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Hip hop in Sudan

At the start of the 1960s, Sudanese musicians began incorporating Western influences in their compositions. Brass instruments, accordions, electric guitars, violins, synths and pianos, accentuated by drum kits, produced a hybrid sound of jazz and blues that was widely loved.

Sudanese rapper Gadoora.

This article was written by Moses Abeka and originally published on the Music in Africa webpage under a Creative Commons license.

Coinciding with the global youth movements of the time, ranging from the anti-colonial struggle to post-independence instability, the youth embraced the music and went on to influence the socio-political sphere.

Also referred to as the ‘Golden Era’, this period produced a number of legendary singers such as Mohammed Wardi. However, the imposition of sharia law in 1983 dealt a blow to the creative industry, but against all odds, another generation of young people started embracing the music of the time – hip hop [1].

This overview text explores the history and current state of hip hop music in Sudan.


Due to Sudan’s long history of political instability and Islamic censorship, limited hip hop activity took place until the late 1990s. Banned in 2004 by the authorities for being political, pioneering hip hop group, Nas Jota, fled the country. This would later help create a vibrant diasporic Sudanese hip hop community scattered across the world, mainly in the Middle East and the US [2].

Likewise, back in Sudan, there was a growing hip hop community with an active scene before the 2011 South Sudanese independence referendum. There was a weekly open mic show at Papa Costa Restaurant in the capital Khartoum between 2007 and 2009, with cultural organisations such as the British Council and Goethe-Institut also giving rappers like Abdulgader Yasir, aka Gadoora, a platform.

A British Council project titled Words and Pictures (WAPI), in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Goethe-Institut, brought together several upcoming artists from across the country to stage small, weekly concerts in Khartoum [3]. During that period, the country was at war, as the southern part, predominantly black and Christian, waged war against the Khartoum government, predominantly Arab and Muslim, over discrimination and segregation.

In 2010, as the country geared up for a referendum to determine the independence of the south, Nas Jota released an album titled Sudan Votes Music Hopes, which is arguably Sudan’s first major hip hop recording.

Nas Jota followed up the release with a song titled ‘La Dictatorship’, which was further amplified by United Arab Emirates-based rapper Moawia Ahmed Khalid. In response, the Omar al-Bashir government banned their songs and targeted their Sudan-based protégés [4].

In the southern part, rappers discovered by the WAPI project, such as Geng Dulwa and Emmanuel Jal, as well as several others who were dispersed by the war, found their creative abilities living in exile and in refugee camps [5].

The government’s high-handedness was only amplified following the secession of the south, which gave rappers like Emmanuel Jal a new nationality.

Impact of the Arab Spring

As a wave of youth-led protests swept across the Arab world in 2011, Arabic hip hop became a major driving force for political change. Young people in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Libya and Syria, among other Arab countries, capitalised on the sudden freedom to express their discontent towards authoritarian governments while highlighting social and political imbalances. The youth were now speaking bluntly and weaving revolutionary and intellectual content in their lyrics while speaking truth to power.

There was a proliferation of home-made music videos and songs from the Arab world, thanks to digital tools and social media, which greatly popularised hip hop as the voice of the youth [6].

In Sudan, the government maintained its decades-long control over the airwaves as rappers became critical voices, both locally and in the diaspora, after finding an audience on social media and streaming platforms like ReverbNation and Audiomack. US-based acts like Oddisee and Nas Jota as well as home talents TooDope and Flippter were increasingly leading the way in using social media to get their message across. In 2018, diasporic acts such as Nas Jota and Ayman Mao picked lessons from the Arab Spring and encouraged protesters to overwhelm the al-Bashir government. After the military overthrew the dictator in 2019, several artists in the diaspora returned home to hold concerts [7].

Hip hop today

Despite the growing acceptance of hip hop among the youth, the is still a negative public perception of the genre due to Sudan’s conservative leanings. However, this has presented an opportunity for artists to use their music to convey messages that address themes like peace, love, freedom, hope, unemployment and women’s rights.

Hip hop has also made a bigger appearance on Sudanese media, with a growing number TV and radio stations aligning themselves with younger demographics and incorporating hip hop as part of their programming. Radio stations such as Capital 91.6 FM, Vision 103 FM and Pro 106.6 FM are some of the leading supporters of hip hop in Sudan.

The rap scene in Sudan is currently witnessing an explosion of sorts, as more and more rappers use the accessibility of home production tools and tech to their advantage. Among the younger generation of rappers are the likes of Ahmed Bushara, Mohab Kabashi, Elkhalifa, Omar Dafencii, Hleem Taj Alser, Moe the Poet, Bani Jr, Buddha and Mandela.

Resources and citations


Can music and feminism help heal border conflicts in Central Asia?

