‘Doing what they love’ | New documentary on Sudan’s music scene portrays a country in flux

‘Doing what they love’ | New documentary on Sudan’s music scene portrays a country in flux


Doing what they love: Yalla Khartoum is a new documentary by Editude Pictures featuring Sudan’s budding music scene from a refreshingly untold perspective. The 18 minute documentary zooms in on Khartoum’s musicians, exploring the paradox of an otherwise musically rich country in which young musicians struggle to pursue music as a career, or even as a passion. Drawing from personal stories of rising musicians in Khartoum’s scene, the film captures a determined youth keen on finding societal acceptance and value in their passion in the context of societal flux.

In the film, Yalla Khartouma cultural organisationappears to be a key actor, hosting many of the events and supporting all of the artists we see in the course of the film. Since 2013, Yalla Khartoum has been activating the scene in Sudan’s capital with a variety of workshops, exchange programmes, skills trainings and events, encouraging Khartoum’s creative youth to find their voice and express themselves via music, fashion, photography, art, and even activities such as skating.

It is on Yalla Khartoum’s account that one unexpectedly encounters a Kenyan narrator in the opening scenes of the film. Nelson Mandela Ambasa, a musician formerly with Kenya’s Sarabi band, is in Khartoum to facilitate one of Yalla Khartoum’s workshops as we soon learn. Interestingly, he is the subject of yet another documentary titled Music is our Weapon, which explains why Yalla might have invited him in the first place. His incredible charisma makes him a natural protagonist.

As the film progresses, we get to hear the stories of some of the participants of the workshop that Nelson is facilitating. The stories are earnest, but generally hopeful aspirational accounts of how each musician is trying to navigate a life doing music in Sudan. The music scene appears to be at a crossroads: coming to terms with its own potential and identity. In a particularly powerful scene a rapper tells a story of howafter a childhood trauma left him stammeringhe discovers that he no longer has a stammering problem while rapping, leading him to conclude that “Music is magic”.

This momentum continues to the end of the film where one realises that the film was made on the eve of #SudanRevolts, the severely underreported protests in and around Khartoum that shook Sudan beginning September 2018. In so doing the film pays homage to the youth of Sudan who are driving transformation: a youth envisioning a new future for themselves and for their country.

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Cover Image | Still video  from ‘Doing what they love’

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Eric Otieno

Eric Otieno

Eric Otieno decolonial scholar working at the intersections of social justice, politics, the economy and art. I write political art reviews because art is political (the reverse is obviously not true). When im feeling entitled, i write op-eds. I enjoy reading, dancing, cycling and cappucinos without sugar