Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Yearning and the Longing: Muhamed El Amin

The oud player

There are few sounds I’ve grown to love dearer in recent years than that of the oud. The plucked string resonates with a crispness that never grows stale. Though it is often played solo, its song is far more sonorous than the solo guitar. It speaks with a natural confidence, like some sort of precocious youngster where the (acoustic) guitar seems to whisper.  This is not without its pleasures but the oud’s assured tone spells hope and urgency.

I’ve not been in Khartoum in Sudan though have worked with several Sudanese in my years in the aid industry. They were intensely proud of being Sudanese and frequently notified me that no one spoke Arabic with greater clarity and melody then themselves.  And for a tradition and language that is intimately bound to speech and oral communication, as opposed to writing, this is high praise. 

My only visit to the country was to the south many years before it became an independent nation. I was on a mission to meet and interview some high ranking Ethiopian government officials of Sudanese extraction who had fled to the regional city (no larger than a small neighbourhood) of Nasir.  Because of their association as loyal public servants with the despised and recently collapsed leftist Derg government headed by Col. Hailemariam Mengistu, they were in fear for their lives.  Though they were ethnically ‘home’ in southern Sudan, they were mistrusted and disliked by the local population. My job was to see if there was a way to get them resettled in the West.   To make a tangential story short, there wasn’t and I don’t know what became of them after I flew back to Nairobi.

Muhamad El Amin

Tonight’s selection is Muhamad el Amin, one of Sudan’s great voices accompanying himself beautifully on oud.  Mohammed el Amin is a Sudanese folk-hero for his majestic voice and superb oud playing, and the near-blind, reclusive old revolutionary is also a brilliant composer and arranger. Never a prolific writer, his work is concentrated and even his rearrangements of old songs sound fresh. I forgot the irritating half-assed reggae of lesser bands the night Mohammed el Amin conjured up a playful dub fade-out of one epic song with just a violinist (Mohamediya), bass player and tablas. Born in Wad Medani, central Sudan, in 1943, he began learning the oud at the age of 11, taught by the well-known professor Mohammed Fadl. He wrote his first compositions aged 20, and went on to become honorary president of the Sudanese Artists' and Composers' Society. Frequently in trouble for provoking one military dictatorship - he was jailed by Nimeiri's regime in the 1970s - he moved to Cairo after 1989 to avoid similar run-ins with the National Islamic Front, but returned to Khartoum in 1994 and kept a low profile. (http://www.sudanupdate.org/REPORTS/MUSIC/musicians/AMIN.HTM) 
The CD The Voice of Sudan (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Germany)
 is an intimate solo acoustic set recorded in Berlin in 1991. It captures his smokily majestic voice and nimble oud playing - the latter sometimes got lost in his earlier big band outings - in glorious epics such as Habibi, where the roller-coaster riffing of the 1980s electric version gets altogether subtler treatment. (http://www.sudanupdate.org/REPORTS/MUSIC/MTEXT.HTM)
Here is a link to a good introduction to the music and musical politics of Africa’s largest country. Well worth a read. (http://www.sudanupdate.org/REPORTS/MUSIC/MTEXT.HTM)
This is another fine example of Arabic left-folk music. Oud and voice both in outstanding glory.

            Track Listing:
            01 Al Jarida - The Newspaper
02 The Longing And Yearning
03 Obituary
04 Life
05 Eyes Of Hope
06 Fullmoon Over The Castle
07 Habibi

1 comment:

MarviniusMartinium said...

is that th lawrence masquerading as a pseudo-arab?