When Noori and his Dorpa band released their profound album, Beja Power, in June 2022 via the internationally acclaimed Ostinato Records, I was an instant fan. I played the album over and over, mesmerized by the hypnotic melodies, so clearly of eastern Sudanese origin, rooted in the traditional Beja scales. And yet, it sounded so modern and dreamy in its delivery and interpretations: pentatonic in structure, these scales can be found under different names and manifestations along the Red Sea area. In the track “Jabana,” we can hear an improvisation on a traditional Beja scale, clearly related to the Tiztah scale in Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as Sudan’s folkloric landscape. The ancient melodies became new again in the hands of Noori and his band, reminding the listener of the power of his nation that was absorbed into another through the course of history. I was struck by how rarely I am allowed to hear this part of Sudan represented, both locally and internationally, as a result of the hyper-monolithic nature of the sounds exported from the capital city of Khartoum to the rest of the planet—music falsely sold as the only and definitive sound of Sudan.

Noori, smiling, poses with his tambo-guitar in Sudan.
Noori, lost in thought about the traditional Beja scales.

To best understand Noori’s legacy, you must first know about Sudan. Since its independence in 1956, Sudan has grappled with its identity in the world. Both historically and currently, Sudan is home to hundreds of different ethnic groups with just as many languages and cultures. First brought together by force in the Ottoman period and again under British Colonial rule, Sudan stayed unified with the desire to gain independence and a belief in the doctrine of nationalism sweeping across Africa at that time. Two weeks after its independence, Sudan joined the Arab league. At the same time, Egypt built its historical Aswan High Dam, and Halfa city (Wadi Halfa) in Northern Sudan was flooded, a tragedy in the name of modernization and creating a unified national identity. It was a significant move towards the deliberate Arabization of the region by its newly founded powers, both politically and economically geared towards creating alliances with the Arab world in this freshly independent region—alliances that could come together against the ousted colonial powers that were still fighting for economic control in their former territories.

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