[n.d.r.] The day before the closing of this article
the Sudanese paramilitary rapid support unit
fired against the crowd,
that demonstrates in a peaceful sit in,
making at least 60 deaths.
For the respect of the safety of man and woman
who contributed to this work,
the report comes out anonymously,
omitting the names of the interviewees
and their associations
I do not know how my interlocutors look like at the other end of this ideal global telephone line, to which we give the name – not very elegant but, to tell the truth, rather exemplary – of Net. I try to visualize their faces, picking from a probably insufficient experiential background, a baggage made of images lost in the myth.
The Red Sea, a history intertwined with the Egypt’s one and the echo of biblical myths that invest a country representing one of the first frontiers of the African continent.
Therefore I imagine my interlocutors younger than me, and with the warm smile of Africa enlightening their faces, an image resulting from superstructures I can not control.
The distance that separates us is enormous, not only for the kilometers that separate Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, from the warm and westernised room of the writer, but also for a certain type of cultural ditch excavated by dark years of lived experience. An experience filled with souls, lost in a complex continent, tormented by conflicts that are lost in the mists of time. A country as red as the parched sand of the desert and orange as the hot sun reflected in the Nile.
I have never been south of the 15th Parallel North, certainly I have not been to Sudan, there is no tourism there, but a past of civil war, followed by thirty years of dictatorship.
A month ago, however, something moved. A multitude of people – guys and girls, men and women – peacefully got out in the streets, venturing into a permanent Sit in, that forced former President Omar Bashir to abandon three decades of dictatorship.
Since then, the army has taken power, bragging about bringing the country into a difficult transition to democracy. But those young people have not left the streets, convinced that the voice of the transition must be represented more by the members of civil society than by a handful of soldiers.
The situation is stalled, tense as only revolutions can be, suspended between a tranquility charged with hopes and the real possibility of a rapid upside down, towards violence [editor’s note: overturn that took place on June 3th 2019].
And this scares me, because talking to these guys and girls exposes us to a living reality that is potentially raw. When we approach the enthusiasm of those who are putting themselves on the line for something important to change, we are inevitably infected by the beauty of life at its peak. But the world is wretch and, often, the resurgence of the reaction is sudden and violent, so sometimes happens that some of those young people with contagious enthusiasm, maybe would die in the same squares where they were demonstrating peacefully. And there is no one – not even those who, in the Western media, had praised their courage – which is so much indignant; so I talk to them and I continue to hope that their words, full of ardor and passion, will not be suffocated by the usual bursts of machine guns [editor’s note: which, unfortunately, happened on June 3, 2019].
On the other hand, the country does not have an easy history; an ancestral past that is intertwined with the Egypt’s one, the coming of Islam and the Arab influence, the sultanate and the subsequent Anglo-Egyptian “condominium”, until the coveted independence. Independence soon turned into a civil war, seventeen years of fratricidal struggle (1955-1972 / 1983-1998) resulted in thirty years of Omar al Bashir’s dictatorship, forced – by popular acclaim – to leave power just a few months ago.
Khartoum is a metropolis suspended between past and present, with an immense suburb populated by ghosts and dead end streets, where to find an own place is more difficult than in the aseptic suburbs of post-industrial Europe.
Wherever there is deprivation and asphyxiation, young people seek a way out, an expressive glimmer that can give a personal meaning to the existence, a glimmer that helps to redefine oneself regardless of the reality around them, no matter how ugly or complex it is.
This glimmer is often made up of music, art and, why not, of a wooden board with four wheels underneath. In Sudan too.
************ is an association of spirits, ideas and passions containing the dreams of a generation that choose to make its way in its own world through music, street art and skateboarding.
It is with them we decided to talk, to know what it’s like to be young in Sudan and how it is possible to have the strength and the determination to bring down one of the longest-lived dictatorships on the African continent and maybe find time to skate, paint and play.
First of all, tell us about yourself, who are you and what is your collective?
L: My name is L. I’m a skater by passion and curator by profession. I am one of the founders of th collective. We are a collective of artists and creatives from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. We have a common goal which is building platforms for young artists and creatives to come together, discuss ideas, speak our minds and participate in societal growth, not just in Sudan.
