choirs are common nationwide. Music education is an essential component of the Botswana educational system, and children of all ages are taught traditional songs and dances.

Music of Djibouti

The music of Djibouti refers to the musical styles, techniques and sounds of Djibouti.

Islamic music may refer to religious music, as performed in Islamic public services or private devotions, or more generally to musical traditions of the Muslim world. The classic heartland of Islam is the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Iran, Central Asia, and South Asia, and it also included the medieval Iberian peninsula (al-Andalus). Due to Islam being a multi-ethnic religion, the musical expression of its adherents is vastly diverse. Indigenous traditions of various part have influenced the musical styles popular among Muslims today.

Mohammed Abdel Wahab Singer, composer

Mohammed Abd el-Wahhab, also transliterated Mohamed Abdel Wahab was a prominent 20th-century Egyptian singer, actor, and composer.

Abdel Aziz El Mubarak is a popular Sudanese singer. He is known for leading a large band whose music is based on traditional Arab music but also is influenced by reggae and American rhythm and blues. In addition to releasing many cassette recordings in Sudan and playing many weddings and other gigs in Sudan, he and his band have also recorded several CDs for the European and American market and have toured internationally. He also sometimes performs solo accompanying himself on the oud.

Juba Arabic, also known since 2011 as South Sudanese Arabic, is a lingua franca spoken mainly in Equatoria Province in South Sudan, and derives its name from the town of Juba, South Sudan. It is also spoken among communities of people from South Sudan living in towns in Sudan. The pidgin developed in the 19th century, among descendants of Sudanese soldiers, many of whom were recruited from southern Sudan. Residents of other large towns in South Sudan, notably Malakal and Wau, do not generally speak Juba Arabic, tending towards the use of Arabic closer to Sudanese Arabic, in addition to local languages.

Abdel Karim el Kably Sudanese musician and composer

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Central Bank of Sudan central bank

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Broughton, Simon and Mark Ellingham (eds) with James McConnachie and Orla Duane (2000). Rough Guide to World Music, Vol. 1. Rough Guides Ltd. ISBN   1-85828-636-0. - "Yearning to Dance" by Verney, Peter with Helen Jerome and Moawia Yassin, pgs. 672-680
  2. Habib Hassan Touma (1996). The Music of the Arabs, trans. Laurie Schwartz. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN   0-931340-88-8. pg. 162
  3. "Sudanese Singing 1908-1958". By: El Sirr A. Gadour. December 15, 2005. Archived from the original on April 26, 2006.
  4. 1 2 3 "Music in Sudan". Sudan Update. Retrieved December 15, 2005.
  5. "Sharhabeel Ahmed: Sudan's king of jazz". Al-Ahram Weekly. Archived from the original on September 20, 2005. Retrieved September 27, 2005.
  6. Ireland, Corydon. "Conference Brings Out Pacific Potential of African Hip-Hop." Harvard University Gazette Online 20 Mar. 2008. 7 Apr. 2008 Archived May 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. Ireland, Corydon. "Conference Brings Out Pacific Potential of African Hip-Hop. The Ambassadors are also an up and coming hip-hop duo from Sudan living in the U.S."