Al-Balabil Band: The Sudanese... Supremes? - فرقة البلابل: Ode to Ghost-Capital.

Hurro, again.

Another post by yours truly, this time
it will be a dedication to one of the most useful music blogs on the Internet: Ghost-Capital.
Nick's enamoration with the Sudanese pop girl-band Al-Balabil (Arabic: البلابل), has led me to go and show some appreciation for the man who's now fighting to stay 'local' on-linepresenting in his outstanding blogsite the world's rarest lost records, and a few never-heard-of audio-gems and aurgasms unseen elsewhere on the web... his dedication, good-will, and preparedness always estimable and saught .

This post here is not just about The Nightingales, or Balabil (also spelled as Balabel). It's a small gesture of endearment with all that is Sudanese music. My love for this music harks back to when I was just 6 years old. I used to live in a Gulf emirate where most of our neighbours hailed from The Republic of Sudan. These people are gentle, loving, so generous, and very fun to be around with. Almost all of my friends from school were Sudanis: we played football together
, went to each others houses, and reached an understanding and unison on more than the friendship level. Sudanese people have beautiful souls. Their music is how they define their world: a garden full of hope and peace.

I listened to Sudanese music since then, and grew to like their oud music
unlike other Arabic oud music, theirs is very raw and earthy. The method of playing the Sudanese oud focuses on the upper two bass-strings, and this makes the instrument sound so euphonically melodious... as if the tunes flow from deep within its hollow gourd. Intoxicating, yet very strong like a reverie.

Sudanese popular music started around the early 40's when modernity came to that country, and radio was introduced by the British as part of their 'popaganda', and featured only solo singers and players. Later on, some Sudanese folks started
to think with a group mind. Actually, most of Sudanese folklore is based on songs the Sudanese sing at times of weddings, war, or a public gathering, called there hafla. The songs are based on nationalistic themes, and poems strongly recited and memorized by the public. Each Sudani knows his or her favourite singer and/or band like the palm of their hands. This is not a joking matter: these people are serious about their music.

I shall hereby, introduce those of you that never heard any Sudanese music before to two of these 'bands', and not artists. In the knowledge that, famous solo  artists wrote and composed music for these same bands and were backed by a huge following that still listen to their old (and, new) songs after many years.

Let's begin with my ode to GC himself: blogistan's music-meister
Al-Balabil were a very famous girl-band in the early 70's consisting of three sisters:
Hadia, Aamal, and Hayyatt Mohammed Abdel-Majid Talsam, who were born to a musically-cultured couple in the Wadi-Half region, abutting a lake in the northern Nubia region, then moved with the family to Umm-Durman (أم درمان), part of Al-Kharotum Province; the capital of Sudan. The Nubian girls started singing at their high-school but weren't formed as a choral band. Usually, and in most Arab states, school bands are named koral  and get called upon to sing at times of graduation, independence days, etc. The themes of love and courtship are so deeply-rooted in Sudanese culture, that it's quite acceptable for a group of girls to sing in public long as their music does not exceed the general shame level and common Islamic traditions.

Around 1972, Sudanese musician Bachir Abbas took a hint from Ali Al-Faki Abderrahman and Ja'afar Fadil Al-Maola; directors at that time of the National Theatre Company (Ferqat Al-Masrah Al-Qawmiah), where the 'birds' sang as a chorus, and invited three of the originally four sisters to sing with him as a backing band, because one singer didn't want to join them (her name is Shadia, or 'The Singer', and she had a poisonous headache at that day which makes it quite funny. The sisters have another non-singing sister named Nadia and two younger ones making the total... seven sisters!)

