Naji AlQudsi: Remarkable Thumb Print on Sudanese Music

Naji AlQudsi: Remarkable Thumb Print on Sudanese Music

By: Rogia al-Shafee

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Musician Naji Alqudsi was born an artist. His history writers say he, as a young kid, had used to slip out of school to spend sometime at a club where an Italian musician trained his tender fingers on the musical strings. This early infatuation with music then gave Sudan one of its greatest musicians.

It is in the Sudanese common wisdom that cross breeds always bring about stronger children, either in body or in mind. This  has sounded really true with Melodist Naji Alqudsi who was born to a Yemeni father and a Sudanese mother.

Yemeni immigrations to Sudan began in the early 1940s when Yemeni nationals came to Sudan for trade or education.

That era then saw the presence of  big Yemeni communities in Khartoum, its suburb of Jebel Alawliya’a, and in the eastern towns of Kasala, Gedarif and Port Sudan.

Those Yemini immigrations to Sudan were also reciprocated by Sudanese immigrations to Yemen. Sudanese were seconded to Yemen as teachers and other professionals during the 1950s.

Those two-way immigrations also resulted in intermarriages that gave Sudan (and Yemen) many  geniuses in education, the arts and business.

Here one can remember outstanding linguist, scholar Awan Alshareef Qasim, who wrote masterpieces in language and linguistics, and poet Hussein Bazar’a who composed immortal poems performed by leading Sudanese musician Osman Hussein. The list also includes great business families like those of Ba’abboud and Bawarith.

It was from this great blend that came great musician Naji Alqudsi

Literary Critic Osman Aljizouli tells Sudanow Magazine that Naji Alqudsi was born Hussein Mohammad Abdalla Alhaythami in the City of Atbara in 1940. His father, Mohammad, was of Yemini descent and his mother Fatima Mohammad Sa’eed Almirghani was Sudanese.

It so happened that Hussein and his twin brother Hassan got poisoned from a meal they took. Twin Hassan failed to make it out of that sickness, but Hussein did.

This prompted his father to change his name from Hussein into Naji (literally: survivor).

Later on the family enrolled Naji at a religious school to learn the Quran and Islam.

Then he enrolled in the Comboni school, one of a series of schools launched by the Italian missionary, Father Comboni, in the 1880s.

It so happened that the Italians had a musical hall not far from the school classes where concerts and sonatas were played (or taught).

It was in this room that Naji discovered his love of music. He used to quit his classroom to try his fingers on the strings with the help of a female Italian player at the place.

His sensitive ears had used to tune to and pick any tone he heard from an instrument (or a throat) in that hall.

In the neighborhood or at home he also used to pick the elder women’s songs and those of the madeeh (songs performed to glorify The Prophet Mohammad and Islam).

He was also fond of the laborers songs and the Egyptian and Lebanese songs played on the Egyptian radio stations.

At age ten the young Naji moved with his family to the central town of Sinnar where he joined its religious institute.

There his apparent love of the Qudsi (holy) sayings of The Prophet Mohammad, prompted one of his teachers to call him Alqudsi, a name he and his class mates liked too much.
In Sinnar Naji formed a musical band with his friends Alsheikh Ibrahim Saleem and Adam Mohammad Salih. When he was alone, and due to his high sensitivity to music, he learned to play the lute all by himself.

At about twelve, he began to compose melodies of his own.

In the mid 1950s he moved with his family to Khartoum where he continued his endeavor to satisfy  his desire for learning music.

This led him into the schools of the popular university where he consolidated his skill on the lute with the help of Egyptian music teacher Abdelmon’em Arafa.

At sixteen he composed his first piece A’amal (hopes), which was recorded by the Sudan Radio Orchestra in 1961.

The same year he formed a musical band with Poet Hussein Hamza, his brother Hashim Hamza and Awadalla Abulqasim at Alhashmab neighborhood of Omdurman when he composed a number of melodies for poems written by Hussein Hamza.

These have included the songs: Jismi Entahal (my body has slimmed of love), Da’a Ma’a Alayyam (lost with the days), Salwa (solace), Aldibla (the wedding ring), alsadaqa (friendship) and lageeni fi alahlam (meet me in the dreams), all of which were recorded at Sudan Radio Station in 1961 in the voice of singer Hashim Hamza and, which received wide popularity .

