Home | News    Tuesday 17 August 2004

Darfur singer aims to bring peace and unity to Sudan

By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt, Aug 16, 2004 (AP) — For the Sudanese swaying to the beat at a concert in Egypt, the singer from their troubled homeland brought a reminder that music can bring people together.

Omar Ihsas, whose Darfur is aflame with ethnic fighting and thousands fleeing their homes, is known in Sudan for popularizing the area’s blend of Arab tunes and African rhythms.

"He feels the problem of Darfur," said Sudanese woman Siham Abdullah after attending Ihsas’s performance in the Cairo Citadel on Sunday night. "I think his songs can make the rebels feel toward their (greater) country, and drop the guns."

A tall man, the six-foot, six inch (nearly 2-meter) Ihsas wants his music to transcend the strife between African rebels and pro-government Arab militia that has killed an estimated 30,000 people and displaced a million more in the past 18 months in Darfur.

"The artist’s role is to warn others of what awaits them," he told The Associated Press in a recording studio in Cairo. "If the people and tribes of Darfur, and even the government, had paid attention to what I sang more than ten years ago, the evil would have been stopped," he said.

He entertained the audience of about 300 Egyptians and Sudanese with an Arabic song he first sang in the early 1990s. "Darfur is our homeland," the lyrics said. "Our land is our weapon, and peace will be plentiful. We abandon force and the problems of separation. We bring brothers together and we reclaim love."

Ihsas, 45, comes from Nyala, the capital of south Darfur. He and his band, "Messenger of Peace," has been roaming across Sudan for years, singing for peace. The country is only now in the final stages of negotiating an end to a civil war in the south and east that began in 1983.

Ihsas, whose name means "feelings" in Arabic, said the tribes in Darfur would ultimately have to share the land. Darfur suffered from robbery and displacement in the early 1990s, he added, and the neglect of those problems led to interference from outside.

"We also made this problem more difficult, not people from outside," he said. "Let’s not say others made it worse. If you don’t act, you give others the chance to interfere."

Ihsas said he visited a camp for displaced people in El Fasher, North Darfur, earlier this month.

"The women came to me saying: ’You sing of peace. How will it come while we are sitting here?’" he recalled.

"The village is their ’kingdom,’ and the first thing for people to feel safe is for them to return to their villages," Ihsas said.

During the visit, he filmed a videoclip for one of his peace songs in Darfur, but he was asked not to shoot it in a camp for displaced people.

He said that in the rainy season, parts of Darfur are transformed into green pastures.

"There you can see the bright side of Darfur ... This is the side of Darfur that people don’t know."

He calls his music "Sudanese music from the region of Darfur." He does not want people to regard it as "Darfurian."

"Calling it a Darfurian song is incitement to separation," he said. He wants his songs to tell other Sudanese about their country.

With some people, he succeeds. Abdullah, the housewife who attended his concert, comes from central Sudan and has never visited Darfur, a huge region at the western extremity of Sudan. Abdullah said Ihsas introduced her to a part of her country she did not know.

"No one can question my loyalty," Ihsas said. "I have a nationalistic attitude, and I mention all the tribes. I am an artist, and this is a tribe by itself."

During his recording session in the studio, one of the people dancing in the background was a Sudanese diplomat, a member of the government that the U.N. Security Council has given 30 days to disarm the militia in Darfur or face penalties.