“Kandakas and Meheiras”: The Emergence of Creative Citizenship and Belonging Through Women’s Music in Sudan



Based on ethnographic research and life history interviews with local and translocal women musicians in Khartoum (2018-2020), this paper reveals how, through their marked presence in the Sudanese revolution of December 2018, they have emerged as political actors and contributed to debates that recast understandings of political belonging. As a result, they have enacted diverse notions of gendered citizenship through their creative practice. These diverse women musicians, through their actions, created space for multiple subjectivities related to ideas about what belonging to the Sudanese nation meant and the symbols it evoked.


This article illustrates how the nation and the act of belonging to it are mediated through powerful feminine figures, which became even more apparent in the recent revolution in Sudan.  The imagery of the nation is feminized and the protagonists of this revolution are associated with iconic historicized women: the Kandaka (ancient Nubian queen) and the Meheira (after the historical figure of Meheira bint Abboud, who was a poet and warrior). This piece explores how these emblems are interpreted and embodied in diverse ways by women musicians to enhance their feelings of belonging to the crafted nation.  We examine young urban women musicians’ political roles, and how their performances have acquired political claims over time. We frame these belongings as acts of creative citizenship, beyond legal parameters, where some young women musicians emerge as actors who take particular stands in shaping political and existential belonging to Sudan through their creative musical practice.

Author Biographies

Katarzyna (Kasia) Grabska, Peace Research Institute Oslo | Norway

Katarzyna (Kasia) Grabska is a feminist anthropologist and a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, Norway. Her current research focuses on artistic practice in conflict and exile settings. She has also researched on issue of gender, youth, access to rights for refugees, and social transformations in the contexts of displacement, war and forced migration. Kasia works with visual media, feminist methodologies, collaborative and transformative methodologies. In her commitment to engaged and co-creative knowledge production and sharing, she often collaborates with artists and engages with art-based research to understand issues of civic engagement, social justice, belonging, displacement, mobilities and identities. She is also a film-maker.

Azza Ahmed Abdel Aziz, University of Khartoum | Sudan

Azza Ahmed Abdel Aziz holds a PhD from the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She is a social and medical anthropologist, affiliated with the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of Khartoum.  Azza’s research as a social and medical anthropologist has explored cultural understandings of health and well-being, which largely feature an exploration of the interface between such understandings and biomedical configurations of health. Her work pivots on how different individuals and groups access health and understand well-being on a continuum ranging from therapeutics based on cultural beliefs, sensory experience, bodily memory and those based on scientific epistemologies and biomedicine. She has in-depth experience working on these issues among individuals and groups whose lives have been subject to experiences of movement/migration, both in the UK and in Sudan. Furthermore, she has focused on the problematic of the diversity of Sudanese identities from the vantage point of the social and the political, to elucidate how it impacts processes of exclusion, marginalization, difference, belonging and becoming. More recently she has been working on the role of women in the Sudanese revolution of December 2018: their avenues of political participation during the transitional period, as well as how music and art are pathways in the quest for the construction of healthier modes of national identities.



2022-11-07 — Updated on 2022-12-07