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Sudanese artists in exile feel the suffering the same as the victims back home

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Mohamed Adam, a 32-year-old Sudanese musician, managed to bring a sense of peace to his native town of Nyala in the western Darfur region shortly before the outbreak of the civil war one year ago. “Music transcends political arguments and feuds, it appeals to emotions and thus promotes peace,” he says.

A month before the war, tensions between Arab and African Sudanese had escalated, resulting in deaths and displacement. Adam organized a music event and invited all the enemy groups. “When music sounds, a miraculous transformation takes place. Members of one opposing group put aside their differences and joined in the other group’s dance. Meanwhile, the other tribe, though hesitantly, began to view the other group with more understanding. This kind of musical interaction brings change.”

Adam now lives in exile in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. “Every day when I get up, my instinct is to return to Sudan, my inspiration and creativity come from Sudan. When I perform in Kenya, I can convey my emotions to the audience, but I still feel like a stranger. Living as an exile is a big challenge, I don’t know how long I can keep this up.”

Popular uprising in 2019

His somewhat gentle and tender voice asks for peace. “I experienced the war in Darfur. These experiences have shaped my music and my view of the world. The memories of my village, now deserted because of the war, continue to influence my music.” Especially in times of unrest, the importance of art and music grows. Or as Karim al-Kabli, a beloved Sudanese folk singer once told me: “Artists are the most sensitive people. They feel the suffering of others more strongly than the victims themselves.”

The incident that impacted artists the most, their inspiration in the time of Adam’s generation, is still the popular uprising of 2019. During a sit-in at the army headquarters in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, a million people gathered for weeks, first demanding the resignation of president Bashir and then striving to end the ongoing military rule in the country. Every Sudanese citizen refers to this manifestation of popular power as ‘the revolution’.

Until the regular army of president Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary forces of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (alias Hemedti) started shooting at the demonstrators. Two years later they killed the revolution with a coup, last year they clashed and started fighting each other.

In 2019, Sudanese celebrated their freedom. All races, all tribes, had come together in their opposition to thirty years of harsh conservative religious politics. That unity, that popular order in which everyone was on the same page, created the magic of the revolution.

Adam played with his band at the sit-in. “A feeling of freedom washed over me. That newfound freedom belonged to us all and gave us the strength to pursue our desires, including our artistic endeavors. It was a time of hopes and dreams, when the possibilities seemed limitless.”

Tarig Kamaleddin (46) is a painter and fled to Egypt. Even in his place of exile Cairo, his thoughts regularly go back to 2019. “The enormous energy of the youth for change was reflected in art and dreams at the sit-in,” he says. He experienced how interest in art grew. Where the fundamentalists for thirty years promoted a sober form of art purely in the service of God, Sudanese could now express themselves artistically on the streets through singing, drawing, poetry and theater. “The arts played an important role in the revolution and manifested themselves in street art such as murals and influenced my work.”

The murals and slogans have been erased, the square is now filled with sandbags and car wrecks. The revolution led to a war that is considered one of the most devastating in recent African history. However, putting an end to this war will not solve Sudan’s issues. Bashir’s regime was not just a corrupt political dictatorship. The extremist Muslim faction within his inner circle established surveillance neighborhood councils that monitored every Sudanese citizen, imposing a theocracy where behavior was dictated by religious laws. Sudan’s distinct blend of African and Arab cultures faced challenges due to Arabization.


For Adam, being a musician in that conservative and Islamic environment was a challenge at the time. But at the 2019 sit-in, Sudanese chanted: “This is an African revolution. Sudan is not an Arab country. The revolution is that everyone is equal again.” Adam now experiences how the war has polarized the population again; his fans sometimes ask him to choose a side between Burhan and Hemedti. “The point is that even if there were to suddenly be peace tomorrow, the influence of islamic fundamentalists, as well as that of the government army and the RSF, makes it highly unlikely that the situation will return to what it was in 2019. The culture will remain conservative and hinder self-expression. Still, the histories of the revolution and its aftermath have created a sense of unity among the new generation. “This generation, younger than us, has shown a stronger sense of cohesion than ever before. If peace comes, this unity will have to save us.”

Tarig Kamaleddin agrees. “Artists were given the freedom to convey their thoughts and emotions for the first time in thirty years. I believe that since the revolution, young Sudanese have a greater ability to appreciate art. They represent the next generation, and the emerging painters among them will undoubtedly convey a message.”

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