Sudanese Music

Musical tradition: Sudanese songs, vocal traditions with drumming

Musician(s): Omaima and Yohanna Adenti, Singing "Civil War Song:" Chol Atem, Pete Keny, Isaac Kuek, Gabriel Poth, Deng K

vocals, drums

Yohanna and Omaima Adenti (pictured above) are Nuban from Sudan. Yohanna’s father was a cattle herder and had 200 cows, as well as goats, sheep, and chickens. Johanna and Omaima are Christian. When Yohanna was 25 his village was attacked and his family was killed. He hid in the forest for years where he and Omaima were married. He was later captured by Arabs, escaped to Khartoum, and received asylum in Egypt. Omaima and Yohanna were resettled as refugees in Vermont in 2005 and lived in Burlington. They were recorded for this project in 2006 and have since moved to another part of the US.

Yohanna says about this song: “I’m gonna sing one, this is the one song that we remind ourselves this is all about education and this is what we are here all about. Our grandpa sing us this song about six years ago when we were actually in middle school and they were saying that you guys should care about education, whatever you came out with it and that you will be a teacher, engineering or professor, and this is what you all need.”

Chol speaks about the civil war in Sudan, which began in 1983 and continued roughly until 2005:

“We had a civil war long ago and then people came from the north destroying our houses with fire, they take young kids, they kill young guys…if you are like us you get killed, but if it’s a girl, or a kid, and a woman and cattle, they take them away. So someone was thinking, our house is on fire, our kids have been taken, what are we going to do? What’s next? So it’s time to be brave, to encourage people to stay aware that these guys are always there. The song is about awareness, encouraging people to be strong.

[The war was in] 1983…but these people came in 85 or 86, they came from the north and invaded the south. This thing happened between 86, 87 and 88 and after that they stopped, the south got their own military and they stopped coming back any more. But during these few years it was so bad.”

Somalia-Bantu Music

Musical traditions
Shareero Walinja: performed at weddings and in staged performance situations.  Abalisha: performed at wedding ceremonies and in staged performance settings. Praise for those at the center of the wedding and their families is once more the subject of song texts.

Musician(s):Osman Mohamed Hassan (Zuka) and Mohamed Ibrahim Bulle, The Somali-Bantu Wedding Band

vocals, drums and percussion (synthetic djembe, congas, improvised percussion like metal baking tins), six-string bowl-lute called a "sharrara"

In Somalia, traditional music featuring a multi-part drumming ensemble is closely connected to people of Bantu origin. Oral histories in the Gosha region report the importance of drums in the capture of slaves on the Tanzanian coast. One story recounts that the playing of drums was prohibited by community leadership as a part of a divination predicting a famine. However, the community did not believe in the divination and continued to dance and drum causing a locust invasion. With their food sources gone the people moved towards the coast where they were captured as slaves. Whatever the case, the importance and power bestowed upon the act of dancing and drumming is felt strongly among inhabitants of the Gosha from different ethnic origins. (click to read more)


Excerpts on the musical style Abalisha. Chapin, Simeon. 2007. “Music of the Somali Bantu in Vermont: Music, Identity and Refugees.” MA thesis, Tufts University

Musicans and dancers locate Abalisha as a dance from the Shabelle Valley. Abalisha is performed at wedding ceremonies and in staged performance settings. Praise for those at the center of the wedding and their families is once more the subject of song texts.

The main action in Abalisha dancing occurs in the hips. Somali Bantu call this motion “squeezing”. In performance situations one person at a time enters the dance space. The dancer enters the space and directs their action toward the musicians or the person they wish to pass the dance to. Dancers move through the space with one of two dance steps. One is a shuffling step similar to Shareero Walinja and the second step involves alternate double stepping on the main beats of the music – left left, right right. Arms swing at the side of the dancer in opposition to the feet splitting the bodily action laterally. Once in place before the focus of their attention the feet are planted and the focus is on squeezing. The dancer circles or tilts their hips in time to the music making a sharp “squeezing” motion at the end of a phrase by thrusting their pelvis or hips in the desired direction. The direction may be forward, back, or to either side. Phrases are most commonly made in 8 beats with 4 resting beats followed by 4 beats of action. Advanced dancers coordinate longer phrases with the lead drummer who follows their feet and hip actions. When the dancer is ready to leave the circle they finish a squeezing phrase in the direction of the next dancer. A scarf is often tied around the dancers hips to accentuate their motion. Men tie it around their waist; women tie the scarf lower around the largest part of their hips and buttocks.

