Sudan's rappers find freedom to fight the power

Two and a half years ago this would have been more dangerous.

A group of Sudanese youths rapping in the streets of Khartoum.

Under longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's rap industry was cautious; be too critical of the government and you may fall prey to the attentions of the security services.

But since Bashir's ouster in April 2019, artists like Ahmed Mahdy are taking advantage of looser restrictions to give voice to their grievances.

"We always write about our reality. For example, you see something happening to a homeless child in the street, so you'll reflect that in your music. You walk past the Nile and witness the flooding, and the problems our people face that you then try to tell using simple words, simple phrases that can resonate with everyone, reaching the Sudanese in Khartoum to the Sudanese living abroad."

His group is called Ijraat, or "procedures".

What they're trying to do is better reflect issues they still see plaguing Sudan.

The country is in the grip of a deep economic crisis and is making a shaky transition to democracy.

"Procedures" criticizes the police, complains of economic conditions and references burning tires in anti-government protests.

Mahdy says the music is always about the dreams of the youth.

"Why the youth? Because we want to reach a certain point of awareness, we want our society to develop, a society that currently rejects us and whose mass media also rejects us. However, we have faith that when we supply our own generation with songs and issues in the form of music and art, these youth will be able to reach heights with any issue, no matter how complex or difficult it may be."

But though music played a central role in the uprising against Bashir, Mahdy says many still reject rap as foreign or immoral.

Sudanese society was, under Bashir, governed by restrictive laws imposing conservative Islamic social codes.

But today "Procedures" sometimes references alcohol and drugs, and uses explicit language.

Not everyone approves.

Nevertheless, rap's popularity is growing.

Large shows have become more common, with artists performing for thousands in venues previously occupied by more traditional singers.

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