Here’s Everything You Need To Know About The Music Evolution Of Sudan
Let us take you on a journey through time, where the symphonies of Sudan all began, how it evolved and the challenges Sudanese artists have faced throughout the years – most importantly how over the decades the music of Sudan has been a beacon of hope.
Traditional Sudanese music is characterised by its use of pentatonic scales, polyrhythms, and call-and-response vocals. Many traditional instruments are also used in Sudanese music, including the oud, tabla, qanun, and rik(daf).
Our music has touched the hearts of everyone nationally as well as audiences in Gulf Countries, Egypt and worldwide. Despite religious, cultural and political objections against music, Sudanese musical traditions remain popular and adored by all!
The Twenties (1920’s) The Rise of Hageeba
So this is where it all began, the origin of popular Sudanese music. This is where a new urban style of music emerged in Sudan away from traditional folk music.
Hageeba was performed at weddings and other social events and it quickly picked up and became famous everywhere. This style of music was performed by a lead singer using a frame drum known as Riq.
Born and Raised in Halfa and a member of the white flag legacy, Khalil Farah was a well-known singer of the hageeba style. His patriotic poems expressed support for political independence, freedom and national pride. Khalil Farah’s songs lived on beyond his time with artists like Mustafa Sid Ahmed performing them and continued during the 2018-2019 Sudanese revolution. His song “Azza fi Hawak” expresses poetically his love for our Sudan and has been known as a popular patriotic song.
The Forties (1940) Sudanese Female Artists Emerge
Aisha Musa Ahmed (a.k.a Aisha Al-Falatiya)
Our girl from Kassala was the first woman to perform on Sudanese radio. However, her career was setback by discrimination against “the thought of a woman singing”. Back then, her career soured with over 150 songs written and a huge fan base across Sudan and Egypt. Known as an activist for women’s rights, worker’s rights and Sudanese Independence, Aisha’s courage paved the way for other Sudanese women to explore their singing talents and claim their spotlight.
Hawa Al Tagtaga
Kordofan born and raised, Al Tagtaga became a popular female singer with her music known for its political and social remarks. A pioneer for women’s rights, Hawa didn’t care that her family didn’t approve of her singing career, in fact she continued to sing and used her career to speak out and raise awareness against oppression and social injustice.
She moved to Khartoum when she was fourteen years old only and soon after her arrival everyone wanted her to perform on their wedding day!
Being such a strong female activist Hawa Al Tagtaga faced challenges throughout her life, from getting arrested multiple times by the British Colonial for singing her songs of the people to being jailed for three months. For what? – For speaking the truth. Hawa was and remains an inspiration for generations in Sudan. Her most iconic moment was wearing a Towb with Sudan’s old flag colours on independence day.
• Hawa Jah AlRasool, “Hawa Altagtaga / حواء الطقطاقة” :
First Sudanese woman to sing for independence in 1956
(When Sudan became independent in 1956 she wore the national flag as a“Toub” and made it her trademark identification all her life)#SudaneseCulture #ثقافة_سودانية pic.twitter.com/1lSF5Vduhe
— ثقافة سودانية (@SudaneseCulture) March 22, 2020
The Fifties (1950’s) The Arts Are Flourishing
In the Fifties, Sudan was on the cusp of independence, musicians were getting a lot more creative with instruments, rhythms, new sounds and styles. This era was The Golden Age of Sudanese music with lots of talented musicians emerging all over!
Making his name at the time of Sudan’s independence in 1956, Sayed Khalifa was a popular Sudanese singer and the first artist in Sudan to study music with a scholarship at The Arab Music Institute in Cairo. As soon as Sudan gained its independence, Sayed Khalifa blessed us with a timeless song to celebrate, Ya Watani(My homeland), it was and remains a national anthem.
He also gave us “Ezzaykom Kefenkom?”- a beautiful and romantic expression of love and “Mambo Al Sudani(Sudanese Mambo” – an upbeat and delightful song celebrating Sudanese excellence. His songs still remain so popular in Sudan and across the Arab World!
His legacy continues to inspire Sudanese artists and musicians – and will live on for generations to come! 😊
Mohamed Wardi (The Last King of Nubia)
We start a great day with a sunny morning and a light breeze, driving around the beautiful streets of Khartoum with Mohammed Wardi playing in the background.
Known for his soulful voice and songs about love, loss, and social justice, Mohammed Wardi was a legendary singer and activist, known for his impact on the music industry and politics. He performed all across Africa and sold out stadiums with fans that didn’t even understand Arabic – that’s how good he was!
Wardi was awarded the “Best Singer in Africa” in 1994. Throughout his career, he was the singer of the Sudanese people, he fought against oppression and authority – he fought for our voices and civilisation – all of this while singing original Nubian songs. One of his beloved classics is “Al Mursal(The Messenger)” which talks about a man in love with a woman that doesn’t feel the same way (I’m sure we all relate), the song is a reminder that although love can be complicated at times, it is always worth pursuing.
Mohammed Al Ameen
Born in Wad Madani, he started singing and playing oud at the early age of 11. By the time he was 20, he wrote his first compositions. Mohammed Al Ameen was Sudan’s national treasure, he released over 20 albums and his music was featured in films and television shows. That’s not just it, he also won many musical awards including, the Medal of Merit on the anniversary of Sudan’s independence in 2014 and the European Union Medal in 2016.
