Is Maha AJ’s “Love Letter to Sudan” More Problematic than Problem-Solving?

Maha Jaafar, also known as Maha AJ, released her first song “Salimmik” on Nov. 12 to widespread acclaim. Released as part of YouTube’s “Creators for Change” initiative, the video has over 2 million views and 46,000 likes to date. Jaafar is a dentist/comedian based in Dubai who has used her platform to advocate for pan-Arab understanding and solidarity.

The title of the song “Salimmik” translates to “Greetings” in her native language, Arabic, and invites the viewer to take a journey through her home country, Sudan. Jaafar takes us on a stunning visual journey through Sudan’s diverse geography, from its Western ports to the Northern deserts. Jaafar introduces elements of her culture, such as a scene from a traditional bridal ceremony and a dance known as Kirang from Western Sudan.

The half-Iraqi, half-Sudanese artist attempted to push for Sudanese unity by rapping “سبعاطاشر ولايه كلنا سودانين /states and we’re all Sudanese”; however, there are elements of exclusionary representation in her video. First and foremost, the faces of the seventeen states shows an alarming lack of diversity. As she makes the above statement, the film displays a quick series of faces meant to represent the 17 states of Sudan; however, they do not seem to accurately reflect the ethnic diversity of the country. Instead, most of them look like they belong to one of Sudan’s Arab-African tribes and not the rest of the country that currently suffers from the racist propaganda of the state.

In addition, at times, the video seems to be more of a mimicry of Western rap than an attempt to create an organic Sudanese rap style. Flippter, the Sudanese rapper featured on the track, ends his verse with an overly comedic delivery of “Rastas!” Despite the fact that Rastafarian culture is not present in Sudan in any significant way, the rapper calls out the name of this group. Rastafarian culture is generally looked down upon within Sudanese culture and so this unnecessary shoutout seems, at best, out of place and, at worst, disrespectful.

Despite these issues, the video should be credited for its breathtaking videography and the creative inclusion of Sudanese music to a traditional hip-hop beat. This is the first major Sudanese rap video of its quality and reception. And, as Jaafar says, the video is “100% Sudani made” and features designs from Sudanese designers (Boutique de Nana, La Leenah, Cleoturbana).

One response to “Is Maha AJ’s “Love Letter to Sudan” More Problematic than Problem-Solving?”

  1. Isn’t the segregation really brought on by the secession of the South? And the Arab garb is not necessarily exclusive to Afro-Arab Sudanese, but is also worn by Afro-Sudanese too. African-Americans dress like Americans. Why would Afro-Sudanese dress differently from the rest of Sudan?

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