Interview, Musician Anas Al-Aagib

Interview, Musician Anas Al-Aagib


-Sudan’s cultural diversity accommodates all types of musical scales: fifth, seventh scales and Arab music.


-A song aired in Sudan is performed in Somalia, Ethiopia, the Niger and Nigeria within a week.


-No one who hasn’t the instruments of international and open cultures can present anything new.


KHARTOUM (Sudanow) – Melodist, Dr. Anas al- Aagib is one of the pillars of Sudanese music. He had first shown up on the musical scene with his song baladeena (countryman), composed by poet Abdelrahman Makkawi. Besides, Aagib is a translator, poet, and story writer, musical composer of sound effects on radio and TV serials and cinema films (Tajooj and Barakat al-Sheikh films). He was also head-section of the Higher Institute of Music and Theatre and head-section of musical composition at the College of Music and Drama (Sudan University of Technology and Science). In addition, he also acted in several TV and theatre plays.


In this interview, Dr. Aagib speaks to Sudanow about his artistic experiments and future plans: 


Q: You have a variety of artistic experiments. Don’t you think that some of those experiments were at the expense of others?


A: Not like that. My concern during my career was to become a comprehensive artist, if not through music let it be through poetry. The latter will sure be at the expense of music. Sometimes I desert both poetry and music and turn to writing short story or criticism. At a certain point in time I turned wholly to musical composition, for the sake of experimentation and in a bid to take Sudanese music into new horizons. Without experimentation the production of a real artist would be redundant and limited.


Q: During his visit to Sudan in the 1960s, the late poet Nazar Gabbani said the song ‘My Countryman’, sung by young melodist Anas al-Aagib contained rhythms he never heard before. Gabbani also invited you to perform the song on Beirut theatres.


A: To my bad luck the Lebanese civil war broke out and I could not go there. It is true that this song had presented me to the public. But to be praised by one of the grand poets of that era, whose poetry was performed by big singers in the Arab world like Najat al-Sagheera, Abdelhaleem Hafiz and Fayrooz was an order of honor that I hold very dear up to now. I remember Mr. Gabbani had asked me to sing it on many occasions during his visit to Sudan. He said it had an oriental tone with African sounds. He said the song’s idea was novel.


Q: Does what Gabbani had said mean that you had married the Arab music to the fifth scale? And how do you perceive this?


A: I think Gabbani was close to recognizing the style and the project I continued to work on. That is marrying the seventh and fifth scales and not the Eastern Mediterranean musical styles (Arabic maqamat) for the simple idea that the seventh scale (or the semitone) does exist in the Sudan: In the East, in Kordofan and Darfur and in South Sudan. I think I became known through this style that depends on a gradation of the seventh scale in music and the fifth scale in singing.

 Mohamed Wardi
Abdelgadir Salim

Q: Regardless of what you have said, the Sudanese music is restricted to the fifth scale.


A: That is because the fifth scale had been part of the Sudan’s heritage for long centuries in the area between Northern and Central Sudan that later on became the pivot of Sudanese culture and politics. Accordingly, the fifth scale had become dominant. This is because the media is centralized in this region, the country’s center, though the cultural diversity of the country brings together all types of music: The fifth scale, the oriental (Arab) scale and the seventh scale. The point at issue is the centralized authority.


Q: The dominance of the fifth scale is seen to have prevented the propagation of the Sudanese song in the Arab World.


A: I will tell you a shocking thing. In our musical culture and our characteristics, we are closer to Africanism and Internationalism. The fifth scale is played in three fifths of the World’s geography. If Chinese (one third of the World’s population), the Japanese, most of the South East Asians and the Latin Americans play the fifth scale, what remains? The jazz music belongs to the fifth scale and was mixed with the Western culture. This means that it is possible to convert the fifth scale to seventh scale. But it is impossible to change the fifth scale into Arabic magamat, save those which are equal to the seventh scales. Why do we insist to look Northwards instead of Southwards towards the African Continent where the Sudanese melodies are savored in Africa from Somalia in the East to Senegal in the West? That is a problem the artists and the media could not decipher.


Q: How popular is the Sudanese song in Africa?


A: You can’t believe it, a Sudanese song is aired here and after a single week it is performed in Somalia, Ethiopia, the Niger and Nigeria. There are singers in Africa who are specialized in performing the Sudanese old and new songs in their own dialects or in imitation of the Sudanese dialect. There are tens of famous African singers who perform Sudanese songs and whom we don’t know.


