The most exhilarating aspect to the lyrics of Sudanese band, Lemya Shammat writes, is that they “give voice to the neglected, disadvantaged, and those who are left behind”:
By Lemya Shammat

Iged al-Jalad is a widely adored Sudanese band. It was 1984 when Othman Al-Naw, a skilled guitarist and a graduate of what was then the Institute of Music and Theatre — and is now the Faculty of Music and Drama at Sudan University of Science and Technology — led the initiative to establish the band, along with a group of talented colleagues.

Initially, the band grouped itself around the idea of diligent and collaborative teamwork, and thus indulged in a sort of rehearsal camp as a practice space, in which they developed their rapport and set an ambitious plan to work together in order to navigate the music industry.

In December 1988, the group appeared on a program that hosted aspiring musicians. The evening was televised on national TV, and it was a great success. It provided the band with an excellent opportunity to show off their talents and abilities, and to connect with potential fans and cultivate close ties with a group of acclaimed poets, such as Mahjoub Sharief, Al-Gadal, Humaid, Imad Ibrahim and Osman Bushra, in addition to other accomplished professionals.

In an effort to choose a meaningful and inspiring name, the band decided on عقد الجلاد (Iged al-Jalad). Al-Jalad refers to a type of a deer or a wild-cat skin treated with a mixture of sandalwood powder and oil, as well as some other local perfumes, in order to preserve a strong and long-lasting fragrance. “Iged” means the beads of a necklace. It is a name clearly inspired by Sudanese heritage.

The group continued working in a mutually supportive network and with impressive efficiency and a steely sense of purpose. This gradually blossomed into a close-knit social group, and their shared artistry produced a collection of deftly textured songs with a hearty mix of breathtaking music and charming lyrics.

Jointly, the band crafted successful songs and continued to stage subtle performances and to release new pieces of music that turned into big hits. Later, they started to hold concerts in various venues and through different media platforms.

Iged Aj-Jalad increasingly became a widely admired band that performed in front of huge crowds, and its concerts continued to be among the most popular in Sudan. They have been frequently imitated but never matched.

The band assiduously raised the bar for local music groups by setting high standards and working hard toward them. They adopted new talents, communicated with different generations through music, and they toured the far-flung corners of the country and the world.

But there is more to Iged al-Jalad than their carefully constructed public image, music, lead singers and soloists with stunning vocal ranges, and graceful and sure-footed performances. The band came into full flower by boldly venturing into the realm of symbolic songs that address freeborn Sudanese and reveal the unspoken. These songs confront power with the power of symbols, which continue to make waves across the country.

Whenever the date of an Iged al-Jalad concert approached, the whole city seemed to pulse with energy. Audiences — especially young people — queued up in huge numbers to attend the performance. They gathered where they could have their voices heard, vibe to the beat, and be held in the song’s spell. Some were moved to tears, singing along with the songs while wiping away tears, recognizing themselves in the cathartic songs that resonate down the decades and inspire them to be their best selves.

The scene usually closed with a torrent of appreciation, roars of applause, cheers and shouts for encore. Several times, songs provoked fury with the lyrics’ anti-government sentiment, which police rushed to contain. The now-ousted government never ceased to create stumbling blocks and tighter restrictions for the band.

However, the band, with its strong sense of camaraderie and hard-won experience, managed to navigate through tough challenges and to survive against harsh odds. The hardships appeared to further embolden them and to drive their voices to surge freely up and away from all walls and constraints.

Yet the demanding nature of the music industry and conflicting perspectives also seem to have marked the history of the band with bitter divides, as differences become apparent and difficult to reconcile. Behind the scenes of great performances, debates and disagreements tainted the once-great image they had collectively worked hard to cultivate.

Iged al-Jalad’s catalog of songs includes relatable music deftly constructed to linger in the listener’s memory, as well as joyous and life-affirming songs, folk- and symbolism-laden and politically themed songs, heavily flavored with Sudanism, which resonate with audiences across the country. Many people identify with their songs that express the difficulties of social and political upheavals, grieve the unspeakable tragedies, and expose society’s hidden realities. Among the must-hear songs are “Haja Am’na” “حاجة آمنة” / “Misdar Abu Assura lilyanke/ مسدار أبو السرة لليانكيThe song of Abu-Assura for Yankee” “ Koll Al-Khair/ كل الخير All the Goodness”. “ Nogtat Dao/ نقطة ضوء A spot of light” and “Niema’’ نعمة also known as “Nura” نورة, to mention a few.

Perhaps the most exhilarating quality of the lyrics chosen by Iged al-Jalad is that they impressively give voice to the neglected, disadvantaged, and those who are left behind.

There are vivid, unforgettable characters — such as Nura — and distinctive local dialect that gives an agrarian rural flavor. The lyrics also effortlessly shift between literary genres, such that poverty and oppression are captured in poetry as well as narratives both intimate and empathetic.

Nura

The hard-working

farmer,

who milks the goats,

for the young ones and guests.

When it turns to a blaze,

Nura turns to a breeze;

making the rounds,

offering the starving a bite,

the thirsty a sip;

and on the sleepless,

alone in the darkness,

she does tenderly lean,

soothing their pain,

lending them a smile for tomorrow.

For the bare-skinned

she brings new wear

(From Adil Babikir’s new collection Modern Sudanese Poetry; used with permission.)

Intriguing and richly detailed poetic landscapes also appear in the poems of Imad Ibrahim, Algadal, and Osman Bushra, which hold audiences enthralled in their narrative grip, with startling images that vividly depict the emotional and psychological states of everyday lives of people afflicted by neglect, scarcity, and disgrace.

Mahjoub Sharief’s poems, with their lyrical tenderness, also shine a bold light on corners of persecuted and poverty-stricken lives that are rarely lit. His poetry fuels the desire for change against injustice, heavy-handed militaristic oppression, and open-ended drift.

Listen:
Essayist, short-story writer, and critic Lemya Shammat has a PhD in English Language and Linguistics from Khartoum University and is an Assistant Professor at King Saud Bin Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A member of the Sudanese Writers Union, Shammat has published a book on literary criticism and discourse analysis as well as a collection of short-short stories. She also translates between English and Arabic, and her work appears in ArabLit Quarterly.

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