June 17th, 2008
For Immediate Release:
SUDANESE MUSIC & DANCE FESTIVAL 2008
Artists Transcend the Politics of a Troubled African Nation
This summer, an unprecedented gathering of musicians from the East African nation of Sudan will come together in Chicago & Detroit to accomplish something politicians, war lords and diplomats have thus far failed to do: Unify Sudan!
ABDEL GADIR SALIM, ABU ARAKI El BAKHEIT, YOUSIF EL MOSLEY, OMER IHSAS, AL BALABIL, OMAR BANAGA, ALI ALSIGAID, JOHN KUDUSAY, DYNAMQ, MOHAMED ADAROAB & the Nile Music & Dance Orchestra of Sudan plus special celebrity guests including former NBA star MANUTE BOL
Musicians Unite for Sudan
Sudan, Africa’s largest country, is better known for its wars and civil strife than its spectacularly rich cultural traditions. This summer, Sudan’s greatest musicians and dancers are out to change that. The Sudanese Music and Dance Festival is a summit of superb singers, dancers and instrumentalists who believe that by bringing together their diverse arts, they can point the way to a peaceful and productive future for Sudan. In its second year, this festival will present in Chicago and Detroit a magnificent tableau of top-flight performers representing many regions of this unique African nation. These artists’ experience and virtuosity is matched by their passion, for their performances are literally aimed at changing the course of history.
Dawn Elder Management, the International Sudanese Arts and Music Institute (ISAMI), and the Sudanese Information Center of Los Angeles are co-sponsoring the 2008 Sudanese Music and Dance Festival. Intent on remaining above Sudan’s fractious politics, festival organizers have specifically avoided the participation of any Sudanese government bodies, or any opposition political entities. ISAMI, an independent organization of Sudanese heritage artists, sets the tone with a singular focus on the development and welfare of Sudanese musicians and dancers around the world. Featured artists in the 2008 festival include veteran singers Abdel Gadir Salim, Abu Araki Al Bakheit, Omar Banaga Amir, and Ali Alsigaid. The legendary, female vocal group Al Balabil represents the ancient, northern kingdom of Nubia; Omer Ihas represents Darfur; the rapper Dynamq and also popular singer/guitarist/songwriter John Kudusay represent southern Sudan; Mohammad Adaroab represents the eastern region; and Rasha represents progressive trends in the Sudanese diaspora in Europe. All the performances will be accompanied by The Nile Music and Dance Orchestra, an amalgam of top-flight players from throughout Sudan’s worldwide diaspora, all under the direction of one of Sudan’s most established composers and producers, Yousif El Mosley. As a crowd-pleasing bonus, NBA Basketball star and social activist Manute Bol—who was born in Sudan—will share the stage with these extraordinary artists in their Chicago show.
Sudan’s Proud but Troubled Past
Sudan has the largest landmass of any African country as well as one of the most diverse populations, with some 300 ethnic groups living in deserts, mountains, and along the shores of the Nile River. In ancient times, the north was the Kingdom of Nubia, with close ties to Egypt and the Arab world, and the south the territory of African agricultural groups, such as the Dinka, Shilluk, Nuer, and Azande. The south was physically cut off from Nubia by the nearly impassable swamplands of the White Nile. These two distant worlds became politically joined when Egypt annexed Sudan in the 19th century. When Britain then occupied Egypt in 1898, it claimed Sudan without so much as a fight. The trouble was, neither occupier ever sought to forge an overarching, Sudanese identity. Arguably, until its independence in 1956, Sudan was a single nation in name only.
Given this history, fair and effective governance was out of reach for the early leaders of independent Sudan. A series of military and civilian governments rose and fell in quick succession during the first thirty years. Power tended to center in the Muslim north, and after the government imposed Sharia law in 1989, people in the Christian south felt radically disenfranchised and victimized. The Islamist government that has ruled since 1989 has been stable, but harsh, dividing the country further through a strategy of unequal development that has neglected many regions, notably the south, and the western province of Darfur. These policies have only heightened underlying ethnic and religious tensions. After much strife and conflict, the north and south established a fragile peace accord in 2005. Meanwhile, new fighting has surged in the West, in Darfur, and the world’s attention has focused there.
The artists participating in the Sudanese Music and Dance Festival believe that these conflicts must be understood as pieces in a larger puzzle, the puzzle that is Sudan. Today, with the North-South Peace Accord as a model to be applied in Darfur and elsewhere, many Sudanese sense an opportunity to at last build a nation. Much depends on an ability to lay aside the divisions of the past and begin an era of healing and unity. These artists intend to show the way.
