Since the release of their Grammy-nominated compilation of music from Somalia's golden era, Sweet as Broken Dates, Ostinato Records has been making waves in the world of retro world music lovers and crate diggers. This year, they have turned their focus on Sudan, and have since re-released some absolute gems, specifically with Abu Obaida Hassan & His Tambour: The Shaigiya Sound of Sudan, an album that presents the hypnotic electric tambour of a legend thought dead, who in fact turned out to be alive. The album has been wildly received, selling out from their stock in Germany, and coming close in the United States.
Sudan has been surfacing a lot in the world of crate diggers and labels who focus on re-releases, with people like Habibi Funk turning their gaze on the diversely cultured East African country. This is far from baseless, considering the musical depth of a country that had a large swath of Africa swaying to and fro to the perfumed, heartening music. This would sadly be considered a golden age, due to the military coup at the end of the '80s that swept a strict religious government into power, brutally forbidding music and thus putting out the flame of Sudan. This led to violent persecution of musicians, and a vast exodus of Sudan's artists, activists, and intellectuals, unfortunate not only for Sudan itself, but for fans from Djibouti to Mauritania.
Ostinato's newest compilation, Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan, chronicles the golden days of Khartoum, from the '70s and '80s, to music made in the '90s by artists in exile, highlighting the violin, accordion, and synth driven music, carried by contagious rhythms, that provided the necessary light to a life that is often dark. Because of its scarcity within Sudan, to source this obscure music the Ostinato team traveled to Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Egypt in search of tape and vinyl treasures; evidence of a bygone era.
Those who have seen the Sudanese dance can understand where the just-behind-the-beat sway and pulsating neck movements come from. This music is undeniably, addictively uplifting and jive-inducing. Whether you want to dance or not, it tugs at your hips and your crown, the loping rhythms and slinking melodies acting as puppet master to your body.
Though this album is not set to release until September 14th, Ostinato has just dropped three tracks to tease and edge your anticipation. The first is by Kamal Tarbas, aka "the King of Sudanese Folk Music," who helped to forge a sound called Al-Fann Al-Shaabi. Until today, his round, jolly, and impressively turbaned face is massively iconic. "Min Ozzalna Seebak Seeb (Forget Those That Divide Us)" takes you warmly in its embrace, swaying back and forth to the cascading Nubian rhythm in a cool breeze of synths and horns. It's one of those songs that has the ability to instantly lift the shadows from around you.
Another widely-loved treasure, Saied Khalifa, sings the next track. To highlight his potency as a singer, there is an excerpt from his son in the liner notes, describing an instance in which he was invited to Ethiopia to sing for King Haile Selassie. At the celebration, however, he was not to be found, and when he did show up, he had translated his songs into Amharic. It is said he made Haile Selassie, an infamously stoic man, smile. "Igd Allooli (The Pearl Necklace)" launches with up-beat drums, thrumming bass, and on-the-beat claps before Khalifa rolls up on a chariot of violins and unfurls verses of cool velvet.
The final single is by Samira Dunia, who found great regional success, recording in Egypt alongside many other Sudanese artists. In "Galbi La Tahwa Tani (My Heart, Don't Fall in Love Again)", hand drums and perfectly reverb-drenched guitar comping coax in a dreamy wave of violins and horns, before Dunia's honeyed and vibrato laden voice settles on your ears.
These three tracks spell more good things to come from this compilation. In dark days, we need light like this, and it's thanks to labels like Ostinato that we have access to the hidden treasures of old, and that they do not fall forgotten.
Learn more about the album and pre-order here.
Follow Ostinato on Bandcamp.