Khartoum Blues

Abdel Gadir Salim

Rumour has it that songs sung in Kordofan accompanied by intermittent clapping can be heard up to thirty kilometers beyond their village of origin. This desert region situated in the very heart of the Sudan, the “ land of the two Niles ”, is the birthplace of many talented, powerful singers. One such is Abdel Gadir Salim, an immense figure in every sense of the word and considered to be one of the foremost representatives of the Sudanese urban singing style. He is a leading figure in a revival of the genre, commonly referred to as “ jazz ”, no doubt because of its instrumentation (the presence of bongos, brass instruments and the guitar). Salim not only boasts an impressive vocal range and power but is also an excellent ‘ûd player (the arab lute). Ranging from slow languid tunes in Cairo style to frenzied rythms such as are found in Zaïre, he has developed his own style, a true blend of all the remarkably diverse elements and peoples that go to make up his homeland.


01Rada al-qulayb/Give me back my tender little heart – 6’55
02Bitzîd min fadhâbî/She increases my pain – 6’16
03Ghannû yà ikhwânî/Sing, o my brothers – 7’32
04Jamîl al-sourah/The beautiful face – 6’44
05Ghâba nawmî/I can no longer sleep – 9’45
06Qidrechinna/I am destined to love – 9’35
07Anâ batrâkî/I am under your spell – 4’35
08Maktûl hawâk/Tied by your live – 6’02

Interpreters et instruments

Abdel Gadir Salim (singing, oud)
Zaki Ali Mohammad Othman (basse)
Mohammad Abdallah Mohammad Abakar (violin)
Othman Hassan Othman (violin)
Mohammad Mostapha Saleh (violin)
Ahmad Abdulbaqi Mohammad Hamed (accordeon)
Abdelhadi Mohammad Nour (saxophone)
Yassir Abderrahim Taha (guitar)
Ibrahim Abdelwahab Othman (percussion)
Al-Zoubeir Mohammad Al-Hassan (percussion)
Kamal Youssef Ali (flute)


Sudanese music was originally based in the country but gradually became urbanised thanks to radio and the Khartoum Institute ofMusic and Theatre. In a spirit of renewal inspired by these two influences, attempts were made to insert a streak of modernism into the traditional local art by the introduction of so called « western » instruments such as the accordion, the violin and the saxophone. Abdel Gadir Salim is one of the leading figures of the generation of musicians who created the urban song style in the seventies, without ever denying its sources. This unusually tall princely figure with a permanent smile on his lips was one of the trio of contemporary Sudanese stars who undertook a European tour in 1986, the very first of its kind for any musicians from the Sudan. The previous year he had appeared in the « Days of Arab Music in Nanterre », where he quickly conquered the public with his new-sounding, hitherto unknown music.

Abdel Gadir was born in El-Obeid, the most important oasis town nestling right in the heart of the province of Kordofan. He was destined to be a teacher but his passion for singing was to decide otherwise. In spite of the fact that there had never been a musician in his family before, he learnt to play the lute at a very young age. He taught himself at first, and then went on to regis­ter for five years of study at the Institute of Music and Theatre. It was here that he learned the notions of classical music, though the music of Kordofan remained his first love. This province is a desert region in Western Sudan and a land of passage, where the main occupations are cattle rearing and breeding, (one might even talk of mixed or cross-breeding). Its inhabitants are descen­ded from the Tundjurs, a people who were brought under Islamic rule in the 14th c., and nomads from every corner of the Arabo-Islamic empire, with all the rich and varied traditions this implies. This meeting of different cultures with the local one produced a native music with words sung in the vernacular. Whereas in the land of the two Niles all music is governed by the pentatonic scale, (known in Arabic as the sullam khumasi) in Kordofan, music is played with a scale that sometimes includes quarter tones. But the difference is even more marked in the rhythm where the ter­rible 6/8 tempo is used, in the mardoum (wedding songs and dances) – one of the major items in the Kordofan repertory.

Abdel Gadir Salim’s compositions are inspired by his beloved homeland of Kordofan {he has even dedicated a famous song to it: « Maqtool Hawaki Ya Kordofan/ Your love has killed me, o Kordofan ». At first he sang solo, accompanying himself on the lute. In 1970 he recorded his best-known song for radio and tele­vision, the one that was really to establish his fame, « Umri Ma Bansa /1 shall never forget you », and one that immediately tou­ched the hearts of all Sudanese. This song was to have the same far-reaching influence as the standard “Mambo sûdanî” and paved the way to a whole movement of renewal that still mana­ged in spite of everything to keep to the original melody. Meanwhile Salim founded the All Stars group, composed of seven musicians on violins, guitar, oriental and Western percus­sion instruments (bongos) and the saxophone. In spite of his gro­wing fame, Abdel Gadir Salim has remained modest and the popularity he now enjoys is due to various factors.

