"We All Have a Role in our Collective Liberation": Dua Saleh on the Single "body cast"
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Dua Saleh: “We All Have a Role in Our Collective Liberation”

Dua Saleh. Photo: Izzy Commers, courtesy the artist.

Spurred by the murder of George Floyd, Minnesota-based singer-songwriter Dua Saleh recently released “body cast,” a single that condemns police brutality and injustice. “We must take action to ensure the safety of our community,” Saleh said in a statement accompanying the release. “We demand justice for the family of George Floyd and countless others who have had their lives stolen by the police.” On the week Saleh would’ve graced the stage for Rock the Garden 2020, Walker curators Doug Benidt and Pavel Pyś invited them to share more about “body cast” and their recent work.

DOUG BENIDT (DB) & PAVEL PYŚ (PP)

Your sounds and words reveal a deep amalgam of international interests. Could you site a few pivotal influences?

DUA SALEH (DS)

Beyoncé

Nancy Ajram

Mohamad Wardi

Skepta

Burna Boy

DB & PP

You’re 25 and are exploring music, poetry, theater, and visual art. Do you think all these desires might coalesce somehow? And where would that evolution take you?

DS

I’m naturally drawn to spaces that allow room for imaginative curiosity and catharsis. All of these disciplines exist in an ecosystem that allows artists to transform their healing and storytelling practices. Often my music is poetically inclined, I arrive at concerts with a theatrical stage presence, and my visuals are informed by my writings/performance. I hope that through the full breadth of multidisciplinary art making, I can evolve into a more thoughtful and artist than ever before.

DB & PP

You wrote body cast over a year ago with the Minneapolis-based producer Psymun. Can you describe the original context in which the song was written, as well as how the murder of George Floyd urged you to release the song now?

DS

I wrote the song in 2019 with Psymun. I was still mourning Jamar Clark and Philando Castille, who were both murdered by police officers in the Twin Cities. It was a very personal song, and I was planning to save it for a future project. When George Floyd was murdered, I wanted to lend my support to people mobilizing in my city. I decided to release “body cast” and offer 100 percent of the proceeds to Women for Political Change. This is an organization mobilizing efforts around ending police brutality and injustice. They’re pursuing policy work and putting on fundraisers for medical supplies for protestors as well.

Dua Saleh, “body cast,” image by Braden Lee and Against Giants, courtesy of the artist and Against Giants.

DB & PP

“body cast” features audio from a 2019 recording of Angela Whitehead, a black woman in Montana, challenging two police offers for attempting to illegally enter her home. What was it about the recording the compelled you to include it in “body cast”?

DS

I was thinking about Angela Whitehead’s need to assert her right to safety within her own home. Black people fear unlawful invasion in our homes as police officers gun us down. I’m reminded of this deeply when I reflect on Breonna Taylor’s murder by police officers. She was mistaken for another suspect and was gunned down in her sleep by violent police officers. Her killers roam the streets free and uncharged. Hearing Angela Whitehead affirming her rights in this video was invigorating. The audio clip may be powerful but it is also a haunting sentiment. She shouldn’t have had to even address that police officer as he never should have entered her home in the first place.

DB & PP

Upon release, it was announced that the proceeds from body cast would go to Women for Political Change. Can you describe your ongoing collaboration with the organization?

DS

Due to the recent murders of Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau and Kirvan Fortuin, I’ve decided to donate 100 percent of the proceeds from the song to Women for Political Change, a group that’s active in the community and has been redistributing funds to Black women and Black trans and non-binary people under the age of 30. I want to help those who are vulnerable, especially people at the front lines of most protests here in Minneapolis and abroad.

DB & PP

You are an artist and activist. But during this reckoning and the moments of transcendence to come, you may be viewed as a healer too. How do you think the current protests and the galvanized activism of Black Lives Matter will influence your forthcoming work? What is the role of artists and art in the face of systemic racism and inequality?

DS

I am an artist, but I don’t identify as an activist. I am simply using my artist platform to boost information and redistribute funds. The arts are instrumental avenues for healing and justice. The arts can be used to center the narratives of people at the margins of society. It provides us supplements of joy and gives us mantras to build upon a movement. The role of the artist is to be there for the community in the same way that others are. We all have a role in our collective liberation.

Dua Saleh, ROSETTA, with a cover designed by Braden Lee.

DB and PP

You had agreed to perform at Rock the Garden this month. Like everything else, it was cancelled. What do you imagine the future holds for live performance?

DS

The arts are adaptable. Performances will not die, they will simply evolve. Many people are taking on the initiative to do live stream performances. Some venues are considering having a 6ft distance mandate between people at future live gatherings. There are a number of ways to navigate around issues such as these. I’m excited to see where people’s creativity will take us as we adapt to the times.

DB & PP

What would you like us to know?

DS

My ROSETTA EP just dropped, via AGAINST GIANTS, which was executive produced by Psymun. There were also contributions from Sir Dylan, Andrew Broder, Isra Saleh, and Velvet Negroni. This project was inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was credited as the inventor of rock ‘n’ roll. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a Black queer musician in the 1930s and ’40s who influenced many people who came after her like Little Richard and Chuck Berry.  We assembled the project together to tell stories about love. I want to imagine Black queer love in a radical and complex way.

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