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Sudan: Music has the power to unite people and eliminate hostility.

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There were tears and feelings of nostalgia of home, but also revolutionairy chants as Mohamed Adam, a 32-year old Sudanese musician, took to the stage at the roof terrace of a skycraper in Nairobi last Friday. However high up as he was, his songs for peace did not reach the warring parties in Sudan.

Adam is one of the many Sudanese exiles in the Kenyan capital after he relocated from Sudan to Kenya four months after the war began in Sudan. He says: “I strive to create music that encompasses all aspects of people’s lives, as the war had become prolonged. Instead of supporting any party, musicians in the diaspora should sing for peace and help bring about a resolution in Sudan”Adam’s vocals not only echoed at the stage in Nairobi but also in Kamapl;a and Dar es Salaam calling for an end to the war.

“When peace approaches, we welcome it with our arms open,

When reconciliation approaches, let’s walk its path

Our homeland is beautiful; we don’t want its destruction”

As the war in Sudan marks a year anniversary in this April, the Africanists’ Journalists interviewed the Sudanese musician and asked his thoughts on the role of the artists in the ongoing conflict in Sudan.

When you wake up in the morning where is your mind, Nairobi or in Khartoum? 

As a musician, my connection to Sudan has deepened since the war began. Despite being in exile, I find my inspiration and creativity rooted in my homeland. Singing for Sudan from afar, I strive to convey emotions and vibes that transcend language barriers. Yet, I still feel like a stranger in exile and I know this cannot last forever. In the meantime it is important for me to keep delving into our Sudanese cultural heritage, not just for myself, but also for future generations of my country. They need to know about the different tribes and rhythms that are celebrated and heard on their radios and at their weddings.

Alkabli, the late Sudanese once said artists feel more pain than politicians or military leaders do”. If this is true, what can an artist do to change this?

Mr. Alkabli is a special artist who deeply values Sudanese cultures, especially in terms of singers, artists, and theater. Our connection has inspired me to become a musician advocating for peace and the end of war. Having witnessed the impact of conflict on Sudan, from the south to the middle of Sudan and eventually to Darfur, my music and perspective on the world have been shaped. The memories of my abandoned village due to war continue to influence my music. Despite the challenges faced during the long war in Darfur, I am dedicated to using music as a tool for peace. Music, particularly through folklore, has become a way to express our society’s cultural identity despite the ongoing war. It reflects our current circumstances and offers solutions, bringing us closer together and addressing the problems we encounter.

Does your singing make a difference?

In my line of work, I’ve found that I follow two different paths. One is about preserving and promoting cultural music, while the other is about spreading a message of peace. I’ve noticed that when I sing about peace directly, it catches the attention of those in conflicts. They visit my webpage and get into intense debates, turning social media into a battleground. They argue, “Who should we make peace with?” Unfortunately, when I share these messages, negative comments pour in because they all support one side of the conflict. So, my peace songs don’t align with their agendas. But, when I make music celebrating Sudan’s culture.

Singing in polarized and conservative Sudan

Sudan has become extremely polarized in recent years, forcing individuals to align themselves with one of the two opposing sides. The polarization in Sudan has made it difficult for individuals to stay neutral. Being a musician in a conservative Islamic society was tough, as acceptance was rare. Despite working in computer engineering for three years, I realized my passion was in music. I decided to switch careers and pursue music, feeling it was my true calling.

 What was the highest point for arts and music in Sudan?

During the Sudan Revolution of 2019, a feeling of freedom engulfed me. This newfound sense of liberation seemed to be shared by everyone, inspiring us to pursue our passions, including our artistic endeavors. When you have a strong connection to your country, your ideas become more personal and you feel free to explore them. People were more willing to embrace these changes, understanding that the country’s identity was evolving and being reflected in different aspects, such as radio and television. This period of the revolution was significant, bringing together people from all over Sudan as a unified community. We overcame the divisions and issues that had previously divided us. It was a time of hope and aspirations, where the possibilities seemed endless.

Your Fans in Kenya

 My voice has a profound impact. I was told that it’s not just about the words I sing, but the emotions I evoke. After my performance people approach me, expressing their admiration and asking where they could purchase my music. It feel like the perfect moment, as if everything fell into place. The stage, the sound system, everything seemed grand in comparison to what I’m used to. It is a truly special experience for me, considering I don’t consider myself a prominent musician. But in that moment, I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment!

What were the challenges and accomplishments you made so far?

Pursuing a career in the arts in a conservative islamic country like Sudan is the most challenging. Before the war, my colleagues and I organized a sound exhibition featuring connections from various places, as well as a gallery exhibition showcasing arts from different villages. We also presented a documentary and held an exhibition for traditional instruments from different regions of Sudan. To enhance the cultural experience, we invited a traditional band to perform, and the day ended with a concert where musicians sang in their local languages or dialects. This passion for promoting cultural movements stems from my childhood experiences in Darfur and the loss of my village, inspiring me to continue on this path. In Nyala, I accomplished two tasks, one of them being “On the Darfur Ground,” which aimed to revive the tradition of tribes coming together to celebrate their unique cultures through music and dance.

Before Ramadan in 2023, I hosted an event where musicians from various Darfur IDP camps and artists from different regions performed traditional music and dances. The concert in Birly Valley featured musicians from Nyala as well. This event was a nostalgic journey for me, reflecting on my childhood and musical career. In Port Sudan, I also organized an exhibition with a wide collection of music from different tribes, collaborating with an institute to document it.  During my time in Dar es Salaam, I witnessed the richness of African music and the variety of rhythms and cultures present. As a member of the Birgit tribe, I am proud of our unique music style called Om-geredu. I envision a future where Sudanese artists can share our diverse traditions with the world, celebrating the 500 tribes and their distinct languages, rhythms, and cultures. It is my hope that we can find a way to embrace and promote this cultural wealth for the benefit of all.

Music has the power to unite people and eliminate hostility. Through my music and singing, I managed to reconcile tribes in Dafur, where tensions were escalating between the African and Arab communities. While certain individuals may not have been directly involved, their communities were affected. The resulting violence caused numerous casualties and displacements. However, when music was introduced, a positive change took place. One tribe put aside their differences and danced with the other group. The other tribe, although initially hesitant, started to see things differently.

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