Music of Sudan

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

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. 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 a mixture of Sub-Saharan Arabs and Africans.

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.

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.

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.

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 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 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 an 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. 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 el 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 pecae 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]


  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.
  4. 1 2 3 "Music in Sudan". Sudan Update. Retrieved December 15, 2005.
  5. "Sharhabeel Ahmed: Sudan's king of jazz". Al-Ahram Weekly. 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."
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