The debut EP from the Sudan-born, Twin Cities-based singer, poet, and activist reveals an artist with a warm, sophisticated sound and captivating presence on the mic.
Dua Saleh’s first language was Arabic, but they’ve been speaking English for so long that it’s begun to slip away. That detail is, simply, true; it’s also the kind of character note—specific and a little bit sad—that might pop up in one of their songs, which tend to deal with issues of social posture, identity, and heritage in short, impressionistic bursts. Their debut EP, Nūr—that’s “light” in Arabic, as well as a common gender-neutral name—is a superb show of control, lean except when it decides to lash out.
Saleh was born in Kassala, on the Eastern edge of Sudan, but moved to the Upper Midwest after a brief stop at a refugee camp in Eritrea. They’ve established themselves as an artist in the Twin Cities across a variety of disciplines: singer, activist, and poet. That sensibility is clear at times in their music, with its economy and densely-packed details, but what sets Saleh apart from similarly lyric-minded writers is that they resist the urge to make all the other elements of a song subservient to the writing. Nūr has stretches with compelling vocals that do not form words at all, and ones where the vocals are mixed so that the words are nearly masked. Saleh’s voice is powerful enough to contort into nearly any shape without losing its distinctive character.