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The rhythm of the revolution in Sudan jumps from TikTok to New York

2022-11-30T11:11:40.583Z

The album 'Beja Power', by the band Dorpa, and the independent label Ostinato Records, immerses itself in the forgotten melodies of a community in eastern Sudan



Since learning that a democratic revolution had broken out in Sudan at the end of 2018, and even more so after observing how a few months later the streets of the country forced the fall of the dictator Omar Al Bashir after three decades in power, the members of Ostinato Records, a New York label focused on music from countries that have experienced some kind of trauma, were between eyebrows visiting the place again.

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The 'kandaka' that sings to the revolution in Sudan

They knew, through friends and colleagues, that the revolution had created the ideal environment for a true musical revitalization after a long and suffocating Islamist period.

And they did not want to miss the opportunity to register it.

So, when they heard the news last October about the military coup that put an end to Sudan's fragile democratic transition, and gave way to a new — still unresolved — clash between the street and the generals, they decided not to think about it. twice and fly to Khartoum, the capital.

“When the coup happened we thought it might be a difficult time to go,” explains Vik Sohonie, founder of the label.

"But if we didn't go, we might lose the opportunity."

Once they landed in Khartoum, Sohonie, always eager to discover new rhythms, delved into the universe of Sudanese TikTok.

And there he came across a mysterious band from Port Sudan, a city in the eastern part of the country bathed by the waters of the Red Sea, which left him fascinated.

“While we were looking we came across a very poorly shot video of a band playing, and I just thought those guys were amazing,” he recalls.

“The music was phenomenal.

I thought: 'What was it that didn't sound like anything I had heard before in Sudan,' adds Sohonie, who has already been in the country in 2016 and 2017.

That was how his path crossed with Noori's.

In the late 1990s, this young Sudanese musician entered a junkyard in Port Sudan in search of a well-preserved guitar neck, a rare instrument in the region.

Then he completed it himself by welding it with a four-stringed drum from the seventies that his father gave him, creating a kind of tambo-guitar.

And ever since, Sohonie says, Noori has been on a mission to keep Beja music from eastern Sudan alive and current.

The Sudanese musician Noori with his particular instrument.

Xantho Djassi

The Beja are an ancient people that trace their origins back to the times of Ancient Egypt and the Nubian kingdom of Kush, and live in the vast territory that opens between the current borders of Egypt and Eritrea, and between the Red Sea and the Nile River. Among the different tribes that make up this community there are some that sink their roots in the Arabian peninsula and speak Tigre, a language that is mainly present in Eritrea.

But most of them have Beja, also called Bedawiye, as their mother tongue, a language that today is only spoken.

Despite being deeply entrenched in eastern Sudan, Al Bashir's Islamist and Arab regime tried to wipe out the Beja culture and marginalized its people.

The most tangible proof of this policy is that the region inhabited by the Beja is home to the country's main port, Port Sudan, and is a fertile land rich in mineral resources, especially gold, and yet, even today, it is one of the the poorest and most abandoned areas of the country.

Another, more subtle but equally dire consequence of this mix of repression and abandonment, Sohonie notes, is that very few, if any, old recordings of beja exist.

And it is precisely this situation that Noori wanted to change when he formed his band, Dorpa, with five other members from all over Sudan.

“When we sat down [with the band] they began to tell me everything about the Beja culture, about what the Beja people have experienced.

Even culturally, over the years, Khartoum music has been given priority over the rest.

Especially during the time of Al Bashir”, notes Sohonie.

“One of the reasons was that he was following a policy to Arabize Sudan, to limit other languages, other cultures.

And the beja was very strong,” he continues, “so Noori came up with this idea that [they] had to create a band that played beja music.”

Lending them a line to contribute to this venture, Ostinato Records has now announced the production of the album

Beja Power

with Dorpa, the first known international release of the beja sound.

The album, co-produced by Omer Alghali and Janto Djasi as well as Sohonie, features six tracks that serve as an archive of the best and most heartfelt songs of the Beja people, each composed at a different stage in their long history.

'Beja power' album cover.Ostinato Records

His music combines styles and chords typical of electric soul, blues, rock and even touches of country, which could well be Tuareg, Ethiopian, Peruvian or Thai, Sohonie points out.

The co-producer also describes the beja melodies as nostalgic, honest, hopeful and sweet, but also with an ambiguous touch that explains why they can be thousands of years old and evoke a pharaonic memory, and at the same time play like in the seventies and sound current.

One of the best examples of this is track number two,

Qwal,

which is precisely the song that was circulating in the depths of TikTok.

For Sohonie, in addition to a hymn to Beja music, the album represents a soundtrack to the revolution in Sudan, since the Beja have actively participated in the protests in the country while continuing to resist the discriminatory policies of the Government. central and demanding equality and justice, also through music.

At the same time, without the revolution, the space would not have opened up to listen to this music again.

“It was really Noori who said: 'This is our culture and now it's our time to shine, now we have to shed light on what's happening in eastern Sudan,” recalls Sohonie.

“This album is for me a soundtrack to the revolution in Sudan, because if the events of the last two or three years had not happened, I don't know if this music would come to light, if it would have the same sound and be as powerful, nor if the band would be so inspired to stick together and do all this, "he adds.

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Source: elparis

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