Kamal Tarbas: The King of Popular Sudanese Music - كـــمــال تربــاس.

Welcome back to this plethora of sound, music, and joy.

It's been such a 'deafinite' silence the past few months, but as of now, the sound; the music, and the joy will all start to reappear right here at the Audiotopia.

Today's artist has all three elements which can make life rather livableand as a singer, musician, and an entertainerhe became known as 'The King' of popular song in his wonderful country Sudan ('Malik Al-Ouğniyah Al-Soudaniyah' - ملك الأغنية السودانية): Kamal Tarbas.

Let's read with vigour his story now...

Kamal Tarbas -  (Also spelled Turbas, Tarbass) كمــال تربـــاس:

Al-Ustad Kamal Tarbas - كمال ترباس.

Kamal Ibrahim Suleiman, better known as ‘Tarbas’ is a king in a true sense considering how he kept standing all through 40-plus years fighting competition on ground, and elsewhere, standing as tall as giants until he became known as the ‘King’, deservedly. His story begins in Hai Al-Qhala’â, at Al-Sayyed Al-Makki: a place in Umm-Durman where many intellectuals and musicians were born like singer Mohammed Ahmad S’rour, and leaders like Ismael Al-Azhary (who became the first Sudanese president after the end of British colonial rule in 1956).

Tarbas posing, in the 60's.
Kamal was a smart kid at elementary school (Al-Hedaya), when he was moved to study at Al-Shiek Al-Tahhir Al-Chalaby school, which headmaster Khaled Abul-Rous heard him sing as part of the school’s celebrations choral and advised him to stay singing, assuring him that, “You are nothing but a true artist.” His musical upbringing started at the expert hands of Mahmoud Falah, who invited the young Kamal each day, from 10-2 P.M. to be part of Awlad Al-Mawarda (‘Sons of Rosewater’, a musical band), and later taught him how to memorise songs and compose his own.

At Dar Falah as that musical school was known in the late 50’s, Kamal became a star, literally, alongside future singers like Mohammed Bachir A’ateeg and ‘Hadabai. The owner asked him to record some songs of his own compositions, and so he went to Umm-Durman’s Radio, headed at that time by Ustad Ali Makki, who heard him, but didn’t allow the very young Kamal to have a recording session time at his esteemed radio station asking him finally to “Go look for another job.” because he was too young. And so went Kamal’s destiny as he joined instead of a singing career... a carpentry workshop.

Umm Durman in the early 60's.
At the workshop in Umm-Durman, he became known as a ‘tarbas’: a door-fitter, or a bolter because of his exceedingly good craftsmanship that was the talk of the whole place. Sadly, the family had to relocate to Hai Al-Merighniyeh in Kassala; a well-known market city which was a move to enable his father to provide for his family. In Kassala, Kamal attended the nightly parties where music was played al-fresco and tried to share the joyful atmosphere with his young voice, but what made him stand out from a rather musically-talented crowd in the mid-60’s was his unique singing style that he’s learned at the Dar Falah back in his hometown.

(L) With fellow singers, early 70's.
So, the story goes: after Kamal used to climb trees at the back of the Dayat Umm-Durman, near the old radio station to listen to the giants of Sudanese folk music sing at the studio there like Al-Zein Hamid, etc. things in Kassala changed his life’s course, entirely when his old-school friend Mohammed Bachir A’ateeg saw him singing under a tree and invited him to the radio to sing A’âini Ma Tabki (‘Don’t Cry My Eyes’) that he recorded in 1967, writing soon afterwards his first self-composed song (Natagha Al-Ism, or ‘She Said The Name’).

