Bringing African Women Hope Through Music.
(Part 1)

Islam Elbeiti / Bassist and Entrepreneur Supporter

Fighting to Eradicate the Prejudice Against Female Musicians.

Islam Elbeiti is one of only a few female bassists from Sudan. From early in life she has lived in many countries, experiencing cultures that by contrast reveal the deep-rooted prejudice against female musicians in her motherland. “Life is tough for a female musician in this country,” she tells us breezily. We asked where she gets her strength to thrive as she does.

Growing up as a global teenager.

During my childhood in the 90s, the Sudanese people had lost the freedom to enjoy music openly. Up to the 1970s, decades before I was born, popular music played freely on the radio or in shops for all to enjoy. Then came political upheaval and a gradual restriction of the people's cultural activities. Music and the arts became transgressive under a regime of harsh new rules. Lucky for me, my family brought me up in a more tolerant environment. My whole family was passionate about music. My uncle, who lived in the USA, would often send us CDs and music tapes. I was never deprived of music.

Living in different countries outside of Sudan was an important enabler of our musically enriched life. I went to primary school in Ethiopia, followed by middle school and high school in Beijing, China. With students from 45 countries, my high school was a melting pot of races and cultures where every day was a cultural exchange. I credit my awareness of cultural diversity and the importance of accepting differences to the formative years I spent away from Sudan. Living internationally has made me a global citizen with no particular attachments to any one nation. Keeping an open mind to cultures of all kinds is a great source of happiness in my life.

Islam age 9, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia playing a toy guitar she received as a birthday gift. She still holds her bass guitar in a similar posture.

Musical instruments never choose between men and women.

Before my university days in Sudan, my musical diet generally consisted of what was popular among my friends. Then music grew into a bigger part of my life. My headphones became a permanent fixture as I came to adore the deep sound of the bass. My ears followed the baseline in every tune I listened to. For two years of university I never imagined that one day I would actually play the instrument. Then, in my third year, I got my hands on the guitar.

One force keeping me attached to the bass is the prejudice against female musicians I want to overcome. When I started playing the instrument, people insinuated that a woman should play something more ladylike, like a piano or violin. But musical instruments don’t choose their players by gender. To prove this point, I set my sights on succeeding as a female bassist. Through my determination to succeed at the bass, what had begun as a pastime evolved into a major life project.

Islam and her classmates posing for a group photo celebrating the end of exams in Beijing, China.

Aspiring to mobilize young power in the Sudanese music scene.

Today I play in two different bands in my home country, performing both a fusion of jazz and Sudanese traditional music. The jazz band plays a regular gig twice a week in a restaurant. The traditional band is an all-women group called Sawa Sawa. Our band leader, the legendary female Sudanese musician Zakia Abulqasim, is still going strong in her 80s. How lucky I am to have the chance to regularly perform with such an awe-inspiring figure so early in my professional career.

Apart from my two bands, I also host a radio show focused on jazz culture. Many Sudanese dismiss jazz music as old-fashioned and boring. My mission as a radio personality is to undo their prejudice against the burgeoning jazz genre. Every week I introduce Sudanese people to the rich world of jazz, from classical to modern, to exhilarate the country’s music culture as it develops further. While our efforts may be small, we young musicians of Sudan believe that the future of the country rests upon our shoulders. Acting today is our duty.

(left image) Islam during her radio show using the faders to adjust audio. (right image) Islam playing with the band Sawa Sawa at the University of Ahfad for Women during International Women's day celebration.

Read the Part 2

Islam Elbeiti / Bassist and Entrepreneur Supporter
Originally from Sudan, Islam lived in Ethiopia, China, during her childhood and teen years and Democratic Republic of Congo post university. Now back in Sudan, she plays the bass in a couple of bands and is entering the music business scene by working for Impact Hub Khartoum, an entity devoted towards enabling the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Sudan. Still young, at 24, she is driven by a strong activist determination to change the harsh social conditions restricting female musicians in Sudan.

Interview Date:

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