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Revival of Nubian Singing: Exultation or Return to Roots!!

By: Aisha Braima

KHARTOUM (SUDANOW)—There are several reasons that made the Nubian people of north Sudan to return to listening to singing in the Nubian language after deserting it for a long time. A person could not over the past four or five decades hear Nubian songs in marriage or other public parties in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. But now things have changed and no evening can pass without hearing Nubian singing in different parts of the capital.
The Nubians are the inhabitants and kings of the Sudan since ancient times with a civilization dating back to more than 20,000 years before Christ, that is, one of the earliest human civilizations. It is the origin of the Pharaonic civilization in Egypt as confirmed by Swiss historian Charles Bonnet after more than 40 years of research and studies. The Nubian language was the writing and speaking medium in ancient Sudan. It is still the medium of speech in the north but diminished in other parts of the Sudan due to the hegemony of the Arab language and civilization and to growing Arab presence in Sudan, starting from the eighth century and since then Arabic has become the official language of the state, including the media and, therefore, the Nubian songs could not be heard on the national radio and television.
Fatimah Abbas, a Nubian housewife from Dongola, says she is proud of and admires the Nubian heritage, especially the singing which she is fond of, although she did not have Nubian songs during her wedding. However, she said she organized a party of Nubian songs on the wedding of her son and is determined to organize a similar evening for her second son this year. "I want to make my sons and their friends, even the non-Nubians, to be aware of, and enjoy this gleeful singing which the new generations are not aware of", Fatimah said.
She said the Nubian singing arouses nostalgia and yearning and hearing the tambour music, even without being accompanied by words, reminds and makes a person long for his distant relatives.
The housewife says that the Nubian singing narrates details of the Nubian life, their farming in the farms of wheat and other crops, their chats, exchanged visits and their love for each other. "When I hear those songs I feel as if I am among them, something which makes me feel very happy," Fatimah said.
Nubian singer Dawlah Atta agrees with Fatimah saying that he had noticed the state of sinking into exultation which the listeners of the Nubian songs reach during his parties to degree that he would not expect. He attributes this to the ability of the Nubian singing of invoking the emotions due to the rhythm that is inspired by the nature, creating a link and harmony between the listener and his environment. He attributes this exultation to the language of the songs which expresses the values and the good old days and incites happy memories.

Tamboor instrument
Tamboor instrument

Atta said the Nubian singing is the earliest form of this art in the history of Mankind, considering the antiquity of the Nubian civilization. The Nubian song was spread in all parts of the Sudan, before the dominance of the Arabic language, and inhabitants on the banks of the Nile used to come to listen to songs of the Nubian captain sailing along the river when the river transport was the sole means of travelling across the Sudan, Atta said.
He added that the signers used the tamboor which is an ancient Nubian instrument locally called 'kisser' from which he believes the Arab ‘kithara’ and the English guitar were derived, citing a British researcher, arguing it was older than both instruments and it spread all over the world.
Atta said the Nubian music belongs to the exhilarating fifth scale rhythm which pushes even a non-Nubian into dancing. He recalled that a Swiss gentleman and his wife danced throughout a party in which he was singing in the national theatre of Omdurman.
He said the Nubian song has not vanished and the Nubian poets and singers are still available, noting that the availability of the means of transport made it easy for the singers to travel around and hold parties in Khartoum and other towns of the Sudan.
The music researcher, Dr. Graham Abdul Gadir, says the revival of the Nubian singing is reinstatement of the Nubian heritage, an encouragement of the successor to revive and maintain the values of the predecessor and also to maintain a language that is vulnerable to extinction and a rhythm that is vulnerable to melting in other rhythms.
This return is important for the cultural dialogue among the Sudanese communities and for cementing the unity of the Sudanese people and listening to Nubian songs by non-Nubians further strengthens this unity, Abdul Gadir said.
He added that the rhythm of the tamboor, which is a truly Nubian instrument, is found with all Sufi sects which unified the Sudanese people and sentiment and spread the Islamic faith.
The Nubian music is of the fifth scale and its rhythm is of the third and dual scale, something which leads to its spreading and acceptance by others, said the researcher.
He added that the fifth scale is acceptable not only in the Sudan but all over the world, while the third and dual rhythms are fine and encourages listening to the Nubian music.

