12th November 2021
I’ve been advised before, not to photograph the weddings of friends and family. It adds to the pressure on the day, I’m told. And I don’t often get to photograph weddings away from the South of the UK. But when a friend and former colleague, and coincidentally one of the finest people you know, is getting married to someone equally wonderful, and they ask you to photograph their wedding in North Yorkshire, you don’t say no. What you do is pick up your gear and get in the car.
Ali and Dalia’s backstory is like several of my couples from 2021, in that it reads like a Hollywood romance. Once childhood friends, their paths crossed again in 2020 in Khartoum and from that point, no amount of dramatic events, geography nor successive lockdowns could keep them apart.
This beautifully kind-hearted British-Sudanese couple got married in the 200-acre grounds of Middleton Lodge near Richmond, Yorkshire. A gorgeously restored wedding venue, the Boiler House Bar presented an intimate, cosy hall for the ceremony, and was adjacent to the Fig House for the Reception, a bright spacious hall featuring floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Walled Garden. Designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, the two acres of gardens were ablaze with Autumnal colours and a spectacular backdrop to the wedding.
Ali and Dalia’s wedding was a perfect reflection of their diverse cultural references, joyously and respectfully melding traditional and modern themes, and Sudanese and Western cultural touch-points. The soundtrack to the day was a perfect example of this, and in keeping with the Groom’s talents as a musician and performer.
The early part of the ceremony’s playlist featured two tracks from D’Angelo and so was a winner in my mind straight away. But, then the father of the bride walked his daughter down the aisle and gave her away to the strains of Sam Cooke’s ‘Nothing Can Change This Love’ – a quite beautiful choice. The day was punctuated by the shrill ululations of the most international congregation of guests I’ve yet had the pleasure of photographing. And as proceedings passed into the evening, the sounds became yet more authentically Sudanese, with an exceptional, live Sudanese band. This was the older generations’ opportunity to take on the dance-floor, and they did so with abandon.
I’d read up on traditional Sudanese wedding ceremonies beforehand, but nothing really prepares you for the vibrancy of the ‘Jirtik’. Dalia made the most dramatic, dazzling entrance; hands and feet intricately decorated in Henna, skin scrubbed and scented over several days, dressed in an eye-piercing red silk toub, and wearing a spectacular golden headpiece. No less impressive, Ali burst in behind Dalia in his jellabiya robe, with energy levels last seen on stage at his live performances as Juma MC.
The couple take their seats at the milayat aljirtig – a beautifully decorated throne which they share with the elder women whom take turns in wishing health, wealth and blessing of children; in front of them, a platter of Sudanese perfumes, incense and delicacies. The couple then take turns in spitting milk at each other – and no, that’s not a typo. I’ve read multiple explanations for this traditional ceremonial act, ranging from representing protection and commitment, purity, through to who will be the ‘boss’ in the couple’s lives together. Having seen it now for myself, all I’m sure about is that Dalia and Ali loved every minute of it!
As the day progressed from the traditional Sudanese wedding ceremony to the party, Sudanese songs made way for Afrobeats and garage tunes; the older generations’ spot on the dancefloor was immediately shared with the younger ones. Mr Eazi’s ‘Pour Me Water’ has been played on a loop here at home, ever since.
After a day featuring the most vibrant assault on the senses with Dalia’s beautiful traditional white wedding dress replaced by the visceral red and gold of Sudanese bridal robes, intricate henna decorations, incense and perfume, piercing ululations, and touching speeches from guests from across the UK and Sudan, it was the music through the course of the day that best encapsulated Ali and Dalia’s wedding day, and in some respects, them as a couple. Exquisitely curated, flawlessly executed, it combined the very best of Western and African traditions. The soundtrack of the day was one long anthem to this wonderful British-Sudanese couple. Congratulations Ali and Dalia.