For those of us unfamiliar with the music of the Sudan, last night’s Sudanese Music and Dance Festival 2008 at Chicago’s Pritzker Pavilion was about as good of an introduction as you could ever hope to get. Several of the war-torn African nation’s most famous singers performed two songs each, backed by a big but nimble band, the Nile Music Orchestra of Sudan. The conductor (and first singer of the evening) was Yousif Elmosley, who was introduced as “the Quincy Jones of Sudan.” Other performers included Mohamed Adaroab, Omar Banaga Amir, Ali Alsigade, Dynamq, Omar Ihsas and the Albalabil Sisters. Only two of the three sisters performed; if I understood what was being said, the other did not make it because of visa problems. I wonder if that why some of the other singers originally billed as part of the festival were absent, too? No matter – it was a marvelous evening, despite intermittent downpours of rain.
Most of the music was Arabic in flavor, with Middle Eastern tonalities as well as some melodic flourishes that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Bollywood film. Dynamq was the most Western-sounding of the singers, with more of a reggae/hip-hop feel. The musicians and organizers expressed the hope that their country might be made whole again, and that music can bring together people from every part of Sudan. In introductory remarks, the towering former basketball star Manute Bol said he wanted to send his homeland a message: “How good it is to be free.” And at the end, producer Matwakil Mahmoud looked across the assembled performers and said: “Just look at us. We are the Sudan … Musicians insisting we will live together.”