His music was patriotic and he had no fear of throwing shade at the military dictatorship in Sudan through it. After Sudan’s successful revolution of October 1964, he serenaded our hearts, blessing us with his song Malhamat October(The Epic of October) – which was pretty damn epic.
The Seventies (1970’s) – The Women of Sudan
What a time to be alive! Sudanese women said HOLD UP, wait, let us serenade you – and right then and there in the seventies emerged a wave of women singers and groups making their mark on Sudan’s television and radio. Below highlights the rise of the most popular female Sudanese musical group.
Al Balabil (The Nightingales)
My mama, your mama, and all our Sudanese mamas vibed to their cassettes while making us the best Friday lunch ever!
Three sisters – Amal, Hadya and Hayat had amazing vocal talent, harmony, and stage presence and took Sudanese television and the radio by storm. They started their passion by singing in a Nubian Folklore group and were encouraged to form their band by Bashir Abbas (musician and oud player). Soon they were discovered by the Nubian King Mohammed Wardi who helped them start their musical career.
They released many songs and recorded them on vinyl records and musical cassettes that led away from the hageeba and daluka songs to their very own unique style. They were creative, new, and just what Sudan needed at that time. Al Balabil really said we can do it ALL – from performing traditional Sudanese music to Arabic pop music and even western pop music! Their songs promoted hope, Sudanese culture, and Sudanese excellence around the world.
They were mainly active from 1971 – 1988 but gave us a renaissance, appearing on stage in 2007 in New York City’s Central Park, Detroit, Chicago, and in 2008 in our beautiful Sudan.
Their song “Baboor Kosona”(The Boat Set Sail) is sung in the Nubian language, and expresses the damage the construction of the Aswan Dam had on the Nubian people when it was built in 1960. Many Nubian villages were flooded, leaving people without a home.
The Eighties (1980’s) Sudanese Women Stay Thriving
Hanan Bulu Bulu (Hanan Abdulla Abdelkarim)
Born in Omdurman, Bulu Bulu is known for her blend of traditional Sudanese music and Western influences, with several albums and music videos released as well as performances worldwide, she is a popular figure in Sudan – especially for “aghaani banaat”.
Hanan Bulu Bulu is considered to be one of the most important Sudanese singers of her generation. A powerful and expressive singer, her collaborations included a variety of artists such as Mohammed Wardi. Because her performances were seen as “provocative” and “sensual”, Hanan faced a lot of injustice which included her being detained and even beaten. However, Hanan’s music was still enjoyed for its upbeat vibes and dalooka-style flow.
The 1990s – 2000’s – The Rise of the Decline
After the military coup in 1989, and the implementation of sharia law, the music industry suffered severely and saw a tremendous decline.
The new law was against music and had painted it to be a prohibited sin across Sudan. Many musicians were forced to leave Sudan to continue doing what they love or continue to lowkey perform with the risk of getting arrested.
Sudanese musicians went through a difficult decade, and because it was that bad – opportunities declined, hence the quality of music… declined. However, if you know us Sudanese people then you know how determined we are, especially when it comes to what we love and value. Just like its people, the melodies of Sudan lived on through challenges, abuse, and injustice.
The Revival (2000’s till Present)
This was the time when the people of Sudan fought for justice, fought against fear, fought against restrictions – giving us visual and vocal creativity as well as dropping empowering music that brought generations together. The 2000s saw the revival of Sudanese talent, it was also the introduction of Sudanese hip hop, Sudanese electronic music, and the rise of talented female artists.
Artists such as Hiba Al Gizouli and Nadine El Roubi started gaining recognition. The country’s music scene just kept on excelling, becoming more vibrant, more diverse, and art that is so divine for everyone to enjoy!
Here are some of our favourite artists of today and their popular work:
- Nancy Ajaj was born in Omdurman, and raised in the Netherlands, she and her band toured worldwide performing many popular songs about Sudan. Nancy sings with tenderness and passion, she has a wide vocal range and a soulful vibe. One of her songs, Ya Zaman, Yalla Naghani (Time, Let’s Sing), is about how she feels that time is passing her by fast, she is hopeful and wants to live her life to the fullest. (something we should ALL do)
- Bas(Abbas Hamad) – a Sudanese-American rapper who is signed to Dreamville Records. Known for being so smooth with his flow, and his music is all about love, loss, and self-reflection. Check out his song “Tribe” featuring J Cole.
- RoTation – One of Sudan’s most diverse artists, well known for his unique mix of Hip Hop and RnB. He’s a singer, songwriter, and producer plus he can do it ALL from rap to soul, r&b, and afrobeat! On top of blessing us with the hottest tracks of this generation, he is a vocal advocate for peace and social justice in Sudan. Check out his track 249(We Almost Lost it) which is perfect for that late-night cruise.
- Dafencci (Omar Al Fadl) – Remember that song that went viral on TikTok with people all over the world enjoying? Yup, it was “King Al Halaba” by Dafencii. He’s a talented young rapper and singer, making a name for himself in the international music scene. He’s known for being authentic and keeping it real, often rapping about the social and political injustice in Sudan.
Throughout the years, the evolution of Sudanese music has been and remains a testament to strength, love, and justice. Sudanese music tells the story of resilience and creativity and the longing for peace and stability. Our music serves us as a tool for expression, protest, and celebration!
Just like everything else straight out of Sudan, our music continues to be enjoyed by people all over the world. A reminder for all, that even in the face of adversity, there is always hope.
Our music will always hold the power to bring people together.