Sudanese Artists Bring Songs of Conflict and Redemption to Berklee Signature Series Opener

By 
Allen Bush
September 22, 2015
Press release
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Asim Gorashi.
Abu Araki Elbakheet
Emmanuel Jal
Mohamed Tahir

Berklee launches its 2015-16 Signature Music Series with a celebration of traditional and modern Sudanese music. This special event will feature four visiting artists from Sudan, representing the country’s rich musical and cultural diversities from various regions and tribes. Al-Murtaja: A Celebration of Sudanese Music takes place Thursday, October 22, at 8:00 p.m., at the Berklee Performance Center. Tickets are $8-$16 at the Berklee Performance Center box office at 136 Massachusetts Avenue, or at berklee.edu/bpc. Call 617-747-2261 for more information. The Berklee Performance Center is wheelchair accessible.

The concert’s producer and director is Sudanese student Mohamed Araki. Araki has gathered 35 Berklee musicians to perform with guest artists Emmanuel Jal, Asim Gorashi, Mohamed Tahir, and Abu Araki Elbakheet, Araki’s father.

“Sudan is heir to an extremely rich tradition of musical, dramatic, and artistic expression, yet this music has not been well exposed or documented due to civil and political turmoil in the country,” says Araki. “The concert’s title, Al-Murtaja, means the thing or person people are waiting for, and this concert fulfills that wish by featuring musicians from all parts of Sudan to create a sense of shared cultural identity.”

Redemptive themes are common in the lives and music of the performers. Elbakheet, a grand figure of Sudanese song, is an example of artistic resistance during one of the most oppressive periods of Sudan's history. Graduating from the Institute of Music and Drama in 1978, he became a popular singer on Sudanese radio and at festivals. After the rise of Sudan's Islamist government in 1989, he, like many artists, was banned because of the strong social content of his lyrics. He was arrested, and forbidden to sing in public. Undeterred, he went to Egypt and made some of his most popular recordings.

Jal was born into the life of a child solider and overcame unbelievable struggles to become an internationally acclaimed hip-hop artist with a message of peace and reconciliation. He has told his story to the highest tier of several governments and was a face of Amnesty International’s 2010 World Refugee Day Campaign. A documentary on his life, Warchildwon 12 international film festival awards, and he costarred with Reese Witherspoon in the Warner Brothers' motion picture The Good Lie, which tells the story about the journey of four young Sudanese refugees to the United States. 

Gorashi considers music to be a ladder that takes him to the highest level of spirituality. This commanding singer combines Sudanese tribal folk music, sacred Sufi melodies, chants, and whistling, which he believes has the power to enter the secret recesses of our hearts. With a bachelor's degree in music from the University of Sudan, he has arranged more than 20 Sudanese folkloric songs in 10 different local languages and participated in numerous festivals. 

Watch a performance with Mohamed Tahir from the concert:

A recording session has been arranged for all of the musicians in the Shames Family Scoring Stage. A forum and multimedia exhibition including traditional clothing and food and photographs organized by Araki will educate students about Sudan in the days preceding the concert.

In addition, leading up to the concert, the Berklee Media Center will host a screening of Beats of the Antonov, a documentary about music, identity, and war in the Sudan, on Tuesday, October 20 at 6:00 p.m.

The Signature Music Series at Berklee continues this fall with Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, with the Boston Pops performing a new score written by student film composers at Symphony Hall on October 30; Totó La Momposina Meets Berklee, featuring the Colombian singer and dancer on November 5; and Joyce Moreno Meets Berklee, with the Brazilian singer-songwriter on December 10. All concerts feature Berklee students, faculty, and alumni collaborating with world-renowned musicians.