Often at wedding ceremonies young girls in groups of two will dance in the space together. If more attempt to join, elder women chide them and make them leave to wait their turn. If a person is dancing especially well others in attendance will approach them and wipe their face with a cloth, described by musicians as “washing the face”. Giving money to a dancer by placing it in their mouth, on their forehead, or in a pocket also shows good feeling for the dancers movements.


Excerpts on the musical style Sharerro Walinja. Chapin, Simeon. 2007. “Music of the Somali Bantu in Vermont: Music, Identity and Refugees.” MA thesis, Tufts University.

Shareero Walinja is performed at weddings and in staged performance situations. Bulle and Zuka describe learning and performing Shareero Walinja at weddings in Jilib and surrounding towns in the Jubba river valley. The performance of Shareero Walinja honors the bride and groom, their family, and others who are central to the community’s celebration. Zuka describes a performance as “pleasing someone”.

“It starts with the name of someone like you are pleasing someone, the person who is getting married. You are telling [them], ‘This guy is a good guy and he is marrying a good lady and she comes from a good family,’ and so on and so on and all those things. It is like you are pleasing someone and at the same time you make a rhythm and perform it in that ceremony and people dance it.” (2007-I)

At weddings small groups of women (between two and seven) dance in linear procession. Each group of dancers are of the same age group. The line circles the dancing space pausing opposite the musicians. The line then advances and retreats in a parallel line towards the musicians. The feet move close to the floor in a shuffling pattern – right left right, left right left, short, short, long, short, short, long – driving toward the downbeat or beginning of the musical cycle. In staged performances this dance can be performed solo.

This song is sung in Ziqua Languae. It is a love song that farmers sing when they are about to finish up working in the farm and ready to come back home. It is a self-motivation to the young farmers to work hard if they want to be successful.

– Osman Hassan (Zuka), singing with Halidzja

More resources

Content from the Vermont Folklife Center's Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program

Somali-Bantu singing and drumming with Masters Mohamed Bulle and Osman Hassan

Bosnian Music and Dance

Musical traditions: Bosnian folk dance, Bosnian Sevdalinka (singing)

Dancing Master: Mediha Jusufagic

Singer: Ramiz Mujkanovic

Instruments: Vocals


Ramiz Mujkanovic was born in 1966 in the city of Doboj, Bosnia, where his parents had moved from a small village. Ramiz’s mother often sang old songs while she cooked and did the laundry, and Ramiz especially liked the traditional Bosnian songs known as “sevdah.” Trained as a baker, Ramiz left home as a young man and worked throughout Europe. He eventually returned to Bosnia but was forced to emigrate in the 1990s by the Bosnian war. He brought his family to Barre, VT, in 1999 and worked at various trades, including bricklaying, before opening a bakery, first in Williamstown, VT, and now in Barre. The Bosnian songs have remained dear to him, and he has been teaching them to his children.



Mediha Jusufagic: In my native country I started to learn folk dance when I was in 5th. It was in a community hall in my hometown Proijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was part of a folk dance group for 15 years. We practiced two hours three times a week. We performed almost everywhere in Western Europe.

Dance was part of the larger community and there were many dances from all over ex-Yugoslavia. Most of these dances are hundreds of years old so people just continue to keep them until today.

Arriving in Vermont as a refugee, Mediha looked back on this experience as a kind of cultural touchstone, and in her new role as community activist and parent recognized the impact that dance could have on Bosnian children who had been displaced by the brutal Balkan war.

Thus was born the Bosnian Lilies, a dance troupe founded by Mediha in partnership with Amila Begovic and Ervina Ramic in 2001. An all-volunteer effort, the troupe quickly grew to thirty members and performed locally and at Bosnian events region wide. Today the Bosnian Lilies troupe is widely recognized as a cultural emblem and source of pride for Vermont’s Bosnian community, and as “ambassadors” to Vermonters who are new to Bosnian culture.