Dr. Graham Abdul Gadir
Dr. Graham Abdul Gadir

The Nubian heritage researcher and activist, Samir Bukab, is of the viewpoint that the Nubian music consists of 12 rhythms, something which is rare, and any listener can find what pleases him out of those rhythms. The Nubian rhythms do not include one for war, which is found in all parts of the Sudan, said Bukab, adding that the Nubians, instead, use colored smoke for the purpose.
He notes that all those rhythms are indigenous and none of them came from an environment outside the Nuba regions in north Sudan. They are inspired by the natural sounds of Nile waves, the birds, the waterwheel, the plough and the rustle of the date palm leaves, the researcher said.
He added that the rhythms of the Nubian dance also derive from nature, including a dance that imitates the movement of the Nile waves; another imitates the movement of the nightingale, etc. Those rhythms can easily be played by all kinds of musical instruments, including the tambourine, the mandolin, the organ and other orchestra instruments, Bukab said, adding that the finest one of those rhythms is the one which is known as Al-Jaboudy which is a full rhythm that is played at 4x4 level.
Bukab added that the words and phrases of the Nubian song carry description and resemblance of the elements of the local environment and are free of obscenity in observance of the values and ethics of the Nubians.
The Nubian poets write songs for the country, said Bukab, noting that the national and amorous poetry has increased with the increase of migration within the Sudan and abroad and due to the growing concern with the national issues. Moreover, there are the women's and henna songs which are usually improvised and are played by elderly women during marriage and other happy occasions, Bukab said.
Finally, he went on, there are the political songs which are critical of the government performance and the attitudes of the people towards this performance such as the inhabitants' position with regard to construction of the dams in the Nuba region.

Statues of Nubian kings
Statues of Nubian kings
Nubian pyramids
Nubian pyramids

He remarks that the Nubian songs and music was not on the air through the radio and television for a long time but with the start of concern and efforts by the researchers many songs were recorded and transmitted and many non-Nubians began to listen to and enjoy the art.
However, some people opine that there is negative indication to the revival of the Nubian singing; for instance, Abu Zar, a Nubian young man from Mahas region, agrees that the spread of this singing is good but it denotes a negative development impairing the Sudanese national sentiment and unity, reviving the tribal identity.
He added that it is good that the people of a limited region go back to the heritage and roots but this should not lead to seclusion and a return to the tribalism which faded away with the establishment of the modern Sudanese state with a firm unitary national feeling.
The huge numbers of immigrants from the rural regions, including the Nuba, drifted in the urban centers, particularly the capital along with their traditions and singing heritage which they practiced and the Nubian songs spread in this way, Abu Zar said.
He believes that the inclination by some amateur singers to turn into professionals was another good reason for the revival of the Nubian music and singing and Nubian dancing troupes were formed for organization of public parties instead of the limited parties held by amateurs only for pleasures and enjoyment.
Abu Zar added that the introduction of the modern musical instruments, instead of relying only on one instrument like the tamboor, also helped in the spread of the Nubian songs beside their charisma which derives from the sounds of the surrounding nature, like the hissing of the trees and the water-falls.
Journalist Abdulla al-Haj, a Nubian from Wadi Halfa, says going back to the roots does not mean rejection of the Sudanese identity but is, rather, a self-search which, according to Haj, may be the main reason for listening to, and the spread of the Nubian music.
He explains that the relocation of a branch of the Nubians -the inhabitants of Wadi Halfa region- from their home-region, which was inundated for building the High Dam in Egypt, to Khashm al-Girbah region in east Sudan, was of great effects on the Nubian region in north Sudan and in other parts of the country. They did not accept the idea of submerging the historic city which caused a shock that was extended to their culture and their music and songs, he said, adding that numerous works of art were composed describing their conditions, circumstances and feelings of estrangement and narrating the calamity to their children.

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Journalist Abdulla al-Haj
Journalist Abdulla al-Haj

Following more than 50 years of this coerced relocation, a new generation turned up and began seeking and listening to the Nubian songs and stories which tell them of their roots and some of the youth began forming groups to tour their towns and villages in north Sudan, including Wadi Halfa to see the ruins of the ancient city and try to renew it, the Nubian journalist said.
He stressed that the forced migration, which could have been a factor for disintegration, has become a motive for emotional unification of the Nubians. Haj cited a celebration that was organized in Wadi Half two years ago with participation of all Nubian ethnicities.
The journalist said, in addition to the migration, there are other reasons for the revival of the Nubian music and songs, including the interest of the state in the Nubian heritage and encouragement for returning to the north for rehabilitation of the towns and cities, especially the old city of Wadi Halfa. Those reasons also included an international concern with the Nubian civilization as it was the oldest civilization on Earth.
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MAS/ AS

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