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1st Annual Sudanese Music & Dance Festival To Be Held July 21
Published July 12, 2007

By Tad Hendrickson

This summer, an unprecedented gathering of musicians from the East African nation of Sudan will come together in NYC's Central Park on July 21 to try to unify that country.

Sudan is Africa's largest country. It is also one of the most diverse, with some 300 ethnic groups living in deserts, mountains, and along the shores of the great Nile River. Once called "the bread basket of Africa," Sudan today is better known for poverty, war, and ethnic and religious division. At the heart of Sudan's crisis is the fact that the country has never really coalesced. In ancient times, the north was the Kingdom of Nubia, with close ties to Egypt and the Arab world, and the south the territory of African agricultural groups, such as the Dinka, Shilluk, Nuer, and Azande. The south was physically cut off from Nubia by the nearly impassable swamplands of the White Nile. These two distant worlds became politically joined when Egypt annexed Sudan in the 19th century. When Britain then occupied Egypt in 1898, it claimed Sudan without so much as a fight. The trouble was, neither occupier had ever sought to forge an overarching, Sudanese identity. This was a country in name only.

Sudan won its independence in 1956, but given its history, fair and effective governance was impossible. Power tended to center in the Muslim north, and after the government imposed sharia law in 1989, people in the Christian south felt radically disenfranchised and victimized. After much strife and conflict, the north and south established a fragile Peace Accord in 2005. Meanwhile, new fighting surged in the West, in Darfur, and the world's attention focused there. The broad array of Sudanese musicians participating in the Sudanese Music and Dance Festival believe that both of these conflicts must be understood as pieces in a larger puzzle, the puzzle that is Sudan. Today, with the North-South Peace Accord as a model to be applied in Darfur and elsewhere, many Sudanese sense an opportunity to at last build a nation. These artists intend to show the way.

The Sudanese Music and Dance Festival event is produced and created by a veteran of daring world music initiatives in the United States, Dawn Elder. Elder, a composer and award winning music producer, has a passion for Sudanese music which goes back to her work with one of the greatest living Sudanese singers, Mohammed Wardi. Wardi no longer leaves his homeland, but the superlative orchestra that backed him and other Sudanese legends, the Nile Music Orchestra, will be the musical hub of this historic, Sudanese showcase, and the spirit of Wardi and his seminal generation will pervade the performance.

Dawn Elder is also the Director of Programming for the Internet all-music and dance site StayTunedTV. StayTunedTV is producing the concert video of the event for worldwide streaming as a "Recorded Live" event. The video production will be directed by John Kuri, an award winning filmmaker, writer, and television producer. Kuri created the StayTunedTV concept and has produced and directed the majority of the programming available on StayTunedTV.TV. StayTunedTV is a presentation of Kuri Productions, Inc. and its sister corporation Elixir Entertainment, Inc.

Dr. Mahmoud Mutwakil, head of the Sudan Information Center, and a key sponsor of the Sudanese Music and Dance Festival, says that everyone involved in this event shares one overriding motivation, "to work for a united, peaceful, democratic, and just Sudan." Dr. Mutwakil concludes, "It's time that these senseless wars stopped, and that people sat down together and solved their problems once and for all."

A Pantheon of Sudan's Diverse Cultural Legacy

The artists participating in the Sudanese Music and Dance Festival have lived the diverse and troubled history of Sudanese music. One of the festival's grandest figures Shurahibeel Ahmed was born in Omdurman in central Sudan in 1935, and he came to the capital, Khartoum, at a time when the lyric songs of the Sudanese tambour (lyre) were beginning to find common ground with the Arabic maqaam system of music, as well as the tradition of madeeh, p