His Masterpiece Alsagya:

In 1967 Naji had reached his musical peak. One night in 1967 he met (the unusual) Lyric Writer Omar Altayeb Aldoash who gave him the poem Alsagya.

In two nights and on the sands of the Bahri (Khartoum North) Blue Nile Bank, he composed the immortal melody of this poem, Alsagya, that struck surprise in the night of Khartoum and its galas after it was performed by Artist Hamad Alrayyah.

The complete title of the song is: Alsagya Lissa Mudawwira (The water wheel is still turning).

Literally alsagya means the water wheel (or else the Persian wheel) that draws water from a river or well to irrigate farms. It can be driven by oxen or by motor.

But the song Alsagya Lissa Mudawwira had different interpretations with the public. It was understood as a reference to the monotony and emptiness of  life under the rule of the then strongman Ja’afar Numeiri, likening that monotony to the repeated sound of the sagya or water wheel.

In 1969 the musical company Mensphone published all the works of artist Naji Alqudsi, performed by singers Hamad Alrayyah, Altaj Mekki and Abu Araki Albakheit in quality discs printed in Greece that became best sellers of that time.

The Alsagya then became one of the landmarks in the history of Sudanese music. It, at the time, became part of the general conscience of Sudanese, maintains critic Osman Aljizouli.    

Into the Notorious Kooper Prison

During 1969-1971 Musician Naji Alqudsi was sitting on the throne of public appreciation, admiration and respect in Sudan, for his melody of Alsagya and the other melodies performed by a number of leading Sudanese singers.

During that period, Naji had achieved melodies for other poems written by big poets like Mahmoud Mohammad Medani and Alsheikh Farah.

In 1971 Musician Naji Alqudsi was 27 years old and was at the peak of his creativity.

But at the same time he was on  the threshold of trouble and suffering that continued with him until his death.

His troubles began when he was incarcerated in the notorious Kooper Prison here because opposition demonstrators used to sing his Alsagya in the wake of the failed communist military coup, led by Colonel Hashim Al’ata, who was executed in the aftermath.

Out of jail after three months he found that he had lost everything. He became under  siege and the doors were closed before him. He lost the love that surrounded him and all his close friends avoided him, may be for fear from the authorities.

This condition caused him to descend into the darkness of suffering and psychological pain.

In 1972 the repercussions of his imprisonment and his solitude led him into a psychological crisis, a state of darkness and deterioration, which he tried to fight with his inspiring music that opened windows for his sick soul.

He moved quickly towards spiritual contemplation, to achieve towering melodies, starting from three small steps: Albahr (the sea), Banaytu Ferdoasi wa zayyantuhu (I built and decorated my paradise), written by Lebanese Poet Elia Abumadi, and the Ladgiyya, composed by the ancient Arab Poet Abulala’a Alma’arri.

This was before he would delve into an exceptional creative dialogue with the distinguished Sudanese Poet Mohammad Muftah Alfayturi in his poem “song for a roving dervish” and his (Fayturi’s) other poem Yaqoot Alarash.

Then Naji delved into complete silence for more than a year, after which he was provoked by a certain social incident to compose the melody: Almahkama (the court), written by Abbas Alhashimi.

Then he continued to live in the darkness of crisis and the unexplained siege put around him.

His pain continued to escalate until he lost hope in a breakthrough and left the country in 1976, never returning to Sudan except on a few occasions.

At first he lived in Saudi Arabia and Iraq where he presented distinct melodies before he would settle in the country of his father, Yemen, in 1982.

In Yemen his isolation doubled and so his lackluster.

It took him some time to hear about the 1985 revolution that toppled Numeiri, a revolution whose protesters sang his Alsagya as they marched in the country’s streets. When he heard this he still did not want to benefit from it to return to Sudan.

Still he, while in Yemen, composed tens of melodies on the fifth and seventh scales.

In 2014 the Yemeni Capital Sana’a mourned Musician Naji Alqudsi who died after an open-heart  surgery, aged seventy.



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