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Department of Anthropology Speaker Series presents: Anita Fábos

Dr. Paul & Natalie Strasser Legacy Room - 220 Eggers Hall

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New ‘Bad Girls’ of Sudan: Women singers in the Sudanese diaspora

Women performers of “girls’ songs” (aghani al-banat) in northern and central Sudan have a history of providing social commentary on Sudanese gender, class, and other hierarchies. Performing at gatherings attended, in the main, by women and girls, ghanaanat have been marginalized in the Sudanese popular music industry for their gendered association with professions inhabited by former slaves, and later women singers of popular music have struggled to overcome this association. Following Islamist efforts to remodel mainstream Sudanese society according to ‘authentically Islamic’ gender (and other) relations, many women singers found their freedom of expression severely curtailed and left the country. My paper explores the new ‘bad girls’ of Sudanese music as they defy national boundaries to bring women’s perspectives and critiques to a global audience. Performers such as Alsarah and Rasha have access to a world music stage to comment upon gender and racial hierarchies, chide Sudanese power brokers about their transgressions, and encourage a more inclusive and just society. Pushback against new voices have included charges in the public domain (e.g. YouTube comments) that these performances are haram and sullied by foreign influence. Emerging out of a larger ethnographic investigation of the Sudanese acoustics of diaspora, my feminist analysis of ‘bad girl’ musicians places their voices in a context of shifting patterns of global migration, national integration policies and the dispersal of families, contemporary expressions of Islamic “authenticity” and anti-Muslim sentiments, and gender and generational tensions among refugee and migrant Sudanese.


Anita Fábos is an Associate Professor of International Development and Social Change in the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment at Clark University.


Co-Sponsored by the Middle Eastern Studies Program


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