Songs from the Nuer

The Nuer ethnic group hail mainly from present-day South Sudan and western Ethiopia. The South Sudanese Nuer and Ethiopian Nuer I’ve talked to consider themselves pretty much the same: the language, cultural practices, et cetera are quite similar across the border. The Nuer language is part of the Nilo-Saharan family, and, like many Nilotic populations, they are traditionally semi-nomadic pastoralists, with cattle forming an important part of everyday life and society. That being said, many Nuer now are quite educated and cosmopolitan, living and working in urban areas all over sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, the United States, and Europe.

Musically, studio production and adoption of international sounds is increasingly common among Nuer musicians. This does not necessarily mean abandonment of preexisting sounds and musical practices, however. Musicians may combine traditional texts and melodies with synthesized beats or sample local instruments such as the drums. Moreoever, studio production and international sounds coexist with older musical practices, which one can especially hear in vocal aesthetics and melodies of some singers.

Song topics include religion (mostly Protestant Christianity), love, and socio-political issues. Most of the songs I have included here involve some sort of social and political advisement, particularly regarding the war in South Sudan, ethnic tensions in Ethiopia, and promotion of education and development.

Explore and enjoy!

Credits and Bibliography

Research Associates

Chang Kot Nyak (aka "Mha Chang")
Gatwech Koak Nyuon
Lim Chuol
Marnaath Jangjuol (Mana Chuol)

Bibliography

Feyissa, Dereje. 2011. Playing Different Games: The Paradox of Anywaa and Nuer Identification Strategies in the Gambella Region, Ethiopia. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Hutchinson, Sharon Elaine. 1996. Nuer Dilemmas: Coping with Money, War, and the State. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Svoboda, Terese. 1985. Cleaned the Crocodile’s Teeth: Nuer Song. New York: Greenfield Review Press.