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Sudan’s Folk Singer Al Tagtaga Passes Away

The Sudan has lost its doyenne of folk singers: Hawa Jah Al Rasool (known as Hawa Al Tagtaga – a nickname derived from the rhythm in music).
She was born in 1928 and moved with her family from North Kordofan to Omdurman as a child.  She grew up in the melting pot of Sudanese nationalism and started singing at an early age.   As a teenager, her family – after initial resistance – accepted her talent and recognised her singing (mainly in weddings) as a career and a morally defensible way of life.
Her battle for respectability was much more difficult than that faced by male singers.
Gradually she became identified with the anti-colonial movement, especially with the leading political party in the 1950’s (The National Unionist Party – today The Democratic Unionist Party led by Sayed Mohamed Uthman Al Mirghani, which is one of the pillars of the broad-based coalition that forms the government in the Sudan).
When the Sudan became independent in 1956 she wore the national flag as a “tobe” and made it her trademark identification all her life.  It was used to wrap her coffin when she passed away from diabetic complications.
It is significant that she reportedly asked for her funeral cortege to begin from the house of Ismail Al Azhari, first Sudanese prime minister and leader of the National Unionist Party.
But Hawa Al Tagtaga had a wider agenda that could be called “feminist”.  In a television interview with Omar Al Guzali, she related how a delegation of nationalists was invited to Egypt for an event.  All were men.  She travelled to Egypt at her expense and requested to accompany them.  She was told that it was a “men only” event, but she managed to attend the ceremony with the help of the Sudanese business family who were her hosts.
This aspect of her character should be seen in the context of Sudanese women’s long and glorious history of assertiveness and involvement in public life and politics that culminated in getting 25% representation in Parliament.
In ancient Sudanese Nubian history, the Kandaka (who was mentioned in the Bible) was a leader of her army.
Mohamed Ibn Umar Al Tunisi, who visited Darfur in the early 19th century and wrote the definitive book “Tashheiz Al Azhan” about its history, documented that the Sultan’s investiture included singing and rituals by women followed by the beating of the main drum.
Mihera bit Abboud sang in order to mobilise her people in the northern Sudan to resist foreign armies.
To their great credit, the leaders of UNAMID in Darfur tried to enlist the singing of the “Hakkamat” and persuade them to sing for reconciliation, not tribal animosity.
Hawa Al Tagtaga’s role was appreciated nationally.  President Bashir awarded her one of the highest honours.  The Republican Palace officially conveyed the news of her loss to the nation.  She was mourned by the minister of culture and information, Dr. Ahmed Bilal.  Her funeral was an occasion for young singers to remember her achievements in the face of formidable difficulties.  Many said that she was a mother figure for them, offering advice and encouragement, especially to female singers.
She is survived by one brother and his children whom she helped to bring up and educate.
She herself never married and acquired the grand title of “hajja” after performing the Hajj in Mecca and Medina.
Hawa Jah Al Rasool
Folk Singer
Born 1928 North Kordofan
Died Omdurman 10 December, 2012


By Khalid Al Mubarak, 16/12/2012

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