Kind of Blue

Music from the Blue Nile
Music from the Blue Nile (ARC Music EUCD 2212, 2009)

Most mentions of Sudan nowadays are likely to be about the ongoing conflict there and the horrors that have resulted (just as Ethiopia was once near-synonymous with famine). But while such concerns rightly continue to command attention and intervention, they are far from what defines Sudan. As Africa’s largest country, it naturally possesses a diverse music scene that draws from many sources.

A good overview of such can be found on 2005’s The Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan, and if it’s more the traditional side of things you’re after, Music from the Blue Nile provides. The title is actually a bit off, since this is music with origins in the area where the White and Blue Nile converge: the land called Nubia long ago. It’s all traditional songs on the disc and the instrumental accompaniment is likewise free from contemporary intrusion save for some slightly funky electric bass.

None of it sounds like museum pieces, though. Thumping, swinging percussion (some of it played by an eight-year-old prodigy who gets special mention in the liner notes) builds a foundation for sweet/tart melodies played on accordion, violin (which provides especially fine coloring on some of the tracks) and oud as male and female voices sing of love, longing, celebration and personal concerns.

There’s a nice build to the album, with the fastest, catchiest song “Benayya,” an elaboration on the good qualities of young women, providing a rousing finale. Some of this stuff brings to mind Arabic and Egyptian folk music or possibly early Algerian rai, but the sound and spirit here are uniquely Sudanese and a joy to listen to again and again.

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