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Dr.Elfateh Hussain

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Music is life

 By – David Snipes- he magazine

Summer 2003

Dr.Alfateh Hussain

 As a 16 – year  -old boy growing up along the Blue Nile first Dr.AL   fateh Hussain first saw the guitar being played on Sudanese national television, fell in love with it , and dedicated the rest of his life to studying and playing the instrument , Born and raised in DARDIG, Sudan , he became an accomplished guitarist and composer after  a lengthy " rite of passage" in some ways acting as a mirror in the development of Sudanese national music from the diversity of peoples forms and instruments.

On steamy August night last year during the 14th Citadel Festival for Music and Song. The guitarist –composer Dr.Alfateh Hssain and his troupe enthralled the audience at Cairo opera house and Al SAHA Theater with Sudanese ambiance and rich musical heritage.

"That concert was overwhelming, especially since the audience was really receptive. I had vocalist Walid Zakiedden, drummer Abed Al moneim Amer (show) percussionist Hatem Mohamed (Melege) Nezar Mubarak – Keyboard – and saxophonist Mansour Soliman playing with me ," says Dr.Alfateh .

The other musicians on the bill were Palestinian vocalist Abeer Snsour,Mohamed Mounir , Omer Khayrat , Anoushka , maestro Ahmed Abul , Eid  Al-nour Wal-Amal Orchestra Conductor. Sufi singer Ahmed el Kahlawi, and Fathe  Salama and his Sharkiat band.

Dr.Alfateh an assistant professor at the College of Music and Dram in Sudan, was first introduced to music through an uncle, an accomplished oud player.

"At first I started to play a little on my uncle's oud and eventually took up the harmonica and accordion, learning them mostly on my own I saved up enough money working after school and on holidays in the market to pay for my own instruments. Then one day, I saw Sudan pioneering guitarist Sharhabil Ahmed on television and I knew from that moment what I wanted to be. Of course , I couldn't afford one so , I made one of my own from bits of wood and metal , " he says , laughing " it was hardly recognizable , by look or sound as one , but for me it was guitar ."

Fortunately, when he entered high school he was loaned the sole guitar, a classical instrument, in the music room. However, he was unable to learn since there was no one to give him lessons! With his new "real" guitar Alfateh haunted the local cultural center, never missing an opportunity to get an impromptu lesson from guitarist playing concerts with famous bands from Khartoum.

" It was really kind of them to spare the time for a young boy like that ," he recalls ," they were really the stars  of the time . I think they realized how difficult it was to get lessons and were probably amused to hear me play what little I had learned of Sudan's music by ear."

According to Dr.Alfateh , whose Masters , and doctoral thesis were "The History of the guitar in Sudanese Music " , modem musical forms only began to emerge in the country between the 1920s and 1940s , taking shape and form in central Sudan .

"As early as the 1920s Egyptian producers brought Sudanese singers to record in Cairo , and from that interaction Arab styles and western instruments via the British were introduced ,"says Dr.Alfateh ,. "Sudan is quite a large country with many distinct region and tribes, each with eyes own music and rhythms. All this diversity of local colors met in the capital, Khartoum; Even today it is an evolving process. We artists scoop out of this vast sea of folklore in order develop ' Sudanese' music .Sudanese rhythms are very much similar to other neighboring African countries. The only difference is that we sing in Arabic. We also employ various Arab rhythms in our songs, but do not use the 7th musical scale .thus, although we share the same language, the rhythms and beat of Sudanese songs is distinct from other Arab songs."

Another contributor to the development of Sudanese music was that what started out as British military brass and styles often metamorphosed in the 1960s and 70s to become "jazz" in the east African sense.

"In post – independence Sudan, people from all over Sudan were well represented in the police and armed forces across the country .For  a poor young musician conscription in the police and army "jazz bands" offered the best access to instruments .

"Anew style evolved following the introduction of the guitar and new forms of music from Kenya , Uganda, Congo  and other African countries .The introduced styles were filtered through tribal folkloric music and by the time the music reached as far north as Khartoum ,they had definite Sudanese flavor."

Despite, what he describes as being "lost in the wilderness" without proper instruction, Alfateh received gold medals in a national competition of high school students for his guitar playing, 1977, 1978. during that period he was invited to join Al Mao Mao a group featuring older , more experienced musicians, before enrolling in the Institute of Music and Drama in 1979- 1980 to further his studies of the guitar.

The institute of Music and Drama was inaugurated by the government in 1969 and the efforts of people like Professor Al Mahi Ismail, its first director, brought an improvement   in the standards of practicing musicians and theater people. However, it struggled for recognition of its diplomas and for adequate funding and premises. In 1979, the government finally upgraded its status from vocational to higher education, as equivalent to a university degree." My entering the institute was the natural and right step,"says Dr.Alfateh ," I had learned guitar by ear and I knew I needed to learn , really if I wanted to be a serious musician . Unfortunately, there wasn't a single guitar teacher among the teaching staff of North Koreans, for three of the five years of instruction; I had to rely on visiting guitarists – teachers who came to give concert from Europe and U.S, to give me lessons on the classical guitar."

Al fateh attained his degree in 1983 and was hired to teach guitar at the institute in 1986 becoming the first Sudanese national to do so.

In 1986, Alfateh founded Al Samandal , an ensemble culled from the most proficient graduates and students of the institute .The group captivated their home- bass audience in Khartoum with their visionary blending of heritage and urban music , reflecting the vibrant , melting pot city. "They were really talented, each one among the best on their instrument "says Dr.Afateh " At that moment , I had the idea that we were like a big mirror of Sudan's identity, culture and history .

Al Samandal toured sudan and the Arab world many times , twice performing at Cairo's Ghoumoureya theater."

We actually have two cassettes available in Ataba square ," says Dr.Alfateh, who next performs in Cairo during the 15th Citadel Festival for Music and Song on August 12th and 20th , bringing siger Essam Mohasmed Nour .However , in 1990 with recurring social uncertainty an ever day theme. Al fateh decided to accept the Institute of Music and Drama's offer to study for his masters' at the Russain Academy of Music in Moscow "I knew I still had a lot to learn about the guitar and music history so I disbanded Al Samandal and went to Moscow for the next seven years ," he recalls " I studied under Alexander Froche , finally learning the proper techniques of the classical guitar . I eventually got my PhD and recorded a tape with singer Mahmoud Abed- Aziz while I was there."

 

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