Sudan: Censored singer tries to reform Janjaweed ‘hate singers’

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Sudan:
Censored singer tries to reform ‘hate singers’

While struggling with censorship in Khartoum, the Sudanese singer-songwriter Abazar Hamid hopes to bring peace to Sudan with his music. He travels to rural areas of the country where he tries to reform the traditional Arab ‘hate singers’ known as the Janjaweed women.

Abazar Hamid told his story to Stephanie McCrummen who published it in an article and a video film for Washington Post in June 2008.


Click to see Washington Post video

Month after month, Abazar Hamid submitted his peace and love songs to the government’s music monitoring committee which mostly censored and rejected them. Only the most innocuous of his love songs have been played on Sudanese radio.

“Songs like ‘New Sudan’, they didn’t like. Songs like ‘Peace Darfur’, they didn’t like. Next week, I’ll try ‘The Abyei song’, Abazar Hamid said, referring to a reggae song he wrote about a contested Sudanese town which was recently destroyed by government forces.

“I talk with them and talk with them, and sometimes they allow it. The love songs make it. The others, they don’t,” Abazar Hamid told Stephanie McCrummen.

Abazar Hamid has a lawyer, and they often argue with members of the government committee when they try to censor his lyrics or ban his songs. He recently cut a pragmatic deal with the censors to let him record and produce ‘New Sudan’ and ‘Peace Darfur’ in exchange for never singing a song he wrote titled ‘Enough’ (in Arabic: ‘Kifaya’).

The lyrics of ‘Enough’ go:

    And now the whispering became screaming
    And the ash burns as a fire
    in opposition to cheating.
    We will not wait for a long time.
    We will not wait until night.



The Janjaweed women
37-year-old Abazar Hamid, a married father of three, lives in an apartment in Khartoum. He recently decided to give up his day job as an architect to devote himself full time to the more controversial goal of using music to transform a country so often at war with itself.

Stephanie McCrummen met Abazar Hamid in a desert trading town in Darfur where he is trying to reform the traditional Arab singers known as Hakama – more colloquially, the Janjaweed women – who are singing “you have to kill, kill, kill!”

According to Abazar Hamid as well as several human rights groups, these women singers have a big influence on the community and play a very dangerous role in the conflict. Stephanie McCrummen writes: “A bit propagandists, a bit hate radio, Hakama singers exist in just about every Arab town and village in Sudan. Their traditional role is to compose and sing songs to stir up men’s baser instincts and launch them to war.”

‘Hate songs’
During the early part of the Darfur conflict, many were paid with cash, gold and jewelry by local authorities to sing songs urging the government’s nomadic Arab militias – which came to be known as the Janjaweed – to kill, rape and pillage ethnically African civilians.

According to an Amnesty International report which quoted an local chief, one the lyrics of one song went like this:

    The blood of the blacks runs like water
    we take their goods
    and we chase them from our area
    and our cattle will be in their land.

    The power of [Sudanese president Omer Hassan] al-Bashir
    belongs to the Arabs
    and we will kill you until the end, you blacks
    we have killed your God.

The chief also told Amnesty International that the Arab women racially insulted women from the village, singing:

    You are gorillas
    you are black
    and you are badly dressed

This is “one of the greatest perversions of the use of music in history apart from Nazi Germany”, writes the American blogger Bill Boushka about the indications that the government of Sudan directly has been imploring the Hakama singers to sing ritual pieces to “inspire” the government troops to attack ethnic civilians in Darfur.

The Darfur conflict takes place in western Sudan but there is concern that is spreading to other areas of the country in conjunction with radical Islam.

Encouraging atrocities
In 2004, Amnesty International collected several testimonies mentioning the presence of Hakama – the ‘Janjaweed women’ – while women were raped by the Janjaweed militiamen. During an attack on the village of Disa in June 2003, it was reported by Amnesty International that Arab women accompanied the attackers and sang songs praising the government and scorning the black villagers. The women stood nearby and sang for joy, encouraging the atrocities committed by the militiamen.

