Tag Archives: African music

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

[1] https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/best-sudanese-rappershttps://www.highsnobiety.com/p/best-sudanese-rappers/
[2] https://tinyurl.com/5n8hcbbx
[3] https://playbookbeta.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/wapi.pdf
[4] https://books.google.de/books?id=6mR2DwAAQBAJ&printsec
[5] https://www.andariya.com/post/The-Influence-of-Hip-Hop-in-South-Sudan
[6] https://hir.harvard.edu/rap-and-revolution-from-the-arab-spring-to-isil-and-beyond
[7] https://www.voanews.com/a/arts-culture_banned-sudanese-musicians-celebrate-new-year-new-sudan/6182273.html

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

BANTU charged and relevant as ever on What Is Your Breaking Point?

It must take a rare kind of resolve to continue to lay down the marker with daring political views as Afrobeat masters BANTU have done over the years, particularly on their latest record What Is Your Breaking Point?

What Is Your Breaking Point? album cover.

This article was written by Gabriel Myers Hansen and originally published on the Music In Africa webpage under a Creative Commons License.

The 13-piece collective’s new album, a brazen 10-track manifesto following 2020’s Everybody Get Agenda and2017’s Agberos International, not only strips back dire social circumstances that have bedevilled [insert African country] but also works as the soundtrack to an impending revolution.

What Is Your Breaking Point? is rooted in traditions originally plotted by Fela Kuti, and sees BANTU devotedly playing to the strengths and identity of Afrobeat. Mainly via the charisma of frontman Adé Bantu’s voice, the project bursts with the quintessential Fela-esque fury yet hopeful vision of Nigeria, driven by frantic percussion work, charged horn sections and biting allegories conveyed in English, West African pidgin, and Yoruba.

Shorn of filler verbiage or breathers, the collection invites listeners to engage with Africa’s dynamic political landscape while underscoring the transformative muscle of music, diving headfirst into the key issues: corruption, blind imitation of Western culture, the troubling perpetuation of gender norms and the danger of remaining silent.

Largely, when Afrobeat takes on the ‘S’, it paints a vain and glamorous picture preoccupied with love, sex and other nightlife rituals. Take the consonant away, and it’s serious business. What Is Your Breaking Point?, whose only guest is African-American rapper Akua Naru, does precisely this.

The feverishly paced ‘Wayo and Division’ kicks things off, tackling an integrity deficit among Africa’s leadership, which is often characterised by a strategy of deceit and division. ‘Japa’ is a cautionary tale against the mass exodus of Africans to the West, highlighting the perils of illegal migration and the illusory promise of greener pastures. “You just dey run from frying pan to fire,” a line goes. 

‘Ten Times Backwards’ rues the crippling of many an African dream by regressive structures, while ‘Worm and Grass’ returns to the topics of duplicity and manipulation among the ruling class. ‘Borrow Borrow’ examines the aftereffects of Western imperialism, while sobering revelations on ‘Africa for Sale’ summon more troubled sighs.

How much longer must this continue? When do we collectively decide that enough is enough? This is the focus of ‘Breaking Point’, and the question that shines throughout the project.

Focus track ‘Your Silence’, a sublime and reflective highlife (or Afrobeats) offering, resonates with the sentiments of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, invoking a connection to Niemöller’s famous quote on the Nazi atrocities. “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me,” Niemöller mourns.

The song prompts introspection and encourages listeners to consider the consequences of silence in the face of injustice. “The silence no go protect you,” is how BANTU puts it.

The project closes out with ‘We No Go Gree’, which retains the urgent ardour it commences 45 minutes earlier. “The political elites have only been concerned with short-term benefits,” Adé declares in his parting message, although if you are an African, this goes without saying. “We must take back our freedom, our voices and our future.”

These days, commentary surrounding governance on the continent can feel like a broken record, seeing how poorly a number of African countries have been run for decades. And so, while this new project, a fearless Afrobeat album of political resilience, represents an urgent and valuable perspective on the problem with Africa’s administration, I wonder how many more BANTU albums must arrive in the coming years to catalyse true transformation. As Sam Cooke once sang, “A change is gon’ come”, but when?

The answer remains vague, but until then, the struggle continues. Aluta continua!