First of all, people are naturally drawn to him. He has a charis­ma, that special something that makes him a musician whose message gets across to his public in the most natural and easy way. But his success depends on his two-fold approach: on the one hand he gives his music a particular colour and flavour, whilst on the other hand his melodies are so simple that once heard, they are easily memorized and quickly become popular tunes on everyone’s lips. This is not the result of mere chance; once again, the reasons are to be found in his beloved Kordofan, the centre of Sudanese musical theory. In actual fact, Abdel Gadir has always been an ethnomusicologist, albeit unin­tentionally; he has always given a lot of thought and attention to the content and influence of the wealth of music he collected in his homeland. Thus songs of peoples such as the Baggara and the Abbala are now considered to be tangible reference points in his repertory. Collected in the field, they are part of his perso­nal treasure built on serious research, that he constantly adapts and reworks freely, though always keeping the spirit of the origi­nal, whether it be songs of rejoicing, love songs, working songs, women’s songs. Everything he gleaned in Kordofan is grist to his mill, to be transformed as he wants, in his own inimitable style. Surprisingly, some of these peoples living far away from the borders of the Arab world express themselves in Arabic, and even more surprisingly, their musical forms are subject to a system that is not necessarily the predominant one in the Sudan, i.e. the pentatonic system. In certain regions of Kordofan. tetrachord systems, ajnàs in Arabic the basis of Arab music in general, still survive. This is where Salim’s songs, with their special character derived from their back­ground, so different from that of most Sudanese songs, stand out from the usual ones. Another distinctive characteristic is the mardoum rhythm speci­fic to the above mentioned region. The term mardoum denotes a fast three stroke beat, virtually symbolic of the Sudan, and named thus although no-one knows the exact meaning of the term – but what it des­cribes is very obvious: dance music with a real swing.

Abdel Gadir Salim has now settled definitively in Khartoum, where he is known as one of the city’s foremost singers, accompanying himself on the ùd. Amongst his many activities he found time to publish an essay in 1992, in which he argued brilliantly in favour of the cause of musicians. He has also drawn up the broad outlines of a real plan for the music of his country. He lives in a social milieu where he comes into contact with all sorts of well-known personalities on the music scene, thanks to the musicians’ union, of which he is an ardent member. This was founded in 1951, and is known in Arabic as the Râbiat al-fannânin. Its main office is in a large domain in Oumdurman, looking out onto the Nile. At nightfall the musicians gather there for discussions and meetings, or they sip a glass of tea, and swop the day’s news, the local gossip and other stories. Abdel Gadir can be recognised easily in the group by his voice, his exuberant manner and his outstanding presence. But professional musicians come to this pleasant meeting spot for another, very important reason- it’s here that they will be hired to play at a party or other festive occasion, usually a wedding, to be held in a private house or one of the cafes overlooking the Nile, according to the social class of the married couple.

Abdel Gadir Salim represents what is known in the West as the urban song; it came into being in Khartoum at the time of inde­pendence. Its real beginnings date from 1972, with a song called « Al-limuni », that became popular throughout the country. This urban song displays many characteristics reminiscent of jazz, so much so that the notion of « Sudanese jazz » actually exists. But in actual fact this type of song is simply al-ughniya al-haditha {modern or contemporary song). The Sudanese make a distinc­tion between two types here, originating from two distinct his­torical currents – the first, known as haqibat al-fann (the over­night song) refers to a style brought to light in 1955 by a famous radio programme. The tanbûr style, as this is called, was to pre­dominate in all the major towns and cities of the country bet­ween 1919 and the end of the Second World War. By its use of percussion accompaniment, this was the first attempt to urbani­se country songs, and although somewhat modest and unassu­ming in its early stage», the style soon provided the ideal link bet­ween tradition and modernity.

The second type of contemporary song is one that has developed within small ensembles grouped around a solo singer. In this case, the predominant instrumentation is violins, saxophone and accordion. It differs from the first type by the introduction of the ‘(id, the Arab lute, which quickly became the favourite instru­ment of all the small-town singers.

Christian Poché
Translated by Delia Morris

  • Reference : 321.027
  • Ean : 794 881 477 029
  • Main artist : Abdel Gadir Salim (عبد القادر سالم)
  • Year of recording : 1999
  • Year of publishing : 1999
  • Music style : Blues
  • Country : Sudan
  • City of recording : Paris
  • Main language : Arabic
  • Composers : Abdel Gabir Salim
  • Lyricists : Fadili Jumâ’ ; Qâsim ‘Uthmân ; ‘Abd Allah al-Kâzim ; Traditional
  • Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe

Available in CD – Buy here