Mohammed Ahmad A'âwwad.
S'rour, 30's.
From that date on, Kamal’s genius in composing and singing his own music saw no stop. He became known as the king of qa’âdat (settings) which was where he got the nickname ‘The King’ and by the end of the 60’s, he moved from Kassala to the capital Al-Khartoum to go professional in a hugely competitive arena ruled by Mohammed Ahmad A’âwwad ((محمد أحمد عوض, nicknamed in Sudan as Al-Khal, or the ‘Uncle’ whose parties used to attract storming crowds flocking to see this short-bodied man sing, holding a small tambourine, or rīqh. Among other singers that Kamal Tarbas was influenced by, were those early so-called ‘bag singers’ who sang their songs in the 50’s; started by Al-Haj Mohammed Ahmad S’rour in 1920 who rejected the tamboūrah as the mainstay instrument in Sudanese musical ensembles, and introduced the musalas (musical-triangle), and the tambourine, then came Ibrhaim Al-Kachif who styled it in lazmah, or a stable scale in the 40’s.

Ibrahim Al-Kachif.
In 1945, an Umm-Durman radio programme aired presented by poet Salah Mohammed Ahmad Saleh, was called ‘minHakiebat Al-Fan’, or From Art’s Bag. Some critics affirm this as to be the etymological reason why were these earlier songs became known as the ‘bag songs’ (later, ‘songs of Umm-Durman’). Some others contest that it’s called so because of the music instruments cases, or bags that those early musicians always held wherever they went, while others might allude to the analogy between the word ‘hekbah’ in Arabic, which means a decade, epoch, etc. and hakibah which means a bag to that stage in music evolution. The word itself means ‘bag’, literally, and it’s a collective term used by the earlier masters who collected these songs (mostly poetry-based) in one bag, figuratively to distinguish it from other styles.
Radio Jockey Al-Sir Mohamemd Awa'âd in the 60's.
That radio programme is still being aired in Sudan till this very day, witnessing a lot of changes in the anchoring seat, by such early pioneers of music-shows in Sudanese music history such as Al-Sir Ahmad A’âwwad. It’s a remarkable thing to just try and comprehend how much Sudanese people love their music! It’s incomparable anywhere else in the world. Sudanese people are adamant and avid music lovers of the first calibre; their music means everything to them, really. These ‘songs of the bag’ are actually their history written in songs called ‘rewayat’, or audio-novellas.
(R-L) Burhan, Karoumah, Omar Al-Banna, S'rour.
Sayyed Abd Al-Aziz.
Ibrahim Al-A’âbady.
Tarbas grew with these listening to the early masters like Karoumah, Ibrahim Al-Kachif, Al-Amin Burhan, Ibrahim Abde Al-Jaleel, Mohammed Al-Tayyeb, Al-Taj Mustapha, Abd Al-Aziz Abu-Daoud, Amin Abd Al-Rahman, Ahmad Mustapha, Hassan A’âtyyah, Sayyed Abd Al-Aziz, Al-Tharri, Osman Hussein, Ibrahim A’âwwad, Ibrahim Al-A’âbady, Al-Chafe’âi, Hamamati etc. each has his own style of incorporating tales in the musical performance of these songs, and/or when writing these influenced by the early 19th-century poets. So was the same for Kamal Tarbas whose early starts weren’t easy at all as he had to base most of his genius on those now-dead singers' songs and traditions long forgotten by the advent of hadis music, or modern Sudanese pop music (called in Sudan, uğniyat al-maraheem, or dead people’s songs).

Trabas in the late 70's.
His music was so diverse and varied from the light ‘danceable’ tunes, to the heavy ‘sma’âei’ ones like his famous jalsat (which to me, are his best works), sung solo to the accompaniment of an oud player. Kamal Tarbas’ music was particularly chaâbi like Mohammed Ahmad A’âwwad’s was before him. He took the stage from A’âwwad using one or two tablas; a bongo, one tambourine (he played it softly mid-stage), in addition to 3-4 shayyaleen, (شيالين) or percussing-clapping singers. Chaâbi music in Sudan is considered the hardest style to sing, and Tarbas excelled in it, nonetheless.
On stage, with Sudanese singeress Hanan BloBlo, early 80's.

