Music composer-melodist Beshir Abbas is a superstar innovator who began his musical career in the late 1950s and still contributes to this field. He has engaged different generations and has contributed to shaping the Sudanese sentiment since then. A great number of Sudanese signers, including Abdul Aziz Mohamed Dawood, Sayyed Khalifa, Abdul Kerim al-Kably, Aisha al-Fallatiyah, Hassan Atiyah and Zaidan Ibrahim, vocalized his melodies, besides introducing in early 1970s the renowned three sister signers known as the Balabil (nightingales).
Abbas has composed more than 50 famous melodies and he has won numerous local and international awards the latest of which was one awarded by the German radio station Deutsche Welle that followed the Arab League award in 2005.
He was honored by Khartoum with a great celebration in three events in the Roman and German clubs and the Friendship Hall.
In the following interview, Abbas spoke to SUDANOW on his own experience and on the musical issues:-
SUDANOW: What are the elements that have shaped your musical career?
Abbas: I was born on one day of August 1937 in Halfaya neighborhood of Khartoum North to a family that loves music. My father awarded me a flute for my success in a school examination and this was the beginning. Lute player and melodist Asma'a Hamzah, my cousin, sponsored and taught me the secrets of the cords. The flute and lute became my intimate friends that persuaded me to listen to the radio musical broadcasts.
I was appointed as a musician in the Radio orchestra in 1959 where I stayed till 1963 when I resigned to give my full time to musical composition.
Q: You are a fine lute player, by whom have you been influenced in this practice?
A: I was influenced by Bura'i Mohamed Dafa'alla, the doyen of the Sudanese melodists who had a different quill and distinguished playing style across the Arab world. I was also influenced by the playing style of the Egyptian melodist Farid al-Atrush to whom I was fond of listening. His audience used to demand of him to play solos before singing. I used to memorize by heart the introductions of his songs and I used to combine the styles of Bura'i and Atrush in playing the lute, something which accorded distinction to my own playing style.
Q: Do you prefer the melody or the composition and what is the difference between them?
A: I like and prefer the music composition to the melody because the former depends on the imagination and passion. The composition normally takes a longer time, may be months, to complete while the melody depends on the text of the poem which is ready with the imagination of the poet. I can create a melody for a song in one day, like the Mojah (wave) poem of Poet Saif al-Dinn al-Disougy which is sung by the Balabil and which some people regard as one of my fine melodies. In contrast, the musical piece "the Moon in Kenana" took me months to compose starting it in Kenana city when the moon was full in a party we held at the Sugar Plant and I finished composing it during a travel to India. I have until now composed more than 50 pieces which is a big number.
Q: What contributions has your music project achieved?
A: I have made some renovation attempts, adding my own touch. I think I have succeeded in introducing the mouth whistle as a tune accompanying the lute playing and also in inserting words in the musical pieces and in the lute solos. I also succeeded in playing the music of the songs with no poems.
Q: What do you mean by inserting words in the musical pieces?
A: I remember the musical piece named "Tunes" which I composed in 1964 was admired by late signer Mohamed Wardy who suggested playing it to accompany a poem he versified by himself titled "Why on Earth Have they Hidden from my Eyesight. Why on Earth Have they envied you for my Love to you. Is it that I am not Worth Your Love?" I agreed to the suggestion which, after carrying it out, made the piece reach the listeners and it has become one of the most famous pieces until now. This success encouraged me to introduce a number of pieces in other works.
Abbas received at Khartoum Airport
Q: Critics consider your melodies are different than those of your contemporary musicians. How do you view this opinion?
A: I usually compose a different tune for each stanza of the poem, that is, I diversify the melodies but I keep the introductory piece. I believe this diversification is part of my project through which I seek uniqueness and self-satisfaction.
Q: What is your opinion about the musical seventh and fifth scales? How do you make use of the mixed sentences and the new innovation? How do you consider the combination of the two scales?
A: There is a difference between the Seventh and Fifth scales as the seventh is more than the fifth one by two degrees, but they can intermarriage. I have a piece named Wadi Al-Neel (Nile Valley) in which I applied the two scale employing Egyptian and Sudanese musicians.
Q: Do you follow certain rituals while you are composing musical pieces or melodizing a song?
A: What is important to me is to have a recorder beside me for recording every tune so that no musical sentence will escape away. This is a life-time habit I have had as the recorder is of paramount importance to me.
Q: What standards do you apply for granting a melody for a singer?
A: I melodized for most of the singers, of different generations till today. Sometimes I compose the melody to match the voice and performance of the male or female singer and other times I prepare the melody without determining the singer. Once I melodized "Tair Al-Hawa" (Bird of Love) poem of poet Al-Hussein Al-Hassan and after singing it by myself, I asked the audience to nominate a signer for it and they nominated Abdul Kerim al-Kably, something which I did and it was a success. When I finished melodizing the "Kunooz Al-Mahabbah (Treasures of Love), I decided it would suit the voice and performance of Zaidan Ibrahim and the work was also a success. In many cases the melodist selects the singer who may succeed in performing the melody.
Q: You have lived in the East and the West; can you see any possibility of intermarriage between the Eastern and Western music?
A: In the 1950s we had a skillful music composer, namely Mohamed Ismail Baday who was an officer in the Corps of Music. Baday, who pioneered his generation, taught us the Pop Music which we used to hear from James Brown and Steve Wonder. Baday left behind him numerous musical works which are now kept in notes with the Corps of Music. I believe Baday would have been warmly welcomed if he had had a chance to appear abroad. The Pop Music manifests a resemblance between the Western music, particularly the American, and the Sudanese music. As for the intermarriage and influence between the Eastern and Western music, there is a great number of Arab musicians who were influenced by the Western music through what is known as adaptation which, itself, is an art. This adaptation can, for instance, be seen in songs of Abdul Halim Hafiz, like the introduction of his famous song "Guly Hajah" (Tell me something). We also find it in the singing of the Arabs and their benefit from the symphonies. I believe the Eastern musicians greatly benefitted from and were influenced by the Western music as is reflected in their adaptation.
Al-Balabil singing during Abbas honouring festival Melodist Asmaa Hamza and Abbas in the festival One o the festival activities
Q: You discovered the Balabil in the early 1970s and introduced them to the public at that time. Now and after about 50 years, they return to the singing. How do you hear them now?
A: The characteristic of the Balabil is that they have studied music. I cannot find any change in them except their age but there is no doubt that the age affects the voice. I believe that the study of music made them identify what suits their voices and now they present science-based works. In spite of this, there is nobody who can contest against them. I am thinking of new works that can bring us together anew. There is an operetta written by poet Abdul Basit Sabdarat that has long been melodized and I am considering presenting it through them.
Q: How do you consider your honoring?
A: I was happy to be honored in my lifetime. It is an incentive to me for further accomplishment and innovation. It means much to be loved by others and I am planning to respond to this honor by presenting new melodies, with all my gratefulness and love to them.