Can songs of peace bring harmony to strife-torn Darfur?

Khadija's singing used to stir Janjaweed militias to kill. Now she hopes to inspire them to lay down their guns

Khadija Jacob used to be a Janjaweed singer. When the men in her village got on their horses and picked up their AK47s, Khadija and a dozen or so other women would sing for them. "Once we started singing, the killing would not stop," she said. Sometimes she would not even wait for the militia leader to give her the command. "When I saw the horses I would just start singing. It was exciting."

Khadija was a hakama, a war singer considered an integral part of the bloody militia. Commanders would summon them to the front to rally the troops. Sometimes Khadija performed for up to 2,000 men. "I felt the men were very brave and I was very proud to be with them."

Times, and tunes, change. The hakamas gathered under a neem tree in El Daein, a small town in south-eastern Darfur, now sing for peace. Some began to feel uneasy the longer the fighting went on. For Khadija, it was a small child she saw every day whose father had died in a battle that forced a rethink. "I felt responsible for it," she said.

The lyrics they sang mixed Arab nationalism and lurid tales of alleged atrocities committed by African tribes. Janjaweed commanders would pay a local poet to write them. The hakamas would then be paid handsomely for their performance – sometimes up to £500 each if it was an important battle.

"You cannot underestimate the importance of the hakamas," said Gaddal, a Sudanese poet who refused to write war songs."They sing 'you are our protectors, you must save us'. The men cannot refuse to fight if the women tell them to."

He now hopes the militias will listen when the hakamas sing for peace. "It will make a big, big difference," he said.

Singing for peace has its downsides, though. Fatima Ahmed, a formidable-looking woman dressed in pink, was the leader of Khadija's hakama group."If it is a war, someone can find money. If it is peace, there is nothing," she said waving her hand in dismissal.

Finding someone to pay the hakamas to sing for peace has become a mission for a Sudanese musician called Abazar, a man whose songs are regularly banned by the government. He composed his latest songs, "Salaam Darfur" (Peace for Darfur) and "New Sudan", on the small balcony of his Khartoum apartment. But he only managed to get government clearance to use them after agreeing to stop performing two other songs.

"Stand Up" urged people to use their rights before the government took them away. "Enough" was considered a touch too revolutionary for the government's liking (sample lyric: "We will light the darkness out of our bleeding").

The new songs are part of the ambitious Rainbow project to bring together musicians from across Sudan. The government has long tried to divide Sudan along ethnic lines, provoking conflicts across the country. Abazar's Rainbow is just one small effort to unite Sudan's diverse population. On "Salaam Darfur" Abazar employs Khadija and her hakama group to sing backing vocals.

But they are not the only backing singers. African tribes have their own version of the hakamas, known as shaikhas. Six of them have joined the hakamas. Relations between the two groups are not great. Under the neem tree in El Daein, the dozen backing singers eye each other warily.

Abazar's plan is to take the singers to villages and displacement camps throughout Darfur, to record the new songs and get them aired on Sudanese radio stations. But radio stations refuse to play his music, and established producers will not record it. "They are all afraid of this type of music," he says. "But it is not new. Ray Charles, Bob Marley – they are our teachers."

Abazar worries that not all the hakamas have their heart in the project. "Some of them don't believe in it." If he cannot find money to compensate them he fears some will return to their former paymasters. Darfur's conflict has raged for more than five years. Peacemakers have come and gone; peacekeepers have proved ineffective. But peace-singing, Abazar reckons, is worth a try.

Suggested Topics
Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
Out and about: for 'Glee' character Bert Hummel, having a gay son was a learning curve
lifeEven 'cool' parents need help parenting gay teens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible