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Symbol of freedom, Sudanese pop radio is silent: NPR



"I'm trying to keep hope because everyone is leaving, brother," said Ahmad Hikmat, content director of Capital FM in Khartoum. "I lose my team one by one."

Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Getty Images


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"I'm trying to keep hope because everyone is leaving, brother," said Ahmad Hikmat, content director of Capital FM in Khartoum. "I lose my team one by one."

Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Getty Images

When Omar al-Bashir was ousted from the Sudanese presidency in April 2019, there was an explosion of new culture in Sudan. In a country subject to strict Islamic law, graffiti suddenly appeared on the walls. Music of all kinds blown by the speakers. Men and women openly mingled in a protest camp in front of the army headquarters.

Capital FM, a popular music radio that has been at the center of the spring cultural revolution, is a striking example of these post-military repression changes.

"It was so beautiful and we were so proud to be a soul," said Ahmad Hikmat, content director of Capital FM, recalling Capital's creativity. "You would wake up in the morning, and you would hear a song on Capital Radio that called Angelo." Who would play Angelo in the morning, you know? It's just 91.6 FM that would make it."

But the cultural awakening ended when the military junta at the head of the country violently interrupted protests in the capital, Khartoum. Now, Capital FM is fighting for survival.

Now, as Hikmat crosses the empty station, the walls are bare. The sound panels have been dismantled. You can still see the traces of glue that kept Keith Sweat, Kenny Burke, Ray Charles and The Roots vinyl records that decorated the studio.

By pushing the boundaries in an Islamist country, Capital FM had become the symbol of modern Sudan. It started as a house music station and then became a cultural center. They had even started organizing parties with DJs and bands where young Sudanese could literally let themselves go. But since the militarization of Khartoum, the government's censors have stopped broadcasting the radio station for hours. For Hikmat, it is a clear sign that soon security forces will break the doors of Capital FM and confiscate everything – so he has begun to separate the premises.

"It's a bit dark at the moment, because we painted the walls black because of everything that's going on," said Hikmat.

By pushing the boundaries in an Islamist country, Capital FM had become the symbol of modern Sudan. Now, the waves of the station are almost silent.

YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP / Getty Images


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YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP / Getty Images

By pushing the boundaries in an Islamist country, Capital FM had become the symbol of modern Sudan. Now, the waves of the station are almost silent.

YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP / Getty Images

Hikmat says one of his main jobs at Capital is to keep what he represents intact – a utopia of progressivity. Recently, this task has been particularly difficult. A staff member of Capital FM was killed in the protest camp, and many other people are wondering if a company like Capital is possible in Sudan at this stage. "I'm trying to keep hope because everyone is leaving," he says. "I lose my team one by one."

To express his feelings about Capital FM and Khartoum, Hikmat said that Marvin Gaye's "Make Me Wanna Holler" never left her.

"For me, it's the song that comes to my mind when I drive down the street, looking at the remains," Hikmat said. "I see these guys, you know, sitting there, chilling with their big-a-guns, and that song just plays me in the head."

Listen to all the story broadcast via the audio link.


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