Since most of us study or work full time while being involved in the collective’s activities there are times where we are more or less active. We do not have a permanent place yet and always partner up with different locations and other institutions for our workshop and events. Our dream is to have our own cultural center at one point in order to pursue our passion full-time and independently.
When and how did you start your community?
L: We started in 2013, I used to skate in Nairobi when I lived there and I was looking for a community of skaters in Khartoum to join. So, together with a friend, we organized a first skate workshop. For this workshop different people who were interested got together and for the first time many skaters realised there are others too. We wanted to bring people doing poetry, rap and skating together that night and show the neighbourhood how powerful and positive that can be. From there own our community grew, more artists joined, we had guests from Germany, the US, Kenya and more.
On your site we can read that you are an intercultural collective that deals with supporting youth cultures and the Urban arts, what do you mean when you talk about urban arts? how important is the intercultural factor, and why it is important?
L: Sudan is a very many-faceted country and around 114 languages are spoken here. So you can imagine the cultural diversity within the country. It is so important for us to show this range of Sudanese identities and realities.
We also like having guests from abroad to exchange ideas and compare different scenes, genres and styles and inspire each other. Sudan has been pretty isolated for nearly 30 years for political reasons and with a Sudanese passport it is very hard to obtain visas especially for Europe and the US. A lot of people outside Sudan know little about Sudan and we want to improve the mental image of the country through our artistic work. The artists who visit us often share their experiences with other and raise awareness of our community in their countries. That means a lot to us. The urban artist Julia Benz made a huge mural in Düsseldorf Germany of a Sudanese women in traditional garment called toub after she stayed in Sudan. We hope mobility for Sudanese will expand in the future.
We have done workshops and activities outside the capital Khartoum in Port Sudan, Elobeid and at the pyramids of Meroë but we mainly work in the urban centre. We fuse traditional genres and styles with contemporary ones.
How important is music in your personal world and how much is it in the reality of your country?
A. (guitar player): In Sudan the role of certain styles of music especially modern urban ones are under-appreciated and given little attention. Especially those who choose this kind of music as a career face challenges. They are not able to express and develop themselves and their skills in the art form they have chosen. In addition to that , their contribution is rarely appreciated. Music plays an important role in our lives as it is a means to discharge the negative energy and the stress we have through our daily struggle, especially now. It is a method that we have chosen to express ourselves. Through music we voice the concerns and dreams of our people.
I saw that there is a section of your association that deals with skateboarding, There is skaters crews in Sudan? and how is the street life of skaters?
T. (skater):Yes, there are skate crews but only a few. I think the culture of skateboarding is still young here and not that popular yet. But it is growing. Rollerskating is more popular because the rollerblades are easier to buy and parks for roller skaters have been there for a quite a long time.
Actually our street life and skating life is not that vital and dynamic yet. Skateboarding is still seen as a strange phenomena and people might think that we are trying to show off or act like Americans. It is hard sometimes to explain it to people and I hope this will change in the future through our efforts. We continue and try to face the criticism and educate people on what we do. We have 2 commercial skateparks here where we skate sometimes but we also go to the city center and skate there despite the people who stare at us.
What I like about the people I skate with is that everyone is pursuing professional careers and we have engineers, computer scientists, doctors and teachers in the group but most of us are college students and high school students. We are all competitive and love to work hard on improving our skills.
Skaters, in the world, are used to be carriers of their own culture, a real world made of unwritten rules, tradition and lifestyles. Is it like that also in Sudan?
A. (skater):Of course, it is the same here. Skaters here are all about their particular lifestyle and you can see it in our behaviour and style. Skateboarding is known for its unorthodox rules and lifestyle, therefore skaters around Sudan are easy to distinguish, just like anywhere else.
In Italy, when almost thirty years ago, the skate scene exploded, the first skaters were seen as something strange, as were also the graffiti artists, was it like that also in Sudan? how were the first skaters or the first graffiti artist seen on the streets of your city? Has the perception that people had of them changed over the years? And how has the country changed in all these years from the privileged point of view of those who, like someone who deals with urban arts, can see the changes directly from the streets?
A. (skater):Skaters and graffiti artists are always connected, together they represent street life. For a lot of people in our rather conservative communities it is hard to understand something so different and many tend to think that skateboarding is somehow bad and graffiti is often seen as vandalism.
But over the years things are changing to the better and people show more positive reactions and support what we do.