He was so smart in taking up a bunch of shayyaleen (sing. Shayyal which means ‘to carry’ literally, verb-use sheel; ‘carry’) who ‘carried’ the heavy load from his vitrified shoulders in the scorching hot sun as he sang in haflas (parties) outdoors. They were one, unified family of singers, so much, a singular shayyal’s voice would end up sounding very much like the lead singer’s himself. This is the reason why most critics see Kamal Tarbas' voice as a ‘never-changing’ one because he didn’t abuse it, and thanks to the shayyaleen he succeeded at making it easier on him to sing for years on end. At almost 60 now, he still sounds so young, and his songs are liked by the young as well as the older generation.

Kamal with T.V. anchoress Layla Al-Mughrabi & Abdel-Aziz Al-Mubarak.

Chaâbi is divided into many subgenres, like ağani al-seerah (oratory long songs of a historical type), madyeh or madeeh (adulatories), and wedding songs, or a’âras music (which Tarbas is always the singer to call for whenever such an occasion appears). Among many lesser-known styles, he sang el-tim-tim, kratch (Kamal introduced it into modern Sudanese music), and the bayou. The godfather of chaâbi is A’âwwad who started the first band (along with Badi Mohammed Al-Tayyeb, A’âwwad Al-Kareem, Abdellah Sedeeq Al-Kahlwai) in 1964. But, the popularity of his band didn't last as each member went solo by the late-60s, early-70s.
A'âsayiah Dancing with his beloved audience in the mid-80's.

The best asset for success for any popular singer is the audience, though and not the audition and Kamal succeeded to hypnotise his audience with his soft voice, singing for the old and young; rich and poor, male and female, etc. taking only the choice words written by the most sensitive poets that he knew would move his audience into an ecstatic mass of swooning drunks. To top this hard work, he deliberately wore a gigantic âmmah (turban), or âmammah that was on top of his head like a deserved crown. His sartorial sense of dress was in one word ‘impeccable’: according to Sudanese standards, to take care of your looks is a sign of not being an aristocrat, but a really unique individual.

With friends in Umm Durman, late 80's.
Through all his haflas, Tarbas only wore the finest jallabiyah/ âbayah (shoulder robe worn as an outside garment by Sudanese men over a light, loose white garment called sometimes dishdash), and the longest âmmah (that was rumoured to have measured at times up to 6-7 metres!) that he kept pulling to the front whenever he started singing his old, traditional songs feeling every word he utters with his ‘trained-and-true’ throat. The shayyaleen before he incorporated them were just an introductory act who sang a few words and that was that: Kamal came and changed this and enjoined them to be part of the whole song that sometimes would stretch over the ten-minute limit.

Omar Osman (R).
But, Tarbas’ true fame came from his early radio days (Izza'ât Al-Bath Al-Soudani, Umm-Durman), thanks to another radio-jockey namely, Omar Osman whose programme Sa’ât Samar (‘An Hour’s Joy’) presented to the Sudanese populace such talents in the music category as Salah Ibn Al-Badyeh, Ismael Hasb Al-Dayyem, Abdel Qader Salem, Abu-O’âbeidah Hassan, Zaki Abdel Al-Kareem, S’ounaei Al-A’âsimah, Ibrahim A’âwwad, Mohammed Wardi (who died last year and his funeral was attended by Tarbas), and last but not least our very own Kamal Tarbas himself.

At Mohammed Omar Wardi's Funeral (Feb|18|2012).

