Since the formation of the modern government of Sudan in 1956, the Beja minority suffered political and economical deprivations despite their possession of great national gold supplies that were mostly sold to foreign companies.
Omar al-Bashir, the deposed Sudanese dictator who gained power after the 1989 military coup, initiated an Arabization movement that aimed to eradicate the Beja culture and deny their rights to the point that the Beja native language and any form of music and movie creation got criminalized.
However, with the downfall of al-Bashir, great changes took place and the Sudanese minorities, including the Beja, were able to produce works of art in their native language.
The Red Sea is a region full of popular movements. Migration to the coasts of the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and some African countries has led to a cosmopolitan culture among the people of these areas. Against this background, Noureddine Jaber (Nouri) has succeeded in finding a universal language for the music of the Beja tribe by relying on a fusion instrument.
We talked with him, the leader of a Sudanese band, about the music of the Beja and the development prospects of Sudan. The interview was conducted in English and then translated by us into Farsi. Nouri says: “The melodies of Beja music are nostalgic, sweet, hopeful, mysterious and honest.”
– Your first album was produced in Khartoum. How would you describe the situation going on at that time?
Khartoum will always be Khartoum, no matter what is happening. The hospitality will always be powerful and welcoming and everyone will always take care of you. Every week there are protests against the current military government and the lack of economic opportunities. But it is always a warm place to visit, Sudanese have perfected the art of being good hosts, and this will stay the same regardless of the political situation.
– Some critics argue that your music has close relationships with Eritrean and Somalian music. Do you agree with that?
These are all musical styles of the Red Sea, but Beja music is unique from all the music of Sudan and the region. People from Eritrea and Somalia might hear familiar sounds in it, but Beja music is unique.
– At the same time, your music is very different from that of other regions of Sudan, which is influenced by Arabian music. How has the gap between your music and Arabian music been kept?
Beja music is ancient, before even the Arab migrations to Sudan. This is the original music from the pharaonic days of the Kingdom of Kush and Ancient Egypt. The gap is one of history. Our music has been marginalized by Omar Al Bashir’s regime because he found Beja people inferior, lazy and of no use to the state. He wanted to obliterate Beja culture and music and replace it. But Beja music has survived and we want to preserve and immortalize it by taking it worldwide.
– Unlike Eastern music and, of course, Arabian and Northern Sudanese music, your music is not monotonous. In fact, it is potentially fluid and creative. Do you think that is the reason why your music has been more internationally celebrated and embraced?
The melodies of Beja are nostalgic, hopeful, sweet, ambiguous and honest. These feelings we convey through Beja music, through songs like Saagama which means migration, which is the Beja story, or Al Amal, which means hope, are naturally fluid and creative. These melodies have been refined and perfected over thousands of years and we give it our touch.
– The Sudanese revolution has an extremely powerful feminine voice. Don’t you think that women’s voice can bring your music closer to the revolution?
We have not explored adding any vocals to our music. Beja music is heavily instrumental, but if the producers and the band choose to use singers, then women singers will be the top priority.
– Are you familiar with Iranian alternative music (that is usually a combination of various styles of music)?
We listen to a lot of different music from the world but we have not yet heard Iranian alternative music.
– What is your plan for the future?
We would like to begin touring and taking Beja music to the world live!