Dua Saleh

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Dua Saleh
Saleh stands onstage holding a mic; a DJ is behind them
Saleh (left) performing in Brooklyn, April 2022
Background information
Also known asDua
BornKassala, Sudan
OriginMinneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
  • Rap
  • pop
  • R&B
  • Singer
  • actor
Years active2017–present
LabelsAgainst Giants

Dua Saleh (IPA: [duˈʕæːʔ][needs IPA][1][2]) is a Sudanese-American singer and actor based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their debut EP Nūr was released in January 2019 by the Against Giants record label to critical acclaim, with their second, Rosetta, released in June the following year.

Saleh, who came to the United States from Sudan as a child, wrote poetry from an early age. While attending Augsburg University, they began to experiment with music, eventually releasing a demo in 2017. Shortly after, they began to work with local producer Psymun and began performing their music live, culminating in their 2019 EP release. Their music has been characterized as rap, pop, and R&B, although they have also been described as defying genres. In addition to writing and recording music, Saleh has also acted in theater in Minneapolis and is known for their recurring role as Cal Bowman in the Netflix series Sex Education.

Early life[edit]

Saleh was born in Kassala, Sudan, to a family with Tunjur heritage, who are originally from Chad/Darfur.[3] Saleh's family became refugees of the Second Sudanese Civil War in the 1990s.[3][4] They fled Sudan when Saleh was five years old and moved several times, first to Eritrea, then to North Dakota, Maine, and Newark, New Jersey, before settling in the Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota.[3][5][6][7] Saleh attended Saint Paul Central High School and has cited an awareness of danger, systemic oppression, and resistance in their upbringing as a source for their interest in community organizing.[3][8] After graduating from Central, Saleh studied at Augsburg University where they double-majored in gender, women's, and sexuality studies and sociology.[3][6][9] During their time at Augsburg, they led a walkout from their former high school through the St. Paul Youth and Collegiate Branch of the NAACP in protest of the school-to-prison pipeline at Central.[9] Saleh has also been involved with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Pan Afrikan Student Union, the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, and Augsburg's LGBTQIA Student Services.[3][5] They graduated from Augsburg in 2017.[10]


Saleh began writing poetry when they were four years old and performed at their first open mic in their senior year of high school.[11] They used poetry to process experiences in their life and continued performing around the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area while in school at Augsburg.[3] Their poem "Pins and Needles" was recorded and shared on Button Poetry's YouTube channel where it garnered tens of thousands of views by 2017 and over one hundred thousand by 2018.[10][12] They have also performed as part of the Queer Voices series at Intermedia Arts.[13]

While studying at Augsburg and working full-time, Saleh began to find that poetry was not giving them "enough nurturing sustenance".[11] They said of this time that "I was trying to do way too much, and my body was just like, 'No, you need to release something.' The melodies started coming in, and I think that was my body reacting and wanting to heal me, in some ways."[11] Saleh did not consider themself to be a proficient singer but connected via a mutual friend to producer Mike Frey to experiment with recording.[12] In Frey's home studio, he played a four-bar beat that Saleh mumbled over until Saleh announced they were ready to record; Frey expected four or eight bars from Saleh but Saleh ended up performing an entire track in a single take, with Frey manually extending the beat to keep up as Saleh sang.[12] According to Frey, the resulting single take was "such a good performance that we decided this is what we're going to run with"; it was released on May 10, 2017, as "First Take", Saleh's first single, under the stage name Dua.[12][14]

Following the single's release, Minneapolis producer Psymun reached out to Saleh about working together; this surprised Saleh who was familiar with Psymun's work but thought he was based in the United Kingdom.[5][15] "First Take" was well-received online and was followed by the release of Saleh's first Psymun-produced single, a performance at the Eaux Claires festival, and a collaboration with Florida rapper Chester Watson ("Void Interlude").[10]

Saleh stated they were not in a rush to put out music but that by October 2018, they had "a lot of fuckin' songs" recorded and intended to release an EP later in the year.[10] Local alternative newspaper City Pages listed Saleh at number four that year on their annual Picked to Click list of new artists the publication's writers were excited about.[10] Saleh's debut EP, Nūr, was released on January 3, 2019, on the Against Giants label under their full name, Dua Saleh.[15][16] The five-track Nūr received positive reviews from Pitchfork and Robert Christgau and was supported by a music video release for the song "Warm Pants" that April.[17][18][19] They released two more videos that year, for "Sugar Mama" in October and for their new single "Pretty Kitten" in December.[20][21]

