Ahmed Said Abuamna, the premier Beja singer and cultural ambassador of that community, was born in eastern Sudan near the Red Sea, and is from the Hadandawa, the largest of the Beja clans. He comes from a long line of masankop players, and was taught by his father beginning at age 7. In addition to his wonderful voice and lyre playing, Ahmed is also unusually well-versed in the varied traditional dances of the Beja groups. He demonstrates in Otaak Band's performances the odd-time sword dances of the Bisharin of southern Egypt, the kamhirer, the graceful dance of his native Red Sea State that mimics the walk of the camel, and the athletic sera, typical of the Qadarif region near the Eritrean border.
He has taken first place in several regional and national singing competitions, and is always a featured performer at some of the Sudan's largest cultural festivals, such as the Port Sudan Tourism Festival. He travels constantly throughout Eastern Sudan and Eritrea performing with his own group, which includes several dancers, as well as at weddings, schools, and community centers, and is widely recognized as the current master of the Beja musical tradition.
Ahmed Said is the most fervent advocate for preserving the Beja’s language and traditions. His lyrics glorify his culture and its history, and he is one of the few willing to speak out about problems in contemporary Beja society- a severe lack of government services, nearly non-existent education and access to clean water, and crushing poverty.
He is compiling a dictionary of the old Beja language, by seeking out an ever-diminishing number of older speakers. He dresses daily and performs in traditional attire, and uses the handmade knives, combs, and oils that his ancestors have used for millennia.
In January 2013, Ahmed was a featured performer in the Nile Project, a cross-cultural summit of musicians and educators from the Nile countries, taking place in Aswan, Egypt.
Miguel Merino studied drumset in the University of Miami’s jazz program, and moved to Egypt in early 2009, where for the next three years he played with musicians from Egypt, the Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. This gave him the opportunity to learn many of the local hand drums, as well as the masankop, which he was introduced to by musicians in the Sudanese community. It also allowed him to recognize the strong connection between American and Sudanese music that has greatly influenced his composing style.
His vision for Otaak Band began to develop in the summer of 2009, shortly after meeting Ahmed Said on a rooftop in central Cairo. By this time he had been playing the lyre for a few months, and over long hours studying with Ahmed's guidance, he became more and more entranced with this ancient instrument.
Miguel hears the masankop as a lead voice, and early on recognized its potential as a versatile instrument. He has written lyre melodies that sound strikingly similar to authentic Sudanese ones, only to turn around and play the blues or a rock 'n roll song. He takes the lyre far outside of the traditional setting and experiments with layered parts, effects, guitar slides, and lyres with more strings to push the boundaries of this little-known instrument.
Miguel poured all of his musical experience into recording Bejawiya, arranging traditional Beja songs for the full band and writing several original melodies. As well as producing the album, he recorded drumset, hand drums, several different lyres, piano, background vocals, and a three-stringed North African lute called guimbri.