The written word also figures so big in his repertoire and reporty. He picked only the best script to sing and composed those tunes taking care of their intros (maybe to emphasise more the rule of his fore-singing shayyaleen). One of his best-sung songs (Inta Al-Muhim, or ‘You’re The One Who Matters’) that people loved so much, they started to sing it to each other, be they loved ones or just friends, and it was a love song written by Sudanese poet Abed Al-Aâl Al-Sayyed, and won the best Sudanese song title in 2009. It was taken so seriously its said  a couple got divorced after the wife asked Tarbas to sing it for her without dedicating it to her husband who was enraged and divorced her right away... on stage!
Kamal with Cherif Nigeria.
His charisma was so enthralling that whenever he started to sing softly and beat his tambourine—being a natural smiler, and a bit of a fat guy himself who'd look all of sudden so sad, you couldnt but wish to have him hugged, instantly—his audience went into a higher level of listening, sometimes shutting their eyes, even when right in front of them stood a huge man whose turban (or, crown; however you can see it as such) was there. This invisible crown had a funny thing about it, too: Well, most Sudanese citizens are asked to take theirs off when taking new passport photos except Tarbas: the passport authority allowed him to keep it in his passport photo!

With some Sudanese journalists, 2000s.
He was also a jokster who challenged fellow lower-echelon singers by inventing witty comedowns and tuneful slogans such as this one: Ana zai al-pepsi: aliey bai habani bahdoum laiho, we’l bekrahni… betla’â laiho be nakhrehou!” (trans. I am like Pepsi: Ones who love me, I can digest for those, as who hate me I only can choke them through their nose). He is a genial man who still lives to this day, famous for crying once on public television after singing a song for mothers on Mother’s day (Allah Yesalimik Ya Yummah). Such a magnanimous singer, who cared for his people and catered for their hard-to-please musical taste.

Kamal Trabas.

He won many lovers and yes a lot of haters, this Pepsi-can of a man. Seriously, those who hate Tarbas are lacking in their depths the understanding of what could make him whom he is today: Sudan’s King of Song. It’s not his popularity alone, but the way he handles himself through a lot of the competition that was like a haunting ghost throughout his music career since the late 60s, and having to swim these dangerous, envious waters resident in Sudanese music circles. It is not an easy job to be a singer in Sudan, let alone... A King of song.

Kamal (far L) with Al-Khoujali Osman
Ali Ibrahim Al-Lahou & Composer A'âwwad Gabriel.
Some even dared criticise him for using modern instruments when he was the sole musician in the whole of Sudan to build (on his full personal expense) a ‘Dar’, or house, for Sudan’s oldest-known ‘bag singer’: Karoumah in 1985 yet, he still gets the heat for modernising old, traditional music. Kamal is a singer of two generations: The old who have influenced almost all of his singing career, and the younger ones who need his backing with their every aspiring young career move, too.
With Ibrahim Hussein, Al-Taj Makki
& Al-Tayyeb Qasam Al-Sayyed.
Kamal Tarbas songs were songs of pure love and not hate after all. Sudanese people have a special word for Love: They call it
al-reäd (The Wantonness/ The Want. Arabic: الريد). It is a wholesome feeling felt in all of his songs singing it with a sense of loss because I think, personally, Kamal was this singer who was envied for being a King. It’s his high-status that begot him such faultiness with the others (and, numerous fights and gossip) instead of yes... Love, pure love, or the want to be loved by his people.
The King.
Not all kings are loved, anyways. But, in the music world (and, especially in Sudan), love will prevail and the real king/s are those who have love inside them. Love makes us all kings and queens.

So, long live King Tarbas!


The King's first Cartridge picture-cover.

Today's music downloads are rich in quantity (9 DL-able files in tote containing more than 1 GB worth of music!). Almost all of Kamal Tarbas’ songs are here for you to download and listen to (well over 230+ songs). Just like the norm is with music from Sudan, artists have songs of them accompanied by an oud (Oudio: Vol. 1/ Vol. 2), or as part of the modern, Sudanese band (Orchestra: Vol. 1 (Haflah/Jalsah)/ Vol. 2/ Vol. 3/ Vol. 4). Dig both.

Bonus files are taken from a radio programme (Sa’
â Ma’â Al-Oud) which recorded in the early-to-mid-80's through the Umm-Durman Radio (إذاعة البث السوداني بأم درمان). One-hour file is entirely Tarbas while as a bonus-bonus, another show features other Sudanese singers like Al-Kably, Abd Al-Dafa’â Osman, and Mohammed Wardi (whom Tarbas considered his closest friend).