Hockey has changed my life forever

Screenshot from Manizha’s YouTube channel showing her latest song, “Now or Never” about a young rural Kyrgyz woman learning to play ice-hockey

This article was written by Filip Noubel, the managing editor of Global Voices. It was published on the GV webpage on October 14th 2022 and republished here under the media partnership between GV and Shouts.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were recently embroiled in yet another deadly border dispute that led to a massive wave of refugees. But for Tajik-Russian singer and Eurovision star Manizha, Kyrgyzstan is where girls learn to play ice hockey and get empowered, as she shows in her latest music video.

Manizha is a phenomenon in the post-Soviet music scene: born in Tajikistan, she had to flee the country’s civil war with her family to Russia, where she became a hip-hop singer, mixing Tajik, Russian, and English to eventually gain international fame when she represented Russia in the 2021 Eurovision contest.

What sets Manizha apart from other pop artists in Russia is that she openly tackles issues that remain taboo for mainstream Tajik or Russian society: the rejection of the patriarchy, the place of women in traditional societies, the acceptance of LGBTQ+ persons, and the recognition of the key role played by millions of Central Asian migrants who remain largely invisible in Russia. Many were outraged that she was representing Russia at Eurovision, and called on parliament to ban her from singing under the Russian flag, while the head of the culture committee of the State Duma criticized her song with an outspoken title “Russian woman” for not representing Russian values.

On October 12, she released a music video for her song called “Now or Never,” where she mixes Russian, Kyrgyz, and English. The video’s main character is a rural Kyrgyz girl who, despite all the home chores that are traditionally attributed to women, finds the courage and energy to learn ice hockey and joins Kyrgyzstan’s only women’s ice hockey team. The production of the video, which Manizha directed herself, was contributed by a number of women, including the Kyrgyz filmmaker Aya Ibraeva as film director and co-producer.

The video describes in detail the daily life in a mountainous region, the basic conditions to train and the determination of the team play.

A scene from “Now or Never “song showing the reality of daily life for Kyrgyz rural women., Screenshot from Manizha’s YouTube channel.

As the main character concludes, this experience has empowered her to now study coding, a profession still dominated by men around the world, and as a means to support herself and her family. But as she concludes in the song: “Hockey has changed my life forever, it turns out the world is bigger than my village.”

And while Manizha does not make any mention of the latest conflict between Tajiks and Kyrgyz, the song comes at a crucial moment with a message of women’s solidarity and shared hardship. Find Global Voices’ playlist with Manizha’s top feminist hits here:

Refugee: K’naan and the call to humanise the struggle of millions

For many, home is a word merely describing your country or region of origin. A place you are expected to live in peace, enjoy familial ties and build communal relationships. A place that allows you to lead a dignified life and accords you the opportunity to earn a decent livelihood. A place you are free to leave and return as you wish…

Somali-Canadian artist K’naan. Photo: Twitter

This article was written by Peter Choge and originally published on the Music in Africa webpage, on 27th of June 2023, under a creative commons license.

Yet this isn’t always the case. According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the end of 2022, 108.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced from their homes. Reasons for displacement vary from persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations to events seriously disturbing public order.

UNHCR says that out of this number, nearly 35.3 million are refugees who have sought safety in other countries. But as any refugee will tell you, reaching new shores away from violence doesn’t always guarantee peace of mind.

Living in a foreign country presents a new set of problems for asylum seekers, key among them the issue of identity. This is something that Canada-based Somali musician K’naan is all too familiar with and explores it on his new single ‘Refugee’.

The song, whose video was released during World Refugee Day on 20 June, wants to help restore humanity and reinstate a sense of pride among this group of people, who are often weighed down by feelings of hopelessness, grief, longing – and worse, the inability to tell who they are any more.

Commenting about the song, K’naan says: “Growing up, every time someone called me a refugee, I recoiled. [This is why] I wanted to flip the meaning of the word, and make it something that people will wear proudly.”

Forced to flee Somalia at a young age as the civil war raged on, K’naan temporarily found refuge in Kenya before ending up in Canada. A refugee may find the comfort and security his homeland could not offer but the feeling of alienation lingers on, creeping up and depriving the chance to find true inner peace. This is not helped by hostilities, implicit or explicit, sometimes directed at people in the face of rising ultranationalism.

It’s this conflict that K’naan has sought to address on the single, pointing out why refugees need not cower in shame because of their situation. Sparse in instrumentation, it’s the vocals that carry the message-laden song with K’naan’s singing elevated by a choral-like background accompaniment that gives the song a haunting, cinematic feel. The video itself is a central device delivering the song’s message.

As it cuts to clips of refugees around the world – some in camps, others on the move: on foot, on rickety, overcrowded sea vessels, on trains, K’naan sings:

If I was gonna be free, I’d have to change my name
Mama don’t feel shame. My old name was all wrong
I have waited for so long to decide my destiny
Somebody call me refugee and I will wear it proudly.

Praised for incorporating Somali folk traditions in his work, K’naan is at his socially conscious best, as he continues to call for an end to conflict, especially in his home country. ‘Refugee’ heralds K’naan’s first full album in nearly 10 years, expected to come out this summer.

Song: Refugee
Artist: K’naan
Year: 2023
Distribution: [Merlin] Symphonic Distribution