Hassan Atia & His Orchestra Sudanese Songs 7" (Supraphone, 196?)
When one thinks of Sudan today, images of starving refugees in Darfur, tales of genocide and rape, and the thought of a society under the totalitarian heel of shaira law comes to mind. But there was a time before Fundimentalists took charge, a time when Sudan was a more tranquil place responsible for some of North Africa's most wonderful music.
My introduction to Sudanese music came in the 1980s, when I started picking up Folkways' Ethnic series. Prior to discovering Folkways and then Nonesuch, my "international" music knowledge was limited to hardcore bands from Finland, Japan, and Brazil. Anyone who knows hardcore, understands that the music tends to homogonize rather than bring out ethnicity. So really, Folkways and Nonesuch were the two labels that opened the musical world to me. Over a couple weeks I methodically raided every used record bin in Sacramento, stripping them of Folkways and Nonesuch Explorer titles. My ears were burning with all the new and wonderful noise: Pygmy songs, Indonesian monkey chants, Whirling Dervishes, Temiar dream songs. I was a Folkways/Nones sponge, but, still, I needed more. So I started buying international music that released on other labels. One day, I stumbled upon a small stack of records by the Nubian musician Hamza El Din. And then I found a record by Abdel Gadir Salim. I was hooked.
That El Din is from Nubia, the middle of Sudan, and Salim from Kordofan, in the west, told me that Sudan had a very rich musical culture and I was right. From Sufi songs to the folk music of the Dinka, the music is as rich as any place on earth. Today's artist, Hassan Atia is from the north of Sudan, a region with a long musical history.
Northern Sudan is predominately Muslim, thus it is no surprise that Twentieth Century Northern Sudanese music is derived from Islamic hymns, the first of these genres being Haqibah. Haqibah is a stripped down music, made up of harmonic a cappella vocals, with maybe a tambourine. The introduction of the oud revolutionized the music, giving it a bit more heft, and leading to a stain of lyrical music, often used to spread anti-imperialist/pro-independence messages. With the 1940s & 50s came many Western & eastern instruments. Violin, tabla, and accordion were added. Groups were organized as big bands, Western style in structure, Sudanese in sound. The music of Hassan Atia is a good example of post-Haqibah sound.
The music continued to evolve, many Sudanese artists gaining much popularity in North Africa and the Middle East. In 1989, Fundimentalists came to power and Islamic shaira law was imposed. Music that did not sing the praises of Allah or the state was banned. Many musicians went into exile. Those who didn't were kept from performing, imprisoned, and tortured. Miles of tape was erased. Records destroyed. The state tried to wipe out centuries of culture. (Don't think for a second that if Christian Fundimentalists had their way this wouldn't happen in the United States. Put Pat Robinson in charge and the Soriano archives get melted down in order to make more Amy Grant CDs, and I'd be hanging by my toes in some dank cell, force-fed Christian Contempory for refusing to bow to their Sky God.) Records like this, stuff that got out of or that where pressed outside of Sudan is the only musical record of Sudan before its decent into hell.
One thing about Sudanese music that appeals to me are the vocals. The voices are often full of sorrow and remind me of American country blues. Combine that vocal style with the sparseness of the instrumentation and the short orchestrated blasts and I am hooked.
Despite the title, this 7" is one long song, split into two parts. I found it at a Paris flea market for 1 euro. It was made in Czechoslovakia. I can't tell you any more about it than that.
Sary Osman Ahmed
The Blue Nile is the lifeblood of the desert. Carrying the precious gift of water since the banging of time, the river has long been a cultural and spiritual oasis. From the Sudan- the heart of the Blue Nile region – comes one voice that has nourished the people with a sweet richness like no other …. Mohammede Wardi.
He has accomplished what few can do in a single lifetime. Aside from selling 30 million copies over 30 year career, Wardi has brought the African and the Arab worlds together with ancient and the modern . His politically powerful lyrics have kept alive a dream of peace in a land wrought with civil and political unrest . One of the most prophetic performances in history occurred during Wardi’s legendary concert at an itang refugee camp in Ethiopia. Performing to 250.000 Sudanese, he generated such enthusiasm that all thoughts of despair and suffering vanished into the night.
Know as the “golden voice of Sudan,” Mohammed Wardi has been singing the signature sounds of the largest country in Africa since the age of five. His use of Nubian lyrics has helped preserve a 7,000 year-old tradition, while reaching out to millions through Arabic songs. But his status as a living legend has not been without struggle. Wardi a spent many years in jail for his political lyrics and was forced to flee his homeland for the safety of Cairo, where he continues to sing out for peace and justice.
Blue Nile Records is proud to present Mohammed Wardi –Greatest hits VOL.1 This exceptional recording captures the brightest sounds of Sudan’s most popular singer. His shimmering voice floats alongside a refreshing mélange of African and Arabic modes, Western sty lings and exciting improvisations . Wari is never afraid to let the music carry itself, allowing long instrumental interplays between a myriad of talented musicians who capture the allure of Arabic maqam and shine with the polish of true jazz masters . The music is the very essence of the Nile .It offers us a chance to pause and become refreshed, to smile, celebrate and renew our spirit, listen, and drink in the sweet sounds of Mohamed Wardi.
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Blue Nile Records presents:
Golden Era of Sudanese Music, Volume 1
For hundreds of years Sudan has been an important crossroads between African and Arabic cultures. With over 750 ethnic groups of its own, and attracting people from throughout East, North and West Africa, Sudan’s diversity is unmatched. Slicing through the heart of the largest country in Africa is the great Nile River, the lifeblood of the region. As long as people have come to the water’s edge, they have brought their music. Songs of praise, rhythms set to a camel’s gait, stringed instruments from the Orient, bagpipes from Europe – they’ve all found their way to the Sudan. And like the grains of sand within a shimmering dune, each of these individual sounds have contributed to the exotic and beautiful style that we know as Sudanese music.
With a rich history of musical expression and cultural exchange, it’s mysterious that music from Sudan is so difficult to find outside Khartoum. Walk into any music store in the United States of Europe and you’ll find piles of recordings from Mali, Morocco and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But what about the Sudan? The imposition of strict sharia laws have crippled Sudan’s music scene. This interpretation of Islamic law prohibits music and dancing, which are two of humankind’s most fundamental expressions. Many of the country’s most prominent musicians have been imprisoned, while others live in exile in neighboring countries. And it’s not just contemporary singers who are targeted; traditional zar ceremonies have been interrupted, drums confiscated, ouds destroyed and musicians beaten. In a display of complete cultural ignorance, the same government sponsored radio network that helped popularize so many of these very same musicians erased historic recordings of Sudan’s greatest musicians. Since 1989, Sudan’s musical growth has been stunted.
Not long before the dark times of the sharia, Sudan was a vibrant center of musical creativity. From 1941 to 1979, the country celebrated its “golden era” of music. This was a time when Sudanese people would dance and sing together, a time when the radio revolution was broadcasting new sounds to every corner of the desert, and when poets and politically motivated singers were rising to stardom. There has never been a period of time more significant than these golden years.
Like many other countries around the world, Sudan’s development was accelerated with the arrival of radio. Originally intended to carry news of World War II, radio waves united Sudanese from all corners of the nation. When the war ended, the news broadcasts were replaced with music. Songs of celebration, cultural pride, love and praise were broadcast far and wide, and the radio revolution of the 1940s was born.
For the first time, musicians like Hassan Attayah and Osman Alshfi had an audience. Their golden voices filled the airwaves and inspired millions of Sudanese. Alshfi is considered one of the pioneers of modern music; his songs have deep African roots but bloom beautiful Arabic flowers. Attayah is sometimes referred to as the “Prince” of Sudanese music, and was one of the first to master the art of the oud (an Arabic lute brought to Sudan by way of Turkey in the 1920s).
Between 1956 and 1979, Sudan experienced a period of musical sophistication. Classical elements from Arabic countries smoothed the rough edges of tribal music, without silencing the rhythms and songs that had been sung for generations. Western instruments
like violins, accordions, guitars and brass instruments found their way into Sudanese compositions. This was also a time for vocalists to perfect their craft. One of the most important singers of this time was Abdul Aziz Mohammed Dawoud. As a young boy studying in a primary school in Khartoum, Dawoud heard the incredible voice of Karouma – a pioneer of Sudanese singing – playing on a distant phonograph. This single experience left a lasting impression, and directed the course of his life. Many of Sudan’s greatest contemporary singers consider Dawoud’s style “revolutionary.”
The 1960s brought American and European pop music to Africa, and it was impossible for musicians in Sudan not to take notice. The charismatic and contagious tunes had a great affect on Ibrahim Awad, a famous vocalist who danced his way into East Africa’s history books. Before Awad, no entertainer had ever danced on stage in public before.
While Sudanese pop and Arabic-influenced modern music was filling the streets of Sudan, folk music was also experiencing great popularity. Singer-songwriters were the heroes of the day, especially those that integrated traditional ethnic rhythms and elements into the tapestry of vocals and oud, guitar and violins. Khadir Bashir is one folk singer who was in demand, both on the radio and at weddings throughout the country.
Last, but certainly not least is Mohammed Wardi. A true musical rebel who has affected positive change, provided inspiration, and kept social activism at the forefront of his musical career, Wardi is in a league all his own. Despite the political instability of his homeland, sharia laws that forced him to flee to Cairo, and civil wars that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees, Wardi has remained steadfast in his belief in humanity and the irrepressible spirit of the Sudanese people. Wardi, along with Osman Hussein and Hassan Attayah – the only three living musicians on this compilation – represent the past, present and future of Sudanese music.
“I am very proud to be able to represent these artists,” says Mohammed M. Elomrabi, a Sudanese native now living in America. “This is the first time that many of these artists have ever been heard before. All of these artists were chosen because of the fingerprint they have left on Sudanese music. But this is more than just music. It is the preservation of our culture, our heritage. I want to share this music with the world to increase cultural awareness and the rich musical history of the Sudan. But this is only the beginning…”
by Matthew Moon
Producer & Host, Global Rhythm Radio
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