Sallim Mafatih al-Balad سلم مفاتيح البلد (Surrender) Muhammad Wardi / Zoozita

2019 was another year of revolutions and protest movements in the Arab world. With long-standing leaders being toppled in Algeria and Sudan, and major protest movements breaking out in Iraq and Lebanon, some observers have referred to the events of 2019 as “Arab Spring 2.0.”

As frequently happens in these movements, one or several songs capture the popular mood and galvanize the protestors, becoming a sort of anthem of the revolution.

In the case of Sudan, it was an old protest song that was revived to express the Sudanese people’s criticism and demands of aging dictator Omar al-Bashir: “Sallim Mafatih al-Balad” (hand over the keys to the country). The song was originally composed in 1997 by one of Sudan’s most respected musicians, Muhammad Wardi, then in exile due to his opposition to al-Bashir’s regime. Although Wardi performed the song on several occasions, most notably at the Hague, he never released an official recording of the song before he passed away in 2012.

Muhammad Wardi never saw his dream of a free Sudan realized in his lifetime. But when protests broke out in Sudan in late 2018,  Sudanese singer Zoozita decided to pick up the torch and record her own version of the song, thus helping add Wardi’s voice to the chorus of a revolution he helped inspire, but didn’t live to see.

One linguistic note. In the version that Zoozita posted on YouTube, the title of the song was translated as “Surrender” — which certainly works well as an overall message for Omar al-Bashir — and that’s the translation we’ve retained for the song as a whole. But the verb سلّم in Arabic normally means to hand over or deliver something, and so for the song’s signature refrain “sallim mafatih al-balad,” we opted for “hand over the keys to the country” as the most idiomatic rendering in English.

Finally, for anyone interested in how Muhammad Wardi’s original version sounded, the YouTube video below provides a rare live recording of Wardi performing the song.

 

The march is advancing on you

عليك الزحف متقدم

You have a people that is assembled and determined

وليك الشعب متحزم ومتلملم

Saying “hand them over”

يقول سلم

Hand them over, but you won’t get peace from us

سلم ومابتسلم

When have you ever had mercy to be deserving of mercy?

رحمت متين عشان ترحم؟

Hand over the keys to the country

سلم مفاتيح البلد

Hand over our abayas and veils

سلم عباياتنا وملافحنا

Our Korans and our prayer beads

مصاحفنا ومسابحنا

Our mosques and our churches

جوامعنا وكنايسنا

Hand over the keys to the country

سلم مفاتيح البلد

Our forefathers’ heritage, hand it over

تراث أجدادنا سلمنا

Our children’s minds, hand them over

عقول أولادنا سلمنا

Our guns that shoot us

بنادقنا اللي بتضربنا

And that are aimed at our chests

الموجهة لصدورنا

Which are also our own

وبرضو حقتنا

Hand them over

سلمنا

Hand over the keys to the country

سلم مفاتيح البلد

Hand over the time that has been lost

سلمنا الزمان الضاع

Nights of exile and pain

وليل الغربة والأوجاع

Sorrows we have lived

أحزانا اللي عشناها

With the noble nation that is hungry

مع الوطن العزيز الجاع

Hand over the keys to the country

سلم مفاتيح البلد

Where will you flee from the great pain and hunger?

حتهرب وين من الألم الكبير والجوع

From your paid education?

من تعليمك المدفوع

From a people that has given you its blood, sweat and tears, only to get weakness and hunger from you in return?

ومن شعب سقاك لبنه سقيته من الهوان والجوع

You who serve nothing but poison

يا ساقي سمك المنبوع

Hand over the keys to the country

سلم مفاتيح البلد

Where will you flee from the tortures of memory?

حتهرب وين من الذكرى وعذاباتها

From mother’s milk and reckoning with the Lord?

ومن لبن الأمومة ومن حساب الرب

Where will you flee when your hands are stained with blood?

حتهرب وين وانت ايدينك الإتنين ملوثة دم

Blood’s own eloquence cries out and says “hand them over”

فصيح الدم ينضم وبتكلم يقول سلم

Hand over the keys to the country

سلم مفاتيح البلد

* Special thanks to Ted Swedenburg, whose blog post on this song helped with our background research. His blog is essential reading for anyone interested in Arabic music and its cultural / political significance.