Gareth Bonello from Welsh band Pen Pastwn, blogs about the band’s visit to Sudan, the musical traditions they discovered and about being on of the few western bands to perform in Sudan in the last 32 years.
I have to admit that when the British Council contacted Pen Pastwn at short notice and asked if we’d like to do some gigs in Sudan it took me a little by surprise. My knowledge of Sudan was based solely on what I had seen on the news or read in the papers. It had never crossed my mind that it might be a place I would visit. The trip would involve two concerts, the first in Port Sudan and the other in the capital Khartoum.
Two weeks later I was in Port Sudan with folk-psych-rock collective Pen Pastwn. Over the past two years we have been the in-house band for an evening of music and literature at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, as well as performing our own material. As a result, collaborating with musicians and writers has become a bit of a specialty, and we were all extremely keen to get jamming with the local musicians.
On our first full day we met Beja singer Siddi Doshka and his band. It wasn’t long before the music was flowing and we were jamming on each other’s songs. Siddi’s music was based around the pentatonic scale and to my ears it had a much stronger African influence than the Middle-Eastern one that I had been expecting. His voice, though unamplified, carried and reverberated around the room like a bell. The jam went so well that the next day we joined Siddi and his band on stage and performed several tracks together.
Sudan has had a tricky relationship with music and dance in recent times. Many musicians had to stop performing following the imposition of strict Sharia law in 1989. The feeling I got whilst out there was that there are elements within the establishment that are still deeply distrustful of musical events and concerts are sometimes cancelled at the last minute. We were told that the event we were playing was one of only a few of its kind to take place in Port Sudan during the last 32 years.
That is why the work that the Creative Coalitions Project is doing in Sudan is so good, because through the project, concerts have been going ahead and musical talent is being developed. We all felt that we were contributing in a very small way just by performing.
The highlight of the trip for me was jamming with Siddi Doshka live on stage in Port Sudan. The gig was in the open with no fences or barriers, so anyone could come and listen. It was a great feeling to look out and see a crowd of hundreds enjoying free music in the open air.
Afterwards it was clear that the audience had enjoyed the night as much as we had and we were swamped by people who wanted to greet us. We ended up spending a good hour and a half meeting everyone, taking photos and discussing music. We were all overwhelmed by the response and developed a real affinity for the people of Port Sudan.
Hopefully, more events will be staged there in the near future, and who knows? Perhaps we will be there again too. I think I speak for everyone in the band when I say that I hope so.
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