Mediha is an extremely skilled dancer and an expert teacher. She is also a visionary with a seemingly endless reservoir of energy. Newly arrived and facing the challenges of mastering English, finding work, providing stability for her family, and deciphering an entirely new culture, she nevertheless recognized that young Bosnian Vermonters needed an understanding of their own culture as a foundation for navigating the challenges of the American mainstream.

Through the Bosnian Lilies program, which includes instruction in traditional dance, instrumental music, language, and song, Mediha creates an environment where children are focused and excited about what they are learning and the unique and valuable contributions their culture makes to Vermont.

Again, Mediha: Bosnia is a small country but it’s mix of a lot of cultures, diversities. People got together on weddings, any kind of celebrations, and then they danced, they learned from each other. Dance and music was the only thing that connected and brought them together.

My work with children it’s not just a folklore that’s forgotten, it’s here now too. Every time the Lilies go on the stage they show how proud they are of who they are, because they know who they are.


Mediha talks about Bosnian dance


Learn more from the Vermont Folklife Center's Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program

Bosnian folk music and dance with Mediha Jusufagic

Laotian Music

Musical tradition: "Moh Lam" folk tradition of Laos

Musician(s): Souphine Phathsoungneune

Instruments: Vocals accompanied by melodies played on the Khene flute

Souphine Phathsoungneune was born in Soungneune, Thailand in the late 1920s. After establishing himself as a folk opera singer, director and writer, he traveled throughout northeastern Thailand teaching, directing and training young opera troupes and selling his scripts.

As a young man, he crossed the border into Laos and is credited with introducing and establishing the Lam Leung Opera form there.  In addition to operas, Souphine was a famous folk singer (moh lam) and has written and performed countless story songs in the lam tradition. These songs are accompanied by the khene, a traditional bamboo reed instrument played in both Laos and northeastern Thailand.

There are many distinct, regional styles of this singing form (lam gawn, lam long, lam si phan don) and Souphine was able to move seamlessly between them.  The two songs in this collection are sung in the lam long style which is known for its slow “drawn out” quality.   In a country without electricity in many regions, these songs provided not only entertainment, but also information and education. Songs were about nature, love, history, day-to-day aspects of life, life stories and religion.

While the translations of Souphine’s songs provide a general road map to his singing of them, in reality the song form is very dynamic, and master musicians are known for their ability to innovate spontaneously within a very tight song structure in response to the mood and desire of the audience. Songs are relished for their content but also for the way the singer plays with words and sounds (often very humorously). Souphine was known far and wide for his agility with the language, for his poetry and for his disarming sense of humor.

During the war, Souphine and his wife, Phady, fled Laos to Thailand and eventually resettled in Vermont in the early 1980s with their four daughters. He has continued to write and sing songs andto train new singers (including his wife) and opera performers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont. Carol Compton,  an authority on lam singing in southern Laos, wrote, “Lam is an on-going art form, part of the living culture of the Lao and Tai. A specific point of origin in history for lam can no more be discovered, than can the origin of any wave in the ocean” (in Turpin, 2004, page 383). The songs in this collection, written after leaving Laos, are a testament to the way in which the song form has adapted to give voice tothe “living” and changing nature of his life and memory.  Terry Miller, a leading authority on lam singing in Northeastern Thailand, interviewed Souphine in 2003 and, upon piecing together his tremendous contribution to the development and spread of this art form, proclaimed him“The Jonny Appleseed of Lam Leung Opera.”

Souphine and Phady have received Apprenticeship Grants from the Vermont Folklife Center and a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council. They have performed with Phayvanh Leukhaman in an inter-generational collaboration, I Think of This Every Time I think of Mountains(at SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Sandglass Theater in Putney, Middlebury College in Middlebury and the Champlain Valley Folklife Festival).  In 2003, he wrote and directed an opera, “The Tears of the First Wife,” which was performed in Westminster West and Guilford). In 2009, he was awarded the Governor’s Heritage Award for Traditional Artist.

– biography written by Leslie Turpin, professor, School of International Training

This song was written in 1995 by Souphine Phathsoungneune; he is drawing on his experience of escaping from Laos in the aftermath of the Laotian Civil War.

