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Money dealers in Omdurman market. Photo: Janto Djassi / Picture Me Different.

In Photos: The Golden Spirit of Khartoum

Ahead of their upcoming compilation, Ostinato Records takes us on a photographic trip through Sudan's beautiful capital.

As we present our latest release, Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan, to celebrate the golden era of Khartoum's gifted musicians, it's worthy to note that we are not merely in the record label business or the music industry, but very much part of the storytelling business, which is largely an image-making enterprise. Far too often, those afforded the privilege to shape the image of countries not always in control of their own narrative abuse that power by recycling tropes that offer little to challenge deeply established narratives or reshape our understanding.


Music is just one component of a nation and culture's image, but Ostinato's philosophy is about showcasing and reimagining images of peoples and places that have long been viewed through a malignant colonial lens or via strategic foreign policy objectives, denying ancient lands, unmistakably sophisticated music cultures, and even just the gentle silt and vibrant color of daily life from their rightful place alongside the very best that humanity has produced or has to offer.

Photo courtesy of Shihab Khojali Osman

Khojali Osman (L) and his band perform at an event in Omdurman, early 1980s.

During the making of this compilation, in collaboration with Picture Me Different, an African-run agency in Hamburg, Germany, we have documented the everyday flair of life in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, and the remnants of its once mighty music scene as old legends fight to carry on a beloved legacy. Alongside, the singers featured on our compilation (or their families if they have passed) have provided vintage photos of musical life in Khartoum and the old capital, Omdurman.

Few around the world have the chance to experience Sudan on the ground themselves. So, as curators and image-makers dedicated to decolonizing our sense of sound and sight, we have put together a mini-exhibition of 15 photos to take you deep into the world of Sudan's capital—by no means a reflection of the country as a whole—but a good starting point as we celebrate Sudan's rich tapestry of culture, color, life, and diversity.

Importantly, we are not always offered a perspective on an African country through an African—in this case, Senegalese—photographer's eyes.

It takes two Niles to sing a melody, and create a just image.

Music
Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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