Kabli, Abd al-Karim al- (1932–)

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Kabli, Abd al-Karim al-

Abd al-Karim Abd al-Aziz Muhammad al-Kabli is a distinguished Sudanese musician, singer, poet, and researcher in folklore and culture. His creative contribution to Sudanese music is reflected in more than 150 songs and lyrics of diverse themes. His diligent efforts and research in Sudanese folklore have helped preserve important pieces of literary and musical heritage of Sudanese culture.

As ambassador of Sudanese music, Kabli has visited many countries and lectured on Sudanese music, folklore, and culture at different international academic institutions, universities, and cultural organizations. Kabli's wealth of contributions and distinct reputation has recently earned him an honorary doctorate degree in literature from Nyala University, Sudan. Based on his advocacy of women's issues, gender equality, and human rights, Kabli is currently a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) goodwill ambassador for Obstetric Fistula and Violence against Women.


Al-Kabli was born in the eastern Sudanese city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea in 1932. He received his elementary and intermediate education at Port Sudan Amiriyya middle school. His musical and literary talents emerged at an early age, and he developed an interest in both Sudanese music and the Arabic language. According to his Arabic and history teacher, the Sudanese historian Derar Salih Derar, Kabli's unique voice stood out among his classmates. Kabli later taught himself how to play the whistle, flute, and eventually he mastered playing the oud (a lute). Kabli moved to Khartoum at the age of sixteen, where he attended Omdurman secondary school. After graduating, he worked as a court inspector cleric at the Judiciary Department. While attending secondary school, Kabli continued playing the oud and singing for his friends and colleagues. Soon after, he composed the lyrics and music for his first song, "Ya Zahiya," which was then performed by the popular Sudanese singer, Abd al-Aziz Muhammad Da'ud. Kabli used the depth of his own melodious voice to create a solid base of a distinct musical career that has drawn a significant audience inside and outside of Sudan.

Kabli's major musical activity began in the 1960s with a concert that turned out to be a breakthrough in his career. The echoes of his song "Asia and Africa" constituted part of the inspiration felt during the decades of liberation and the calls for peace and development in the Asian and African continents. Kabli's lyrics, music, and songs reflect a multifaceted artistic genre ranging between modern, classical, folkloric, and nationalistic. He sang in both classical Arabic and colloquial Sudanese dialects. His music composition of the classic poem "Araka Assi al-Dam'" by Abu Firas al-Hamadani has been a part of his distinct contribution to Sudanese music of classical poetry. Among his numerous nationalist songs, Kabli performed his song "al-Khartoum" celebrating the 21 October 1964 popular revolution in Sudan.


"In general, I have been influenced by everything I listened to of Eastern and Western music, although I have been committed to the Sudanese style," said Kabli at the Awards Ceremony of Nyala University, Sudan, after he received his honorary doctorate on 12 May 2002. "Specifically, I have been influenced by the great singers that came before me including Hassan Atiya, Ahmed al-Mustafa, Abd al-Aziz Muhammad Da'ud, Ibrahim al-Kashif, Eltaj Mustafa, A'isha al-Fallatiya, and Fatima Elhaj. Fatima Elhaj had a unique style that affected me greatly."

Although the most dominant feature of Kabli's songs and poetry has been in the area of love and beauty, he is not restricted in theme to love songs, given that his songs have addressed other aspects of human life in general and Sudanese values in particular. Themes covered by his music include social and political issues such as women, children and youth, peace, and prosperity of human beings and world nations. His song "Fatat al-Yawm wa'l-Ghad" (The woman of today and tomorrow) celebrates women's important role in society. He has also contributed songs reflecting political realities in Sudanese, Arab, and African scenes and nationalistic sentiments. Kabli sang five songs in appreciation of the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. His recent works include a song with children against harmful traditions such as female circumcision and a long song on Sudanese heritage and values.


Name: Abd al-Karim al-Kabli

Birth: 1932, Port Sudan, Sudan

Family: Wife, Awadia Eljozali; three sons, Abdel Aziz, Muhammad, and Sa'ad; two daughters, Ni'ma and Dalia

Nationality: Sudanese

Education: Gadaref, Port Sudan, and Khartoum, Sudan


  • 1960s: Begins career as a Sudanese singer and musician
  • 1977: Retires early from the Judiciary Department
  • 1977–1980: Lives and works in Saudi Arabia
  • 1980s: Returns to Sudan and continues his music, research, and song career
  • 2002: Awarded an honorary doctorate degree in the arts by Nyala University, Sudan
  • 2004: Named UNFPA goodwill ambassador for Obstetric Fistula and Violence against Women in Sudan, and for his advocacy of women's health issues, gender equality, and human rights; travels around the world both as a UNFPA goodwill ambassador and simultaneously performing and lecturing on Sudanese music and culture

Kabli's creative and artistic contributions also extend to cover speeches and lectures in both Arabic and English that he has presented in cultural conferences and symposia inside and outside of the Sudan. He has also contributed to radio and television programs, and has written a number of articles for Sudanese and Arabic newspapers and magazines, including his introduction to Hasan Ismail Obaid's book The Sociology of Music.

From Kabli's perspective, the good arts, irrespective of type, are influential sources that enrich the heart of cultures. What he perceives as culture is necessarily the moral product of knowledge.


Kabli is from an Afro-Arab culture that he has transferred to the heart of Europe in London. He is a true ambassador of the Arabic and African songs. Because Kabli is a philosopher of Sudanese songs, those young Sudanese singers calling for renewal in Sudanese music need to learn from Kabli how to develop their own styles and performance. Art is a high reflection of human nature that needs challenge to develop the singer's performance. Kabli has challenged colloquial Sudanese lyrics and performed them with great confidence. Not only that, but he has transcended that to sing in classical Arabic at a time when singing has been weakened by negative images. A philosopher of his time and the time to come, Kabli is one of Sudan's creative singers who have received recognition by official and popular Arab, African, and world listeners.


In Socrates' words, "the unexamined life is not worth living." Kabli's legacy will reflect the values of his life as a superstar Sudanese singer, musician, poet, and researcher of Sudanese folklore and culture. The diverse themes of love, beauty, nationalism, peace, the environment, and social and political realities embodied in his songs will be passed on to generations to come. Kabli's legacy will also be felt in the story of his life as he shared his values, hopes, and dreams for the present and future, and life lessons he learned in the fields of music, poetry, and culture. Most importantly, Kabli will not only be remembered for his great role in developing the modern Sudanese song, but also for his significant role in preserving the heritage of Sudanese music and culture in his own unique style.


Telephone interview by author. 19 May 2007.


"Akeed 7anetgabal. YouTube. Available from http://www.youtube.com.

"Alhalim Sabana." YouTube. Available from http://www.youtube.com.

"Al Kabli from Sudan." Available from http://www.alkabli.net.

"Asiafrica." YouTube. Available from http://www.youtube.com.

"Tani Reeda." Hhatv.com. Available from http://www.hhatv.com/animation-videos51486.htm.

"Zaman al-Nas." YouTube. Available from http://www.youtube.com.

                                              Souad T. Ali


I am pleased with this honor. Although I was born in the city of Port Sudan, in the farthest eastern Sudan, I am being honored by Nyala University in the farthest western Sudan. This is exactly what I have been calling for when I lectured throughout the past three decades about diversity, the variety of the nature of Sudanese people, and the importance of belonging to a colorful country. It has been my deep belief that geographical boundaries need not be prohibitive and should never rob us of our love and affection.