Souphine was born in Soungneune, Thailand in the late 1920s. After establishing himself as a folk opera singer, director and writer, he traveled throughout northeastern, Thailand teaching and training young opera troupes. As a young man, he crossed the border into Laos and is credited with introducing and establishing the Lam Leung Opera form there.

During the war, Souphine and his wife, Phady, fled Laos and eventually resettled in Vermont in the early 1980s with their four daughters. He has continued to write and sing songs and to train new singers and opera performers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont.  Pictured above is Souphine playing on the Laos ‘Phi’ flute.


Now I will describe when Laos fell apart.

Everyone had to escape and had no home.

We had to move out from our old land.

Aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers

float in the Mae Khong River

Float across to Thailand.

All the sisters and brothers had to separate from each other.

Everybody had to go by themselves and will not see each other again.

Everybody had to escape from death and had nowhere to go…

Ubon refugee camp had millions of refugees

Laos’ people still floated over the Mae Khong River,

It took a long time before they could take a boat.

Some people died before the middle of the way.

A lot of people found that their families died in the river.

Brothers left sisters,

The sound of people crying, was everywhere.

Husbands and wives separated from each other.

What bad Karma.

It separated the children from their parents;

The girls separated from their partners

And far away from the flowers they used to smell.

Those days are many years from today;

Maybe they will have to marry another man or woman.

Already, now Oh!

My old girlfriend

I wonder if you went back to our old homeland or not.

Burmese Music

Musical tradition: Burmese children songs, lullabies and play songs

Musician(s): Truetender Htun and Paw

Instruments: Vocals

These recordings were made with Truetender Htun and Paw Kobo.  These are everyday songs, sung in the home to children and with children.

This is a Burmese lullaby. The words say: “Mommy it’s time to sleep, come and sleep near me, hold me and I can sleep on your arm. Can you tell me a story when I sleep, if you don’t tell me a story I’ll cry”  – Truetender Htun

This song means: “I love my mom, I love my dad, when they’re with me I will follow their directions and I will be a good kid for them.”

Paw learned this song while living in a refugee camp near the Thai-Burma border.

Translation: “Two birds, sitting on a tree branch, the boy and the girl see it, the girl says ‘I like the dove, can you catch it for me?’ The boy says, “I can’t catch it for you, if my mom finds out, she’ll be mad! She says I can’t catch the bird.” So the girl finds food for the bird every day, because she likes the bird.”

Burundian Music

Musical tradition: Burundian singing traditions

Musician(s): Inyange - Burundian women's chorus in Burlington, Vermont


Inyange is a Burundian women’s chorus and dance group based in Burlington, Vermont.  The group is lead by Aline Niyonzima, who is also a leader in the Burundian American Association of Vermont.

This song and dance group called “Inyange” is composed of about fourteen women all of Burundian origin located in the greater Burlington area in Vermont. They sing this song as an introduction to their performance. The song helps the singers prepare themselves before they share their music. The song says “This is who we are, we are from Burundi.”

“The following song is about Burundian culture, about the harvest season. Those who harvest are grinding by using a pistil, the words say “I was there at the farm, I was alone, nobody came to help me so let me do it myself” and those who were not active, who were lazy, feel jealous. They say “Oh, now you’re harvesting, next year I should do like you.” The song is meant to encourage those people.”  – Aline Niyonzima

Listen to how the rhythm of the song will help someone who is working with a pistil to grind grain.

The song, in general, means:

Burundian children are traditional dancers. They value their Burundian cultureMany children among those traditional dancers, were born in the refugee camps,They did not know well where they came from (their original countries) But now they do. They did not lose their culture though they were in hardships in refugee camps, They struggled and they are still striving to regenerate their culture.

The song mentions children names, like “Agatha Arihehe.” This means Agatha is to come in front to tell the real story about Burundian culture of how they children dance, show up their style of dancing. Children know many different Burundian traditional dancing styles.

The chorus says: “Ntimurambirwe ni mubahe amashi,” which means:

“Don’t ever be discouraged by Burundian children when dancing, continue to support their dancing by clapping hands and many shouts.”

– from Aline Niyonzima