Q: Please tell us how you perceive the situation of the Sudanese song today in the absence of the late artists Mohamed Wardi, Osman Hussein, Ibrahim Awad, Ahmed al-Jabree, Ibrahim al-Kashif and the rest?


A: Historically, generations take from each other. And in the same way the generation of Ahmed al-Mustafa interacted with the renovation movement led by Khalil Farah when he presented the patriotic song ‘Azza’. The new generations have to interact with their predecessors. It was because of that interaction we had seen many peaks in the 1950s up to the early 1980s. Thus, it has become natural that a new generation would emerge in the presence of the giants. But what had actually happened was that the artistic scene was emptied from new generations for the reason that the new singers’ works were not recorded in the official media; the new generations lacked encouragement and there is no competition via contests and festivals. Frankly speaking, the space for art has narrowed and this has caused the new generation to back from renovation and be contented with repeating the old songs. By the result, such borrowed songs are on the demand. The giants had lacked luster even when they were alive and a black curtain was drawn on the singing movement after their departure. The fact of the matter is that singing is passing a critical stage, though a temporary one!

Sufi music

Q: You have stopped signing for four decades, and now at 70 you have declared you will sing once again?


A: I have many reasons for that. First, I am now able to work full time on my project now that I have retired from academic work. Second, the arts scene needs an adventurer like myself who can present a material which is totally different or, else, stay mum! I prefer to work on my project for which I devoted my entire life. By the way, my project is not all about singing. I am going to present poetry collections in Arabic and in English. They are ready now. My articles of criticism, my translations on melody and the music of Sufi orders are also part of my project.


Q: Your Doctorate thesis was entitled “the melodic characteristics of the Sufi music in the Sudan.” What is the influence of those characteristics on the modern song?


A: At first melodists did not pay attention to the Sufi musical heritage for the belief that it was not in coping with modern music, though they were opened towards the songs of the early and mid-20th century songs, what is known as the hageeba singing. They failed to recognize that those songs were influenced by the Sufi songs. Now the Sufi melodies have become the basis of modern melodies.


Q: This would lead us to the relation between heritage and modernity. How would you see that?


A: The radio songs school did not crystallize in one philosophy. Luckily, every artist presented a different experiment, though from a single source. That was a dysfunction, because that source was exhausted. After the departure of Mohamed Wardi the generations have to look for new sources. No doubt linking the heritage with modernity is of paramount importance because it gives real originality to modernity and renews the blood of the song and the heritage at the same time as did Abdelgadir Salim and his fellows from Kordofan region and as did Mohamed Wardi when he employed most of the Sudanese rhythms. That was the secret of Wardi’s creativity.


Q: How would you envisage the future of the Sudanese song?


A: If we don’t carefully examine the present, it would not be possible to materialize modernity. We are now at the time of international and open cultures. No one can present a new form if he is not aware about the instruments of these cultures. We are required to give up the obsolete molds and look for new molds stored in the diverse heritage of the Sudan. Those are the molds neglected by others and I am trying to present them in my coming experiment: The Narrative Song.


Q: What is the narrative song?


A: The narrative song is an idea with poetic dimensions and a single content that depends on narration. Narration as an idiom is not the monopoly of writing. It is also present in melody. Accordingly, the melodist has to be a narrator with tunes in order for the song to be balanced. This is the time of the narrative song!

The narrative song would do away with the musical preludes and unnecessary repetition. It will depend on the sound of singing as a carrier of the concept.


Q: You have presented an experiment of a song that does not exceed two minutes. Tell us about that experiment and your view about it?


A: I am proud to have created this form, which I called Mashae’l (lanterns). It is the most difficult type of musical composition. It is like a column in a newspaper. It conveys a complete idea in a few attractive words that serve their goal of presenting a single meaning. In this type I have presented 200 masha’el. The purpose of the (mashae’l) is to raise public awareness in all domains and values, like rationalizing electric consumption, care for the elders and children and other religious and patriotic values.


Q: I am asking about your project for the future?


A: I am thinking about a website I plan to register and whose mission is to write down the life history of every Sudanese singer up from the 19th century. I have reached information which I intend to include in this record. This project is an encyclopedia of the progress of Sudanese melody. The website will contain recordings that deliver to the coming generations the notion of pluralism and diversity and cultural cohesion. Europeans, for instance, had documented their ancient singing one thousand years back. We have not done that yet. I am also working diligently for my new return to the arts scene, with a new vision.




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