Various Artists: The Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan

David Marchese

While Sudanese music may not yet have the cultural cache of some of its geographic neighbors, don't wait for the cultural cognoscenti to check your passport. The border's open.

Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2005-04-26
UK Release Date: 2005-04-25
Amazon affiliate

Disproportionate to its status as Africa's largest country, Sudan has seemingly not yet been musically mined to the same extent as smaller countries like Mali, Senegal, or Ethiopia. Perhaps because Sudanese music, as presented on this new Rough Guide sampler, doesn't share the easy rhythms, bluesy affinities or star power of the aforementioned countries, but the spirit and passion of the music on the album show that there's no reason for the nation's relative musical obscurity to continue.

That the music is given an opportunity to shine is a credit to the label that released it. Kudos to Rough Guide for doing something that other world music samplers often fail to do: presenting the music in an even-handed and empathetic manner. The liner notes include a brief but informative overview of Sudan's musical history up to the present as well as helpful bios for each of the featured musicians that aid the listener in understanding the context and creation of the music presented here. The clear sense that the people at Rough Guide are interested in the music on its own terms is in stark contrast to less culturally conscientious labels like Putumayo, who seem intent on reducing world culture to the status of coffee shop soundtracks.

Lucky for the listener, the stand-alone quality of much of the music is strong enough to transcend any would-be attempts at marketing dilution. A single track like the otherworldly and utterly beautiful chanting of the Omdurman Women's Ensemble on Daloka Bet El Mal (which sounds like a prayer but is about drinkin' hooch and smokin' herb), especially in the soft memory of a post Live 8 world, serves to remind western listeners that Africa's afflicted countries deserve to be thought of as more than just charity cases and instead acknowledged as being the home of vibrant populations creating equally vibrant culture.

All cultural implications aside, much of the music on Desert Rhythms & Savannah Harmonies just plain cooks. Tarig Abubakar's & the Afro-Nubians makes like a suave Saharan James Brown on Tour to Africa where, backed by a cool groove, he runs through African nations like a funky conductor. A sense of cool sophistication is also evidenced in the sensuous intertwining of Arabic strings and a smoky saxophone on Abdel Azziz El Mubarak's Na-Nu Na-Nu.

As the result of their lack of traditional western musical training, there may be an unfortunate tendency to regard African musicians as naturals take their estimable skill for granted. Don't. Even on a musically sparse tracks like Muhamed El Amin's Habibi, which features just vocals and oud, the ability to the flowing virtuosity needed to casually render complex picking patterns while singing is nothing short of astonishing.

When placed alongside such refined brilliance, certain tracks that attempt to weld traditional and modern sounds somewhat suffer in comparison. The thin-sounding drum machine and synthesizer on Emmanuel Jal's Gua mars what is an otherwise interesting convergence between traditional Sudanese music and hip-hop. On other songs, the keyboards sound like they'd be more at home in Toto's Africa than today's Sudan. The delicate balance between old and new is best managed on Mohammed Wardi's Azibbni, where accordion and fuzz guitar come together to build something new on top of old foundations.

Apart from those few slight missteps, there's plenty here to enjoy. While Sudanese music may not yet have the cultural cache of some of its geographic neighbors, don't wait for the cultural cognoscenti to check your passport. The border's open.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.