By early 2020, Saleh was noted in the Minnesota Daily as having a national following.[11] Saleh characterized their musical success as feeling like an accident to them, and said that they were still in the process of developing their identity as a musician.[7][11] Their next EP, Rosetta, was released in June 2020 and their third, Crossover, came out October 2021.[22][23]

On May 30, 2020, Saleh released the single "body cast" to address police brutality.[24] Proceeds from the song's download on Bandcamp are being donated to the Minneapolis-based justice organization, Black Visions Collective.[25][26] The track includes audio clips from a 2019 viral video of Angela Whitehead standing up to police who illegally entered her home.[25][27] The song's video lists the names of unarmed African Americans killed by the police.[25]

Saleh was cast in the third season of Netflix's comedy-drama Sex Education as the recurring character Cal.[28]

Musical style and influences[edit]

Saleh lived what they described as a "super-sheltered" childhood and grew up listening mostly to older Sudanese music and Nancy Ajram.[6] In high school, when they got a laptop, they listened to a great deal of jazz from the 1940s and later turned their attention to 1990s hip hop.[6] Subsequently, Saleh "went through a year or two of finding as many queer artists as [they] could", citing Mykki Blanco, Le1f, and Kilo Kish among the artists during this period who "saved [their] life".[6] They have also cited the music and lives of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight as influences, including naming their second EP after Tharpe.[22]

Saleh said that among other reasons for making music, "[i]n Sudan, there's a lot of queer, trans and non-binary people who are closeted, so I try to put out as much content that's like, the gay and trans agenda, as possible!"[22] On Rosetta, Saleh released the track "Smut", sung partially in Arabic, hoping "to break into the Sudani market" and connect with Sudanese listeners.[4]

Saleh's music has been categorized as rap,[6][18] pop,[17] and R&B.[17] Christgau described Saleh's performance style on Nūr as rap-singing while Michelle Kim characterized their vocal performance style as alternating "between deliciously tactile rapping and spellbinding singing".[4][18] Saleh also been noted for defying genre in their music.[4][15][18]

Personal life[edit]

Saleh's first language was Arabic, which they said in 2017 was a "struggle to maintain" because of their immersion in English.[5] Saleh is Muslim, but they do not consider themself "religious in the institutional sense".[4] They have discussed their relationship with traditions of Islamic attire, stating that traditional "attire isn't reflective of [their] personal relationship with the deen, but reflective of the image of a Muslim that [they've] been indoctrinated to believe is socially accepted".[29] In high school, they were elected vice president of Central's gay–straight alliance; when their mother discovered pamphlets for the organization in their backpack, she sent Saleh to Dugsi Academy, an Islamic charter school in Saint Paul.[4]

In addition to writing and performing music and poetry, Saleh has also acted, including in 20% Theatre Company's November 2018 production of Waafrika 123 in Minneapolis.[10]

Saleh is non-binary and uses the pronouns they, he, and "the neopronouns xe/xyr/xim".[7][30] They came out as non-binary while in their second year at Augsburg but have said they "always been on gay shit".[4] They live in Minneapolis.[15]



  • Nūr (2019)
  • Rosetta (2020)
  • Crossover (2021)


