It’s a scene that helps to capture the jubilant nature of Sudan’s protest movement.
The sky is dark, and throngs of civilians are circled around a Sudanese soldier, dressed in military uniform, as he blares his heart out on a saxophone. One spectator, dancing to the music, happily wraps the country’s flag around the soldier’s shoulders.
The moment was captured on video and made the rounds on social media this week, after months of popular protests pressured the Sudanese military to oust longtime President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for 30 years.
“I think the symbolism wasn’t as much in the music being played since music is a part of daily life, but in music being played by a soldier,” said Mohamed Satti, a Sudanese assistant professor of media and communication at the American University of Kuwait.
“[Bashir] was an army officer, and the army ran the country for almost 30 years,” he said. “For a soldier to play music in the midst of a protest signaled that change was in the air.”
Bashir’s swift departure has led to power struggles within his inner circle. Awad Ibn Auf, Sudan’s former vice president and defense minister, headed the country’s military-led transitional government for just more than a day before he, too, was replaced. Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, an army commander, is now in charge, and on Saturday, Salah Gosh, who served as head of intelligence under Bashir, also stepped down.
Bashir’s rule was marked by widespread social restrictions, particularly on women. But women have pushed back against his regime’s repression and emerged as some of the most powerful players in the ongoing movement. They are at the forefront of the protests.
And so is music.
Footage on social media has shown Sudanese protesters playing violins, the melodica and drums, as protesters chant and sing around them. Sudan has a long history of political music, and those songs seem to have resonated with crowds gathered in Khartoum, calling for a civilian government to replace Bashir’s regime.
The popular protests that grew with tremendous momentum in the past week, morphing into a large-scale sit-in in front of the presidential palace, have for many been a joyous occasion. And the Sudanese military has for the most part resisted cracking down on the movement. Some soldiers, like the sax player, seem to have even relished in the moment by joining in.