Music is a powerful tool for crafting, exploring and expressing identity. In Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain regions it is all of this; but it is also what keeps the young people awake at nights, when they are keeping watch for the Antonov planes sent to bomb them.
The Sudan we see on the news is of a poverty-stricken, war-torn country; corrupt, terrorised by rebels and without joy. While this is true to some extent, what we don’t see is the resilience of the people and the joy that they find in their music. Targets of the Sudanese government in a bloody civil war, the people of the The Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain regions have been through a lot. Many live in refugee camps, while others struggle to keep their homes amidst the frequent attacks on the region.
Sudanese filmmaker hajooj kuka spent a significant period time in the refugee camps creating this, his début film. The film came from the music – the playing of a traditional stringed instrument called the rebaba moving him so much, that a film sprung from it. The music turned out to be the gateway into the lives of these people, the way they express their identity, and keep their culture alive. The North is at war in the name of a uniform Islāmic Arab society, shoving aside the rich African cultural heritage and varied beliefs of the South. These are proud people for whom identity is important. They embrace their differences and celebrate their unique identities.
It’s astounding what kuka manages to cover in this relatively short film, editing expert opinions from people such as a local Liberation Army commander and a Sudanese Ethnomusicologist, into footage of the local people. He also includes some shocking footage of the bombing attacks, and we are given a rare insight into how people attempt to live in that sort of dangerous environment. The stress is evident; one woman laments the loss of her long hair due to anxiety. Groups of youths stay awake to watch for incoming attacks, turning their lookout shifts into parties and celebrations of music, keeping their spirits up and their eyes open.
kuka gives these people names and identities. They are not grouped together as “refugees” and the baggage that comes with that tag. He allows them to speak of their lives and their culture in a way that is so refreshing. This is not a film meant evoke pity; in fact, it allows you to feel quite optimistic. These proud people know they have something worth fighting for, and hope to see the day that they can stop singing about their men going off to war.
Good news for those who like music in the film. In the q&a after the film, kuka mentioned that they would be releasing an album of music from the people featured in the film. He also mentioned his next film would be a romantic comedy, set to start filming in July. That’s something to look forward to for sure.
By Sam McCosh
Director: hajooj kuka
Producer: hajooj kuka, Steven Markovitz
Country: South Africa, Sudan
Runtime: 68 minutes
Remaining SFF Screening Dates: 3:00pm, Sat 6 June (Event Cinemas George St).