The country of Sudan has a rich entertainment and pop culture industry that stems from a deep tradition of music, theater, and arts. More than 500 ethnic groups live spread out around Sudan, and each brings a different influence to the culture of the country.
The country fell under sharia law in 1989, which is the moral and religious code of Islam. With that, many popular musicians and poets were taken to jail. Other artists fled the country to avoid imprisonment. One of the most popular singers at the time was Mohammed Wardi. He left Sudan to ensure his own safety but is extremely popular with the Sudanese people.
Music suffered under sharia law because artists could either not play or left the country. However, many musical influences came from being under sharia law. The influence of the military brought new instruments and musical styles to the country, such as bagpipes from Scotland.
One of the programs sharia law interrupted was the traditional Zar ceremony. Zar is a “culture-bound syndrome that is briefly described…as a form of spirit possession common in North African and Middle Eastern societies.” (academia.edu) The purpose of the Zar ceremony is to cure a mental illness by contacting the spirits that are possessing the body. The Zar is supposed to be the last resort to curing a mental illness. The reason Zar is a cultural ceremony is because the ceremony includes drumming and dancing to cure the illness (touregypt.net). The practice is common around Sudan but in southern Egypt as well. The cite also says the ceremony provides a “unique form of relief to women in strictly patriarchal societies.”
Theater is becoming more popular in Sudan as freedom of expression becomes more allowed across the country. Arts Africa says theater groups practice in big cities all around the country, but the center of theater life is in Khartoum. 12 groups exist and use the National Theater for their performances. The National Theater was built in 1959 after Sudanese independence in 1956. The building was originally intended for visiting companies, but as theater became more popular in the country, more national companies were created. There is also a College of Music and Drama in Sudan.
Arts Africa reports some of the best theater is performed in the yearly Bugaa-festival. The festival “at the end of March brings the best theatre-productions of the country together in Khartoum. For a growing national and international audience theatre is celebrated as a space where cultures meet, differences are shown and ‘discussed’ and the fundamental pleasures of playing are enjoyed.”
The unstable government and violent conflicts of the late 20th century negatively impacted the cultural growth of Sudan. Sudanese theater had its golden ages in the 1960s-1970s. Musaab Elsawi, a theater critic for the al-Rai al-Aam daily, said Sudan has a long history of theater that ranges from ancient folk drama to contemporary plays that delve into politics and comedy. (Reuters)
Sudanese theater enjoyed its golden period in the 1960s and 1970s, before floundering during years of economic hardship and civil war, he said. “Still, over the past decade, interest in theater has slowly returned, especially after the 2005 peace deal that ended decades of war between the north and south and spurred Sudanese to reflect on national identity and image, he said.” (Reuters)
Most Sudanese identify with their tribes instead of as a whole nation. Some Muslims have attempted to create a national identity based on Arabic culture, without trying to incorporate culture of the South. This has created even more division between tribes who want to keep their own identities.
by: Courtney Doll