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18:32:36, Saturday, 25 Mar 2017
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"We are Sudanese”

Children and elderly across Sudan seem to equally identify with the poem-turned-song “Oh My Charming Country” (“Ya Baladi Ya Habbob”). Gaining popularity overnight three decades ago, it depicts the ethnic diversity of Sudan and the passion Sudanese have for their country.

Sitting in an armchair in his quiet, south Khartoum home, poet Sidahmed Alhardallou recalled the historic events that inspired him to write what was to become a nation’s favourite among his 20 volumes of poetry about Sudan.
In July 1971, the Sudanese Communist Party launched a coup d’état against President Jaafar Nimeiri’s regime while Mr. Alhardallou was working at the Sudanese Embassy in London as press and information attaché.
Two coup leaders were located in the English capital, the poet said. Following Nimeiri’s comeback after his three days in detention, they were captured and flown to the Sudanese capital, where the plotters were executed.
Unfortunately for the poet, one of the coup leaders was called Hardallou. Although the coup leader hailed from a different area and tribe than the poet, the name sparked suspicion.
“Nimeiri was mad and asked who is responsible for information at our embassy in London … and if he is a brother of (coup leader) Hardallou,” he explained.
While having no affiliation with his namesake, Mr. Alhardallou was recalled to Sudan and detained at Kober prison without charges for four months.
Upon his release, he shipped his books and records home from London, travelling to the east Sudanese harbour town of Port Sudan to collect them in January 1972.
Due to the scarcity of trains from Khartoum to the port city, however, the poet had to lay over for a few days in Kassala -- falling in love with the place.
“It was beautiful, really ... There in Kassala, in those days I wrote ‘Ya Baladi Ya Habbob’,” he said, adding that the poem was a reminder of what he had suffered for the country.
The poem suddenly started to live its own life when well-acclaimed Nubian singer and friend Mohamed Wardi turned it into a song in March 1972.
Knowing about the poem, Mr. Wardi had visited Mr. Alhardallou in his Khartoum office and asked, “Sidahmed, are you a friend? This poem is ready! Why didn’t you give it to me?” the poet recalled.
The following day the singer-composer announced that he had written music for the poem over the course of one night. Two days later he performed it during a festival at Khartoum’s National Theatre, also attended by the poet.
“When we were leaving, all the people were singing this poem! It became very, very popular to the extent that a lot of people wanted it to become the national anthem of Sudan,” Mr. Alhardallou recalled.
Some of its popularity arose from the fact that the song mentions characteristics of people in the north, east, south and west, speaking to Sudanese across the country.
“It covered all the Sudan,” the poet said, quoting, “Ya baladi ya habbob / ya jallabiya u thob / jibba u sudery (referring to male and female national garments in the north and the Mahdist robe, a waistcoat worn in eastern and northern Sudan)”.
“What is a country?” he asked rhetorically. “A country is history, geography, society, and a dream for the future. We have the same history, same geography, we have the same society and the same dreams.”
Lifestyle united several hundred ethnicities in Sudan, Mr. Alhardallou reckoned, although he voiced concern about growing tribalism.
According to him, Sudanese used to stand united, with race and religion never dividing ethnic groups. But after Sudan’s independence from British-Egyptian rule in 1956, due to “the bad policies of our governments … people suffered many things”.
“For ages we used to call ourselves ‘Sudanese’.” For example, said the poet, there was no mention of where exactly people hailed from when Sudanese travelled abroad for work.
“We are Sudanese, that is all. ... They say ‘I am Sudanese’.”
Excerpt from
Oh my charming country
By Sidahmed Alhardalloo
Translated by Sidahmed Bilal
For you my heart is broken
For you I would be killed
And with you I am killed
For you oh noble grief
For you oh sweet dream
For you oh homeland
For you oh Nile
For you oh night
Oh good and beautiful one
Oh my charming country
The one with jallabiyya (men's robe) and thob (women's full-body veil)
Sirwal (traditional men's trousers) and markoob (traditional men's shoes)
Jibba (Mahdist robes) and waist coat
Sword and knife
Oh good and beautiful one
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