“The women singers stirred up racial hatred against black civilians during attacks on villages in Darfur and celebrated the humiliation of their enemies,” said the human rights group’s report, which was based on more than 100 testimonies from women in the refugee camps in neighbouring Chad. The ‘Janjaweed women’ appear to be “the communicators during the attacks. They are reportedly not actively involved in attacks on people, but participate in acts of looting.”

The Janjaweed militiamen are reported to have abducted women for use as sex slaves, in some cases breaking their limbs to prevent them escaping, as well as carrying out rapes in their home villages, the report said.

The United Nations Refugee Agency estimated that over the past three years nearly 200,000 innocents have been killed – massacred, raped, or become victims of disease. It is estimated that 86,000 people have been killed as a direct result of armed violence in the conflict, while around 110,000 have died from starvation and diseases. Two million have been forced from their homes, including 220,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled across the border.

These figures, however, are based on theoretical calculations. They are not based on an actual count of dead bodies. It should be noted that, in comparison, there appears to be a general agreement that in 2007 approximately 1,500 people were killed in direct conflict. No one actually knows the real figure.

Similarly, it should be noted that it is being debated among researchers, journalists and experts exactly how much influence the ‘hate singers’ have had on the conduct of war. Researchers are disagreeing about the background and organisation of the Janjaweed, and it appears that some of the Janjaweed groups change side from time to time – sometimes they are with the government, at other times against it. The situation is complex, and it doesn’t make it less complex that governments in the Western world has an interest in the oil resouces in Sudan.

Not entirely convinced
The article in Washington Post describes what an accompanying 1:43 minutes video clip shows: how Abazar Hamid sat in the desert trading town in the hot shade of a tree with a dozen or so Hakama singers, trying to convince them of the less financially rewarding, and perhaps less exciting, merits of singing about peace. Wrapped in green, red, yellow and peach sarongs, their eyes rimmed black with kohl, the women did not seem entirely convinced.

“If you don’t sing for your men to kill, other men will come and kill you,” said Khadija Jacob

Quotes from Stephanie McCrummen’s article in Washington Post are re-published with permission from the author.





Sudan – the largest country in Africa



Abazar Hamid


Click to listen to the song Enough in MP3 format

Click on the loudspeaker icon to listen to ‘Enough’ (‘Kifaya’) by Abazar Hamid (4:00 minutes)

“This is one of the greatest perversions of the use of music in history apart from Nazi Germany”
Bill Boushka, blogger   – about the Janjaweed women singers


    Salaam Darfur
    Translated to English

    Darfur, peace will come

    Peace and justice come by
    Any victim deserves justice
    Justice and lasting peace

    Peace will come to Darfur

    The people sitting on the ground for dialogue
    Any offender will not escape his crime
    And pardon find good many of God

    With this comes the Darfur peace

    And people return to their loved ones
    In Hwakirhm and villages
    The villages burned
    will be constructed by Darfur peace

    © Abazar Hamid


Abazar Hamid recorded ‘Salaam Darfur’ in a friends’ studio where they paid approximately 35 US dollars per hour. They made the recording and mixing with Cooledit software in two hours.

Abazar Hamid sings and plays the guitar. A friend plays bass guitar. They also recorded ‘Enough’ / ‘Kifaya’ in the same studio. That took them four hours. Abazar Hamid plays sequencers and keyboards in ‘Kifaya’. He knows the Korg Triton keyboard well.



Click to listen to the song

Click on the loudspeaker icon to listen to the studio recording of ‘Salaam Darfur’ (3:59 minutes)


Click to listen to the song

Click to listen to a live recording of Abazar Hamid singing ‘Salaam Darfur’ (2:08 minutes)

Update

On 1 November 2008, an updated version of this article is published in the Danish magazine Cultures.

PDF in Danish language

Click to read article in Danish language

Sources

Washington Post – 19 June 2008:

‘Songs of Hope for Sudan, When the Censors Allow’

The Guardian – 20 July 2004:

‘Arab women singers complicit in rape, says Amnesty report’


Video

In this 1:43 minutes video clip, Abazar Hamid leads a group of Hakama singers in a rendition of ‘Peace Darfur’ – a song that the Sudanese government has censored:

‘Singing for Peace’

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