A Summit of Artistic Legends
The Sudanese Music and Dance Festival had its inception in 2007 at New York’s Central Park Summerstage. This one-time event was the largest and most representative gathering of major Sudanese talent ever assembled on an international stage, and the 2008 events will build on that success and surpass it. The festival is produced by ISAMI, in collaboration with a veteran of daring world music initiatives in the United States, Dawn Elder. Elder’s passion for Sudanese music goes back to her work with Sudan’s greatest living singer, Mohammed Wardi. Wardi no longer leaves his homeland, but some of the musicians who backed him and other Sudanese legends will perform in the Nile Music and Dance Orchestra, the musical hub of this historic, Sudanese showcase. The orchestra combines traditional Sudanese percussion with instruments from Arab tradition (oud, violins, and percussion) and also western music (brass section, electric guitar, keyboards). As such, the inclusive, progressive spirit of Wardi and his seminal generation will pervade the performance.
Dr Mutwakil Mahmoud—a festival sponsor, patron of Sudanese arts, and advisor to ISAMI—says that everyone involved in this festival shares one overriding motivation, “to work for a united, peaceful, democratic, and just Sudan.” These words carry weight coming from a man who has dedicated his life to his country. Dr. Mahmoud’s family has deep roots in Sudan’s movement for democracy. After studying medicine in Chicago, he completed his medical degree in Khartoum, and has since worked tirelessly for the health, well-being, and success of Sudanese musicians. Just one example of Dr. Mahmoud’s selfless generosity: In 1998, he brought Mohammed Wardi to the United States for what turned out to be life-saving treatment. ISAMI’s vision is an all-inclusive one, based on the belief that the health of musicians reflects and even helps determine the health of the nation as a whole. Dr. Mahmoud says, “It’s time that these senseless wars stopped, and that people sat down together and solved their problems once and for all.”
The artists gathering this summer share this hope because they have lived the diverse and troubled history of Sudanese music. During the 1960s and 70s—often called “the golden era” of Sudanese music—fascinating musical hybrids of African, Arab, and European music flourished in Sudanese cities, especially in the cities of Khartoum and Omdurman, home of the national radio and television station, but also Juba in the south and elsewhere.
Among the most remarkable golden era acts to appear in this year’s festival are the three singing sisters known as Al Balabil. In the early ‘70s, this trio of talented, musically trained teenagers became Khartoum’s answer to the Supremes, and they revolutionized social and artistic possibilities for Sudanese women. With the rise of Islamism after 1989, the doors Al Balabil opened for women began to close. The three sisters married, then separated, two leaving Sudan and one remaining in the country. For the past 22 years, circumstances in Sudan have made it virtually impossible for the three to perform together, so their reunion this summer will be historic, especially for young Sudanese expatriates who have grown up knowing of this legendary group, but have never seen them perform.
Singers like Abu Araki al-Bakheit and Ali Alsigaid came up in the orchestral tradition of the north, long the dominant force in commercial music. Like many of their peers and successors, these vocal stars studied at the prestigious Institute of Music and Drama in Khartoum. The music they championed bears similarities to Egyptian orchestral music, and even the taarab orchestras of Tanzania and Kenya. But while much of the instrumentation and aesthetics were borrowed from Arab and European sources, the music itself relied on distinctly Sudanese rhythms, scales and melodies. As Sudanese music developed, talented artists came from different regions of the country to introduce new ideas and colors to the national sound, effectively building a kind of unity that has evaded politicians.
Abdel Gadir Salim introduced the traditions of Kordofan in the west, and became one of the country’s most beloved singers and bandleaders. Like Mohammed Wardi before him, Salim brought influences from international jazz and pop as well—electric guitars, keyboards, and saxophone, side by side with the oud, violins, and traditional percussion. Omer Ihsas charted a similar course bringing in the traditions of his native Darfur, which borders Libya, Chad, and Central African Republic and is home to a dazzling array of local music and dance. Ihsas modernized these styles and made them accessible to all Sudanese. A champion of eastern Sudanese music, Mohammad Adaroab, will also be present the music of the Bija and other eastern tribes, performed on oud, tambour (hand drum) and rababa (bowed lute).
