Of the musicians still composing and performing music in the traditional pentatonic scales of Africa, Abdel Karim El Kabli and Bashir Abbas of the Sudan are outstanding. Their performance last night at the Capitol Hilton confirmed their reputations as masters in the art of creative improvisation, so essential in music of the Middle East and Africa.

Backed by a local four-piece Ethiopian band, El Kabli and Abbas easily won over the mainly Sudanese, Ethiopian and Somali audience with a program of nostalgic, sentimental tunes familiar to the listeners. Among the Sudan's most noted contemporary poets, composers and musicians, El Kabli and Abbas are the most traveled and have become extremely popular in a large number of African countries through wide distribution of their LPs. Their songs are folksy, full of subtle expression with even a faint touch of Nashville--which explains why American country and western music is so popular in Africa.

Bashir Abbas, an "oud" virtuoso (the twelve-string Arab lute), opened the concert with "Ishte Ya Sudani," a popular Sudanese nationalistic tune, and premiered a new composition called "Washington By Night." El Kabli, the Sudan's most famous poet, singer, TV star and recording artist, followed with one of his most popular hit tunes, "El Ghourba," bringing many of his fans to the front of the stage to offer "tabshir," the traditional and spectacular custom of showing approval by dancing up to the performers, raising the arms and snapping the fingers. El Kabli said that the underlying theme of his music was unity and peace in his part of the African continent.

Both El Kabli and Abbas strongly maintain the distinctive style of Sudanese music by writing all of their tunes in the traditional pentatonic (five-note) scale. They remain popular with young and old in spite of the popularity of western music in most African countries.