Sudan has been in an almost constant state of civil war since independence. People living in the southern border regions know and fear the sound of the Antonov planes, used by Omar al-Bashir’s government to randomly bombard villages. Traditionally music has always been part of the fabric of daily life in these areas, but it gains a new and vital significance in this time of war.
The rababa (a stringed instrument) and percussion instruments, all made from a range of reused materials, are at the center of spontaneous musical sessions that get whole villages to join in the dancing and singing. Musicologist Sarah Mohamed, who claims to find the “real” Sudan here, explains: “The nature of the music allows everyone to write lyrics, to sing, to drum. You can use a bucket. Not a problem.”
It keeps the people alive, both in body and in spirit: making music together, young people stay up throughout the night, so they can warn the village in case a plane is approaching. With this ode to Sudan’s musical tradition, Beats of the Antonov offers a new perspective on national identity and the Sudanese conflict.