SOUTH SUDAN’S POP STAR GENERATION ADDRESSES THE CIVIL WAR ISSUES WITH MUSIC.
Music is a universal language. It is the best way and means to pass a message, stand for something, and establish legacies.
South Sudan has celebrated its fifth independence anniversary; but rather than celebrate independence weekend, Juba, South Sudan’s capital, turned into a war zone for the second time since civil war broke out in 2013. The unsettled peace deal between the government and the opposition was falling apart, as fighting raged throughout the city, killing hundreds.
// Crazy Fox, aka “The Dancehall Monster,” was in his studio in Juba that weekend and on Independence Day, just before the fighting spread, he recorded a song that was to become a major hit in Juba during the coming months. He titled the track “Ana Gaid,” which means in Arabic “I am staying”.
“Ana Gaid” describes the deteriorating security and economic situation in South Sudan, expressing the hardships of the South Sudanese who struggle as the crisis goes on. The music video features Crazy Fox sitting in a typical lower class residential compound in Juba as its residents intend to leave the country. Unlike most South Sudanese music videos, it was not shot in a fancy club or a hotel with a swimming pool, and it does not feature expensive cars or clothes.
“I was like, you know, I am tired,” Crazy Fox says. “I am tired of running out of my country every single time and then coming back when the peace is back. So I just told these guys: ‘ana gaid, ana ma mashi’ [I am staying, I am not leaving]. I don’t care, if I am to die here at home, let me just die at home.”
“I had to be in that community, poor community. I had to go into a ghetto…to show what is happening down there,” Fox says. “I had to make these things look real. Because the song itself is not an imagination, the song is based on a true story.”
The frustration expressed by Crazy Fox in “Ana Gaid” is part of a wider trend in South Sudanese popular music. In the last two years, some of South Sudan’s most celebrated musicians have increasingly been using their art to discuss the ongoing war and some of the ways in which it impacts the lives of ordinary citizens. Within this trend, the economic crisis and the escalating rates of urban crime are re-occurring themes. As most of the fighting since the beginning of the war took place outside the capital, these are also some of the main issues that have been impacting Juba’s urban population as a consequence of the conflict.
// In early 2015, Mr. Lengs released the song “Kalam Dollar” (which roughly translates to “the issue of the dollar” in Juba Arabic), discussing the worsening economic situation in South Sudan. Slightly later, Silver X, one of South Sudan’s most popular musicians, released “Dunia Karabu,” which in Juba Arabic means “the world is spoiled.” The song similarly deals with the rising costs of living and inflation.
Inflation has been rising in South Sudan since the beginning of the war, and prices continue to soar. Over the last year only, prices of food increased by more than 1000 percent. Insecurity in the capital worsened with time—a constant reminder of the turmoil and bloodshed happening in other parts of the country. Killings by “unknown gunmen” became widespread, as well as criminal attacks, rapes and thefts. Soon, these daily incidents found their way into popular music as well.
// Frustration may have replaced the celebrations and hope that characterized South Sudanese popular music at the time of independence, but L.U.A.L argues that despite these new voices, there is no fundamental change in the music industry. Most songs still deal with clubbing and romance, he says. “Things that are not really relevant,” in a country ravaged by civil war.
Raised in the U.S., L.U.A.L came to South Sudan in 2009, two years before the country’s independence. He has long been dealing with political subjects in his songs, and is known for his sharp and often highly critical lyrics in Juba Arabic. His stage name stands for “Lyrically Untouchable African Legend.”
His music is driven by a strong commitment to a peaceful and prosperous society in South Sudan, but he also knows that in the current atmosphere, criticism can be risky. Earlier this year, he was harassed after releasing his song “Dowla Jadit” (“New Country”). The song, which was banned from being played on air, criticizes the chronic lack of public services and corruption in South Sudan, and the regular official excuse for these problems: “It’s a new country.”
The main reason the song attracted significant attention was that it was sang in Juba Arabic, and not in English. “I said, this time, let me do something they will understand. So I did it in Arabic and it was too much…it was very direct.”
More than 1.3 million refugees have already left the country since the war started, a greater number displaced within its borders, with no credible records of death. The persistence of the violence has frustrated even the most hopeful of the optimists who witnessed the country gaining independence in 2011.
A group of young South Sudanese artists and activists, including Mr. Lengs, L.U.A.L, and Crazy Fox, recently launched a campaign titled “Ana Taban,” to that effect meaning “I am tired,” in Arabic. The group initially met in Kenya in July for a workshop, and in early August released a song, dedicated to “all those we have lost in this senseless war and to all those who are still here and are tired enough to make the changes we need.” The group consists of more than 50 musicians, painters, poets and actors, who come from different backgrounds and ethnic communities.
After its launch, the members have held several public performances in different neighborhoods in Juba, and collaborated to create street art. Taking their art to the people, they aim to promote peaceful dialogue, and combat the “tribalism” and ethnic hatred that is fueling the violence in South Sudan.
“South Sudanese, every day—death, death. Until when, brothers?” they ask in the song. “We are born in war, we grow up in war, and we will die in war as well?”