UPDATE 07/20/2K13:
Here is another zip-file that contains five more Umm-Durman FM shows aired this Ramadan through the Sudanese Transmission Authority Radio. The singers/oud-players included are: Abdel-Kareem Al-Kably (this time alone with only his oud), Osman Hussein, Ibrahim Awwad, Hicham Mergheni, and three young, singers together: Mustapha Sayyed, Al-Khaldi, & Seif Al-Jam'ea. Do enjoy.

One last cassette-album is a new one by Kamal Tarbas (Sir Al-Ghboul: The Secret of Admission) which he recorded in 2009. Hear how his style matured in this one which most Sudanese people pick as their favourite album by Kamal Tarbas.

Kamal Tarbas - Sir Al-Ghboul
.ســـــر القـــبـــول

All you have to do to download all files at once is follow this link now, and that will take care of everything; including your troubles, worries, and unnecessary sadness in this temporary world.

Music is the very breath and substance of life.



-Watch these two early Tarbas videos on the 'Tube. Enjoy:

 Kamal Tarbas - Sadeghni ma Bagdhar A'âeed.
(Love Story - Believe Me I Can't Go Back).
 Kamal Tarbas - Ya A'âyouni Ma Ghoulti.
(Oh My Eyes, You Haven't Told Me Yet).


-Here is a blog about Bag Songs in Arabic, complete with what I think is the best collection of sounds from a long-lost, and undocumented era in Sudanese music. Enjoy it, immensely even if in Arabic only:

-Kamal (the King) in the kitchen? Hmm, time to cook, or ask the wife to help? Try this recipe with your beloved ones called Âammit Tarbas (Tarbas Turban):
Ingredients/     3 full cups of flour, 1/4 starch, 1/4 ground, uncooked rice
                 3 eggs, 2 tea-spoons of Baking Powder, 1 teaspoon Vanilla

  2 cups of edible oil (olive/sunflower), a dash of salt
  Water (1/4 a cup to each three large spoons of flour)
  Cooking Oil (1/2 a cup)
  Coconut shavings, and shira, or red food pigment (if available).
How to Make/ Mix the starch, rice, and baking powder with a dash of salt together well until homogenised, add the eggs, oil, water and vanilla after that. When the mixture is settled, slowly, add the flour until you get a smooth dough. Leave for 1/2 an hour. To cook, use medium heat and a deep-dish for grilling the dough dumplings that you can make by cutting the dough into thin strips and rolling these with the end of a fork, slowly, and at the end twist the dough to go between the fork's teeth. Heat the oil for 2 minutes and start to grill dipping the fork inside the dish and slowly turning it as to drop the dough inside in order to be cooked.

Leave to cool, then sprinkle with the coconut shavings and garnish with shira, or use sugary paste (boiled sugar with water 1:2 water/sugar cups ratio).


Bon appétit, folks. This post was a return of this blog (as promised) back to blogland, and a way to celebrate the 100,000 strong visitors in a year or so since it was started. Also, the love of Sudanese music brings me to mention Lola Radio whose blog was and still is one of the best for African/ Sudanese music ever. He is going through some rough times right now being laid-off his job, but what is happiness in this ailing, dilapidated world but the good chance to hear new and exciting sounds? He has one of the best places to enjoy any kind of that freedom music allows, so don't deny yourselves this chance to go listen to what he already has on his music-blog (Lola Vandaag). This one is for you, Gerrit. Enjoy it.

And now, and until the next post (the second part of this inauguratiory one here that I hope you did like), we shall go 'sail' our ships to the Arabian Gulf region and hear from one of the best singers of all times: Salem Al-A'
âllan; the Howler of The Arabian Sea, or as some nicknamed him 'The Lion'. So, tonight we've got ourselves a King, tomorrow the Lion will be here, too at The Audiotopia (no relation whatsoever to stupid, Disneyfied shittola). 

Please, do not miss it.