Wardi traces his heritage to the northern Sudanese (and southern Egyptian) kingdom of Nubia. A profound force in this region’s ancient politics and culture, this Nile River kingdom was substantially dispersed and flooded out by the construction of the Aswan High Dam during the 1960s. Since that time, Nubian melodies and rhythms have carried a particular poignancy—a nostalgic link to lost African greatness. Wardi sang the traditional melodies of Nubia, and played the oud (lute) and the tambour, a frame drum linked to his own Nubian family lineage. Another legend of Nubian music, the also-late Hamza el Din, once described Wardi as “a monumental composer and singer… a true fountain of inspiration.”
Early on, Wardi used his art and fame to denounce oppression and tyranny in Sudan. He was first jailed in 1961, then again for two years in 1973. On the eve of another imprisonment in 1983, he was smuggled out of the country. But his fame only grew. At a 1990 concert at the Itang refugee camp in Ethiopia, Wardi enthralled a huge crowd of Sudanese refugees, estranged from their civil war-torn country. A 1994 concert in Addis Ababa had to be held in a football stadium to accommodate the massive audience.
Wardi’s stature and musical prowess gave him access to the very best Sudanese musicians, an expansive and brilliant ensemble he called The African Birds. In 1999, Wardi brought his musicians to Los Angeles and recorded 18 of his most essential songs under the direction of veteran producer Dawn Elder. This recording has yet to be commercially released, but hopefully, one result of Wardi’s sad passing will be a new impetus to bring this historic recording to the public.
|Mourning Mohamed Wardi in Sudan|
Wardi finally returned to his beloved homeland in 2003 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Khartoum in 2005 in recognition of his 60-year career, and his status as an immortal of Sudanese art.
You can hear some of Wardi’s music, including a track from the unreleased 1999 session, on Afropop Worldwide’s program, Sudan a Musical History.
- Banning Eyre