The musical director for the Sudanese Music and Dance Festival, Yousif El Moseley, moved from singing traditional songs with percussion to composing for and performing with wedding bands in 1970s Khartoum. As a star student, and then an instructor, at the Institute of Drama and Music, El Mosley earned the chance to travel to Cairo, where he attained a Masters degree in composition. When he returned to Khartoum in 1989 modernity was in the air. The amazing Al Balabil had hit the scene with their electrifying performances of familiar Sudanese styles, but also, the distinct music and sensibility of their ancestral homeland, Nubia. Music and social life were advancing hand in hand as Sudan broached a new era.
All of this progress was cut short after the 1989 coup. Life became extremely difficult for artists. There was an 11PM curfew, and popular figures like El Mosley and Abu Araki faced pressure to sing for the regime. Both refused and suffered the consequences. Abu Araki tried to retire rather than cooperate, but his fans wouldn’t let him stop, and he was harassed and threatened often as government minders scanned even his love songs for subversive messages. El Mosley returned to Cairo, where he became a successful producer for Hassad Productions, the biggest production house for Sudanese music ever. Between 1992-96, El Mosley recorded 45 albums featuring the top Sudanese singers of the day. From Cairo, Yousif El Mosley moved to the United States in 1996, and he now teaches in Monterrey, California.
Among the most socially engaged groups of the 90s was Igd al Djilad, featuring composer and singer Omar Banaga Amir, another participant in the 2008 festival. Igd al Djilad’s early songs focused on the suffering of ordinary people under the regime, and the group incurred th government’s wrath on many occasions. There are horrifying stories of music and musicians in Sudan since 1989. Irreplaceable manuscripts and recordings appear to have been lost or destroyed. Musicians have been beaten, even murdered, and over 200 of the most beloved performance artists have, like El Mosley, Omar Banaga, and Mohammed Mergani, gone into exile. Some Sudanese artists, like the young singer/songwriter Rasha Sheikh Aldein, have moved to Europe. Rasha has made a promising career interpreting Sudanese tradition in her own ways, bringing in influences from jazz, pop, and world music, and delivering powerful social commentary.
The music of southern Sudan has had a particularly hard time developing and reaching the world. In the past, southern Sudanese music, which takes influence from the neighboring musical powerhouse in Congo, was rarely well recorded or disseminated. But in recent years, young rappers have brought new attention to the region with international careers based abroad. Rapper Emmanuel Jal’s collaboration with Abdel Gadir Salim, Ceasefire (2005) was a landmark in this developing story. The Sudanese Festival features the south’s best known singer/guitarists John Kudusay, leader of the group Aweil Jazz, and as well as a young rapper who is making waves around the world and gaining star status back home. Dynamq, known by fans as “Sudanese Child,” first came to prominence as a singer and soccer player among the Sudanese refugee community in Kenya. In recent years, he has shared stages with top names in international reggae and hip-hop. His appearance on stage with great musicians from the north will be another historic feature of this summer’s performances. The Chicago concert will also make history for the inclusion of the southern Sudanese expatriate best known to Americans, basketball star Manute Bol.
Although the artists in the Sudanese Festival of Music and Dance come from different locations, ethnic backgrounds, generations, and experience, they share one vision: to see their country peaceful and united. Their presence on one stage will not only be an unprecedented summit of Sudan’s greatest living musical talent, and an emotionally charged reunion for the participants, but most of all, a powerful symbol of what could be possible back home. This will be a true life example of musicians pointing the way to a better world.
CHICAGO EVENT INFO: THE CITY OF CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF CULTURAL AFFAIRS PRESENTS;
DATE: THURSDAY, JULY 10TH
WHERE: Jay Pritzer Pavillion, Millennium Park, Chicago, IL
WHEN: 6:30 pm
For more information, call 312.742.1168 or visit www.millenniumpark.org.
Media Contact: Kennon Brown t 312.744.8948, email@example.com
DETROIT EVENT INFO: CONCERT OF COLORS 16TH DIVERSITY FESTIVAL PRESENTS
DATE: SATURDAY, JULY 19TH
WHERE: Max M. Fisher Music Center, oRCHESTRA hALL, Detroit, MI
WHEN: 6pm -7:30 PM
Venue: 313-624-0215 or visit www.concertofcolors.com
Media contact: Kim Silarski: 313-624-0206 firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information regarding the Sudanese Music & Dance Festival events,
Contact: Gillian Zali at 310-291-7909, email@example.com.
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