It’s tempting to describe Dua Saleh as a natural. An artist who only began recording music two years ago isn’t supposed to sing with such infectious bravado and haunting gloom. Yet to say Dua, who identifies as gender non-binary and goes by they/them pronouns, has arrived fully-formed on their first ever EP project titled Nūr - (pronounced “noor” - meaning “the light” in Arabic). They may have just decided to try songwriting, but they’ve spent their life working across divisions: borders, mediums, identities, and protest lines.
Dua Saleh grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota’s Rondo neighborhood. It was there, in a black cultural center of the Midwest with a once-thriving soul and jazz scene, where Dua became obsessed with music. From the sounds of their home country of Sudan streaming from a satellite specialty channel, to the jazz-scat singers of the 1940s, to R&B and hip-hop of the early 2000s, to dancehall and afro-beat, everything was fair game for Dua.
It’s Dua Saleh’s fluidity – of sound, of form, of self-presentation - that makes them so enlivening. Their vocal range is elastic, floating from an elegant purr into an unvarnished, guttural growl, and then back again at a moment’s notice. Their writing can be dreamy, but more often plumbs the soul, pricking deep with a poet’s precision and showing the scars that remain. To listen to Dua Saleh is to hear, in real time, someone fight for the right to define themselves for themselves.