Mihera Abdel Kafi
Following the release of “Abu Obaida Hassan & His Tambour: The Shaigiya Sound of Sudan” and “Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan”, Ostinato Records is on the cusp of releasing its third Sudanese record: Beja Power! Electric Soul & Brass from Sudan’s Red Sea Coast by Noori & His Dorpa Band.
The album, which was recorded in Omdurman, Sudan, will be fully released on bandcamp this week, on June 3, 2022, and elsewhere on June 24, 2022. For now, a song, Al Almal, can already be heard here.
Ostinato Records announced the album as follows: “The first ever international release of the Beja sound, performed by Noori and his Dorpa Band, an unheard outfit from Port Sudan, a city on the Red Sea coast in eastern Sudan and the heart of Beja culture." It's worth noting here that though Ostinato Records, a New York City-based label, has been introducing stunning music from around the globe to an international (read: western) market, the label has a tendency to reproduce the "western gaze" in its marketing material. For example, when it writes that Noori and his Dorpa Band are "unheard" , we assume they mean unheard by non-Sudanese ears, since these musicians have been performing in Sudan for years.
As an indigenous people, the Beja trace their presence on the land along the Red Sea coast back millennia. As such, Beja melodies have changed and evolved over many generations. The Beja featured quite significantly in the British colonial imagination as "noble savages". This was embodied in Rudyard Kiplings' poem "Fuzzy-Wuzzy" (1892), describing a battle between British soldiers, who entered Sudan as part of the imperial Sudan Expeditionary Force, and Beja (specifically Hadendawa) warriors. The force attempted to conquer Sudan in the late 19th century but initially failed, driven back by Sudanese Mahdist forces, including Beja Hadendawa warriors, at the battle of Suakin. One of the verses of the poem describe the Beja warriors, which the British nicknamed "Fuzzy-Wuzzy" (a racist slur used to mock Black people's hair) as "a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;"
Noori believes an unleashing of Beja music would form the most potent act of resistance in the Beja's quest for equity and justice.
The neglect and contempt towards Beja communities continued in the post-colonial period after 1956. As such, the Beja have been active in demanding political change in Sudan for decades, confronting the way in which Sudanese governments have turned a blind eye to their calls for recognition and for access to the wealth of gold found in their soil. Noori believes an unleashing of Beja music would form the most potent act of resistance in the Beja's quest for equity and justice.
To learn more about the history of the album, but also about the amazing musicians behind it, you can read the following articles written by Noori himself for Africa Is a Country and by Ostinato’s founder, Vik Sohonie, for OkayAfrica.
To listen to or purchase Beja Power! Electric Soul & Brass from Sudan’s Red Sea Coast, visit Ostinato Records’ Bandcamp