Staying focused on the skateboard, are there many skateparks or is street skate going for the most?
Ay. (skater and skate trainer): Yes, but not a lot. In Khartoum there are two skateparks and they are the only one in the country. Yes, we do street skating and it’s more fun for me but when the rainy season starts, I prefer the skatepark.
Music and skate often go hand in hand, there is also a music scene in Sudan to which the skaters refer?
Ay. (skater and skate trainer): Yes, music is the perfect addition to the fun of skating. We can’t start a skating session without listening to music via our headphones or speakers. We produce skate videos once in a while to show our skills to the world and we choose the music carefully to transport our mood and identities in the videos. We mainly listen to hip hop and trap music from Sudan and international artists. One very nice fusion of contemporary music and traditional music can be found in the music of Sammany Hajo and Sufyvn. But we also like J Cole, Travis Scott and Logic.
This period in Sudan is very important, a great change is happening in the country and a breeze full of hope is hovering in the air, can you tell us more about your revolution?
M. (photographer and cultural manager):The last major attempt for a popular uprising was in 2013 and there were many demonstrations since then. But in December 2018 an unprecedented wave of protests swept the country. There was a lot more demand for removing president Omar al-Bashir for his deterioration of Sudan’s economy, educational system and more. On the 11.04.2019 his time had come when 2 million people were banging at the gates of the military headquarter in a sit-in demanding the fall of the ruling elite [editor’s note: and which led to the dismissal of Bashir and the temporary seizure of power by the transitional military council].
The Sudanese people represented by the Sudan Coalition for freedom and change demands a transitional civilian government but so far the Transitional Military Council won’t give up its power [editor’s note: June 3, 2019, while this article was being written, the Sudanese paramilitary rapid support unit (the same unit responsible for the violence in Darfur) opened fire on the crowd, leaving at least 60 civilians dead on the ground. On Saturday 8 June, according to Aljazeerea sources, two other opposition leaders were arrested without formal charges. At the current state, the situation continues to be critical, with the paramilitary units holding streets and squares and the opposition that called the population to civil disobedience. Sunday, June 9, 2019, in response to the appeal of the opposition, almost all the businesses of Khartoum appear closed and the streets are often interrupted by barricades and roadblocks pulled up by the demonstrators].
Sudanese people have increasingly become politicised through the past 6 months and are very conscious of the current situation and their opportunities in the future once their demands are met.
The sit-in has become the vision of a new Sudan, full of hope and a willingness to make change and bring the country back together. Young people played a big role in the revolution and also in the sit-in where art was used to fight the ruling elites narratives and power and above that overcome some of the trauma that the struggle entailed.
How much do you think the contribution of the new generations was important in this revolution? And how important can their contribution be in shaping the new course of the country?
A. (guitar player): The new generation is the driving force of this revolution. They are the ones who spared no effort to reache the point where we are now. They are the ones who have sacrificed their souls and bodies with many lives lost.The new generation used their awareness of the importance of peaceful ways of demonstrating as a shield to protect this revolution they invested in through different forms of artistic expression and as a result new means of resistance were invented and appropriated by them.
The last question we thought to do was this: When I hear about transitional military junta, I often think about the death of peoples’ dreams, but sometimes it’s not necessarily so. As you put yourself in relation to the transitional military junta, do you think it is a necessary step?
We had heard L. two days ago and she told us that she would answer this question in the coming days, because it was an important question and she needed time to think about it; time that – unfortunately – we have not had.
Instead, we received this email which we think is important to share:
Sorry for not answering your email Dario. M. and me are ok. Can’t reach many people. The girls from the band are ok too after they were met with violence the day of the massacre. Like so many others. But they made it home. Can’t reach the skaters and many others. Internet is off 95%. No credit to be bought for phones. We are devastated, grieving the losses. We are thankful for any awareness that can be raised for what is happening right now to a non-violent revolution attacked by armed men representing the government. We are all scared but the revolution is still ongoing and people are trying what they can do not turn violent to protect themselves but stay in line with the peaceful protests. Pray for Sudan and share what is happening so the world can prove that they care.
Thank you for your support and that you care about the people here without having been in Sudan ever. Thank you for the article which will help people to know Sudan. Once this is over we would love to welcome you with open arms and show you what you saw on the screen about our music and art.