  1. ^ Spotify Presents: Pollen: Dua Saleh. Dua Saleh. September 8, 2020. Retrieved September 16, 2020 – via Facebook.
  2. ^ White People Love Fractions. Button Poetry. June 4, 2020. Retrieved September 16, 2020 – via Youtube.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Hanke, Franki (December 15, 2016). "West Bank Open Mic to feature Dua Saleh". The Oracle. Hamline University. Archived from the original on December 21, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Kim, Michelle (May 22, 2020). "Out Loud: Dua Saleh Is the Nonbinary Muslim Artist Who's Breaking All the Rules". Them. Archived from the original on May 22, 2020. Retrieved May 22, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Johnson, Cecilia (July 7, 2017). "You Need To Know: Dua Saleh, a poet finding their singing voice". 89.3 The Current. Archived from the original on June 30, 2019. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Harris, Keith (September 11, 2019). "Dua Saleh is just getting started". City Pages. Archived from the original on December 7, 2019. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Riemenschneider, Chris (January 18, 2019). "A rapper and poet with 'accidental' buzz, St. Paul's Dua Saleh releases debut EP". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on February 6, 2019. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  8. ^ Burnette, Daarel, II (March 16, 2011). "St. Paul school plan is OK'd". Star Tribune. pp. B1, B5. Retrieved February 8, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ a b Regan, Sheila (February 27, 2014). "'School-To-Prison Pipeline' Sparks Protest, School Walkout". The UpTake. Archived from the original on August 14, 2019. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Madden, Michael (October 17, 2018). "Picked to Click 2018 No. 4: Dua Saleh". City Pages. Archived from the original on January 6, 2019. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d e Gorinshteyn, Ksenia (February 2, 2020). "Finding identity, Dua Saleh morphs poetry into lyricism". Minnesota Daily. University of Minnesota. Archived from the original on February 9, 2020. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d Johnson, Cecilia (May 10, 2017). "Song premiere: Dua nails their 'First Take'". 89.3 The Current. Archived from the original on November 15, 2019. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  13. ^ Eler, Alicia (October 21, 2017). "What would be lost if Intermedia closes? Twin Cities artists reflect". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on August 21, 2018. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  14. ^ Jagota, Vrinda (March 27, 2018). "5 Muslim Artists to Follow for Muslim Women's Day". Paper. Archived from the original on July 8, 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c d Johnson, Cecilia (January 17, 2019). "Interview: Dua Saleh talks 'Nūr,' Psymun, and 2018 takeaways". 89.3 The Current. Archived from the original on August 19, 2019. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  16. ^ Montes, Patrick (December 7, 2018). "Dua Saleh Connects with Psymun for Debut Single, 'Warm Pants'". Hypebeast. Archived from the original on December 9, 2019. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  17. ^ a b c d Thompson, Paul A. (January 18, 2019). "Dua Saleh, Nūr EP". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on September 13, 2019. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  18. ^ a b c d Christgau, Robert (March 1, 2019). "Robert Christgau on Dreezy's Step Up and Dua Saleh's Spooky, Abstract Rap". Noisey. Archived from the original on February 9, 2020. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  19. ^ Tambini, Kim (April 5, 2019). "You Should Watch Dua Saleh's Video For 'Warm Pants'". OkayAfrica. Archived from the original on April 7, 2019. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  20. ^ Price, Joe (October 11, 2019). "Premiere: Watch Dua Saleh's 'Sugar Mama' Music Video". Complex. Archived from the original on February 9, 2020. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  21. ^ Hahn, Bryan (December 13, 2019). "Dua Saleh takes their 'pretty kitten' video to a new level with fan-contributed face filters". The Fader. Archived from the original on December 30, 2019. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  22. ^ a b c Hall, Jake (April 20, 2020). "Dua Saleh highlights the erasure of queer black artists with their new EP". i-D. Archived from the original on April 20, 2020. Retrieved April 20, 2020.
  23. ^ Park, Sue (October 28, 2021). "Dua Saleh, Crossover EP". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on October 30, 2021. Retrieved October 28, 2021.
  24. ^ Strauss, Matthew (June 1, 2020). "Dua Saleh, Minneapolis Artist and Activist, Shares New Song on Police Brutality". Pitchfork. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  25. ^ a b c Riemenschneider, Chris (June 1, 2020). "St. Paul rapper Dua Saleh issues single 'body cast' in response to George Floyd tragedy". Star Tribune. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  26. ^ "body cast, by Dua Saleh". Bandcamp. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  27. ^ Leung, Gabrielle (June 1, 2020). "Dua Saleh Addresses Police Brutality With New Single "body cast"". HYPEBEAST. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  28. ^ Petski, Denise (September 24, 2020). "'Sex Education': Jason Isaacs, Jemima Kirke & Dua Saleh Join Season 3 Of Netflix Teen Comedy-Drama". Deadline. Archived from the original on September 24, 2020. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  29. ^ Taylor, Vanessa (June 21, 2017). "5 Black Muslim Women On Why #BlackOutEid Is Important". The Fader. Archived from the original on September 20, 2019. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  30. ^ Saleh, Dua [@doitlikedua] (October 11, 2020). "hey I know I'm already out and I love the pronouns that I use they/them/theirs & he/him/his but I've also been referring to myself with the neopronouns xe/xyr/xim #NationalComingOutDay" (Tweet). Archived from the original on October 12, 2020. Retrieved October 11, 2020 – via Twitter.