Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit: Sudanese Music and Dance Festival

Sudan may not be the most hospitable place for musicians. Many Sudanese artists live in exile because of run-ins with their government. This month, dozens of Sudanese musicians are coming together in the U.S. for a Sudanese Music and Dance Festival. Yolanda Perdomo caught their first performance in Chicago and sent us this report.

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This is Yousif El Moseley. The Quincy Jones of Sudan....(clapping)

For composer and singer Yousif El Moseley, conducting an all-star Sudanese concert was a homecoming of sorts -- a chance to reconnect with is homeland through music.

El Moseley left Sudan almost 20 years ago. Back then he was the head of the music department at an arts institute in Khartoum.

He was asked by the government to have his students perform at a celebration on the first anniversary of General Omar Bashir's military coup.

Moseley said no.

EL MOSELEY: "I told them this was an academic institution. These are students. You go to the artists club and find artists if they like your government, they can sing to you. For that they closed that institute for three years. I was told by a nephew that your name is on a blacklist. So you have to go out. And he helped me go out."

El Moseley now lives in Monterey, California. He says he longs for the day he can return to Sudan. With tears in his eyes, he explains his bittersweet feelings.

EL MOSELEY: "You can't stay in a country where people get hurt or go to jail for no reason...I have now 18 years out of my country. I could consider myself like a fish waiting out of the sea . But I need to go for that sea because that's where I should live. Because I have my real fans there. People who love me very much. But I miss them. I want to go, really."

El Moseley is not alone in missing Sudan. The next festival concert, in Detroit, will be a reunion for the three Al Balabil sisters. They were once considered Sudan's version of the Supremes.

Amal and Hadia live in the U.S. The third sister, Hayat, still lives in Khartoum. It's been two decades since they last performed together in Sudan. Hadia Talsam says they, too, ran afoul of the government.

TALSAM: "Based on the ideology of this regime, they wouldn't let us release our song on TV. Because we were not covering our heads. And no long sleeves. So we lost a whole generation. I mean they don't know what we look like. But they know the voices."

For their reunion in Detroit, the Al Balabil sisters are preparing a new song -- to be performed by all the Sudanese musicians on stage.

The festival is meant to present a message of peace and unity for Sudan. Hadia Talsam says she's looking forward to a day when conflicts like the one in Darfur no longer define her country.

TALSAM: "It's not just Darfur. In the past it was the war for a long time going on in southern Sudan...but now there is peace. But it's going to take a while so that hopefully they're going to sit down at the table and make peace back again. But Sudan remembers it's not only Darfur. Its south, east, middle. Hopefully it's going to be one Sudan."

It will be one Sudan on stage this weekend in Detroit -- as artists from both inside and outside the country come together again for the Sudanese Music and Dance Festival.

For the World, I'm Yolanda Perdomo in Chicago.