Bachir Abbas sitting with Hadia and Hayyatt.
The story of the beginning of their singing career has it that, straight after the military coup in 25th of May, 1969 that gave the Communist party the ruling seat headed by J'afar Al-Numieri (a much-hated dictator according to western sources. Ex-Communist Russia was interested in this country, known as being the first producer of agricultural goods in the Middle-east region so much that's it's nicknamed 'The Fruit Basket of Arabs'. Sudan isn't a desert as most it must be. No. It has large water reservoirs from the river Nile, and its land is very fertile, too. Now, we can see how the U.S. took that land, dissected it into two parts: a northern one which population is Muslim majorly, and a southern Jonoub so rich in oil, natural gas, and rare-earth minerals. Yeah, that neo-colonialist greed again?). When that coup took place, most back-singing bands left the scene, temporarily. The Balabil didn't, and were a punctual band of sisters coming at exact times to rehearse. In a turn of fate, one 'Sunaei Al-Nagham (The Music Duo: another two sisters who sang at that time and were famous all over Umm Durman), were absent from a song's rehearsal. Al-Faki presented Abbas with the alternative, and much to his amazement, the sisters did sing very well, placing themselves as the 'new band' at the local music scene in the early seventies.
Al-Balabil singing live in the late 70's.
The name Balabil comes from an Arabic word used to describe those who posses a beautiful voice. Normally, for Arabs, anyone with a good voice, or singing ability is called 'bulbul': a nightingale. There are many Arab poems and songs that depict a woman's voice with that of a nightingale's. Balabil is the plural form, by the way. Also worthy of mention here that there were other names to choose from, but Ali Al-Faki chose that name better than 'The Birds', or worse in Arabic... 'Assafir'.
The earliest known picture of the three sisters and their mother, circa 195?. Look close ans you can see a small girl hiding, sitting on the bench. Probably, that was Shadia herself as she didn't join the band.
The Nightingales' (phews!), first song recorded at Umm Durman's Radio Studios was 'Mashiena, Mashiena' (We Walked, We Walked). Most of their music has this 'walking' thing about them, or has a strong road affinity to them. Call it hodophilia. But, at the early-to-late 70's, a large section of Sudanese people went to seek a better life in oil-rich Arabian Gulf countries. The 'oil revolution' as some call it tore apart families; created a huge chasm between native people and those who went back again to Sudan after amassing what seems at first glance, an easily-earned small fortune in too little a time. These oil-ticks, mind... didn't contribute to Sudanese culture anything save from how most singers saw a 'poportunity' in singing about expatriates and their 'shough', or loss of their original homeland. This was apparent in all other Arab countries, and not one was saved from the 'shough il-gurbah' (expatriate blues).
Al Balabil on stage, circa 1974.

The general atmosphere of the songs went veering on the 'commie' side. Even 'Mashiena' was itself used as a communist marching theme for troops in Ethiopia back in 1974. The Balabil has almost 25 recorded songs in their repertoire and many more that were just 'live' songs, sadly never put in vinyl or even cassette. Only one compact-cassette (see below) known to exist by that group. They might have an RPM record, too. But, nobody knows its whereabouts.
CC Munisphone/Date unknown.
What's so exceptional about them on-stage was how they dressed in a fine way they resembled literally three erm, white birds. They were mainly a stage band, who also did some paid-parties for a few well-to-do Sudanese families here and there. They refrained from singing at weddings like say, Hanan Bolo-Bolo who got herself a lot of death threats from 'Islamainists', and once was attacked along with her stage band. 
The band on-stage, in the late 80's.

As goes for Jil Jilala, the Balabil did start from theatre and sang musicals when they've begun their career right from mid-70's, to late 70's then started singing on-stage in a theatre. They varied from sweet, melodic songs into reggae-like ones, and by the end of the 80's they stopped chirping completely save for some returns by one or two of the Talsam sisters.

Here's the link (complete with Arabic subtitles for each song) for 18 of those long-lost 'chirps'. Hope you'd enjoy them Nick, really.

Have fun y'all. And, stay tuned for more music from Sudan in the coming next post at the Audiotopia.




Anonymous said...

Thank you!! Love it!

Omar Sharif said...

My self, none Sudanese, but as a fun of these beautiful ladies it is worth siting and listening their music is remedy for the soul and especially for those who have fallen in love. My gratitude to you and my love and appreciation for the Sudanese Balabil. I introduced to a sudanese friend and I have directly understood how nice, generous and very kind YOU Sudanese are!
One who is fond of the Sudanese people apart from your idiot government.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. Thank you,

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much!! I fell in love with Sudanese music lately.

Anonymous said...

really wonderful. is it possible to set it back online?

Love it said...

Hey, would you be able to repost the file? The link doesn't seem to work anymore I've been listening to them on youtube and I'm desperate for more! haha


Anonymous said...

Beautiful !
Can you repost this ?

Greetings from italy !

D L said...

Howdy, I wonder if you can re-upload the file? سكرا لك.

Snackpoint Charlie said...

Great piece! Any chance of a re-post of the files? Pretty please?