30 Days : 30 Artists from Trump’s 7 Banned Countries

By: Brock Stuessi


Protest is a fluid concept.  In that I mean to say the what, how, and why protest “is” changes as much as the cycles of oppression and injustice protest targets.  Regardless of the ends and means, to protest is to act subversively against systems of oppression whatever you identify those systems to be.  Trump’s recent travel ban on immigrants from Libya, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq calls, in my mind, for protest.  In thinking of ways to act, I came along the idea to compile a list of musicians from these seven countries, in order to showcase the incredible humanity and creativity Trump’s hateful, dualistic and un-American policy will keep out of America. It’s important to acknowledge the political regimes and cultures many of these artists live under add an inherent political tone to their work.  Many of these artist have been forced to flee their homeland because of war and violence, in this way these artist give a face to the faceless refugee xenophobic American policies attempt to lock out.  To create in oppression is a necessary act of resistance, and to present their work in America is to stand in solidarity with that creative resistance by means of our own.  To defy globalism is to defy the incredible artists and people of the entire world, to defy xenophobia is to embrace the incredible musics and cultures you will find below. Above all, I hope you enjoy the music of these incredible artists and appreciate the beautiful creators Trump’s ban throws fear and hate against. Please feel free to reach out at brockstuessi2018@u.northwestern.edu if you have artist suggestions or comments.


Day One: Naseer Shamma, Iraq

Shamma, who was born in Al-Kūt, Iraq and studied the Oud in Baghdad, was forced to flee to Cairo during Saddam Hussein’s regime as political refugee and remained away from his beloved country of origin during the entire occupation of the U.S. military.  Under the occupation of al Qaeda music was forbidden and reason for execution, in the past few years Shamma has been able to return to Baghdad on a few occasions for concerts and educational sessions, he currently runs Arab Oud House, a music conservatory, in Cairo in addition to his activities and collaborations as an artist.

Day Two: Emmanuel Jal, Sudan

Jal’s story is one of violence, loss, and escape.  Forced into being a child soldier in the Sudan Liberation People’s Army as a seven year-old attempting to flee the war torn Sudan to Ethiopia, Jal eventually escaped the clutches of the army into neighboring Kenya.  While studying in Kenya, Jal used singing as a way to ease the pain he had experienced as a child soldier in Sudan and in becoming a musician hoped his music to promote the unity of the citizens to overcome ethnic and religious division and motivate the youth in Sudan.  Jal now lives in Canada and spends his time as an activist and musician spreading his story of loss and hope to the world.

Day Three: Mohsen Namjoo, Iran

Mohsen Namjoo combines religious songs and the everyday, American rock and classical Persian rhythm, Hafez and Rumi with street slang.  For these incongruencies, which in many ways reflect the incongruencies of contemporary Iran, Namjoo was forced into exile from his hometown of Mashhad after the New York Times released his illegal music.  Music outside of the traditional religious forms is banned in most of Iran.  Before leaving the country Namjoo operated in the Iranian underground music scene, giving secret shows in DIY basements and carefully distributing his music.  Though making music in itself was a political act for Namjoo, he does not write explicitly political music, in part recognizing the ways political dissent would only reduce his artistic credibility within Iran: “It’s important that you get your identity from art, and not animosity. The nature of art is not war.”
Namjoo currently lives in America as an Iranian immigrant, where he performs and has also been a visiting scholar at Stanford and Brown.  In the same way Namjoo’s career embodies a political struggle in Iran, he now stands as a testament to the beautiful people open American borders bring into our country at a time when Trump’s administration has attempted to close them.


Day Four: Lena Chamamyan, Syria

Born to an Armenian family in Damascus, Lena Chamamyan grew up singing in both Armenian and Syriac choirs, as well as oriental Arab music.  With the encouragement of her grandmother, Chamamyan decided to pursue singing at the conservatory level and along the way encountered the American Jazz idiom and classical forms.  The music she creates now is a blend of this myriad of influences, injected with lyrics about the social situation in contemporary Syria.  This social situation forced Chamamyan out in 2010, she currently lives in Paris.  In an interview with News and Noise! she had this to say about Syria : “You can’t be Syrian and just live above or beside the situation. Every Syrian is affected by the situation, especially artists connected to the people. There’s no work, so no money, being confronted with too much death and unfairness daily. We feel lost. As if we’re losing our country and losing the trust in each other. I feel we reached a point where no one is protecting the Syrian people. The politicians’ actions cause more deaths and my first concern is in stopping the bloodshed and the deaths and to give the people hope. I keep asking myself questions like where are we going? What can we do? Well, we should never lose our relation with Syria, keep caring for each other, keep supporting each other. We should keep caring about every death because it’s all human blood being shed. Everyone has the right to say his opinion. It’s not possible to just stay silent, but sometimes you just can’t talk.” (https://newsandnoise.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/we-should-support-each-other-an-interview-with-lena-ch…)

Day Five: Kawi, Yemen

The outbreak of hip-hop in Yemen often traces back to the influence of American-Yemen rapper Hagage “AJ” Masae.  Kawi is one of the young disseminators of the genre and appears to now split time between Yemen and Nuremberg, Germany.   While not much information is available on the life of Kawi, he and his contemporaries, under the name of Yemen’s Montsers, exist primarily on the spheres of YouTube and Twitter.

Day Six: Ahmed Fakroun, Libya

Originally from Benghazi, Fakroun’s career as a musician can be best described by the ways he has straddles Europe and Libya. In terms of his European influences, Fakroun takes after Europop and French Art Rock. As a young child, he picked up the electric bass though he also plays the bouzouki-like saz, mandol and darbouka drum.  His combinations of European and Arabic forms have deeply informed popular Arabic music, and he maintains his ties and roots to Libya following a large period of exile during Muammar Gudaffi’s oppressive regime under which all forms of music were illegal.

Day Seven: The Yellow Dogs, Iran

Much like Mohsen Namjoo, the Yellow Dogs came up in the underground Tehran scene, where western rock influenced music was illegal.  The band cites Joy Division and Talking Heads as influences and play strictly western rock instruments for The Yellow Dogs.  Following their musical contribution to the film No One Knows About Persian Cats and an interview with CNN, the band was forced to flee Tehran.  They played their first “above-ground” show in Istanbu in 2010 and have since made home in Brooklyn.  In 2013 two members of the band were shot and killed in New York City by another disgruntled musician, the remaining members of the band have continued making music, though The Yellow Dogs ceases to exist.

Day Eight: Kahbez Dawle, Syria

Khebez Dawle is a Syrian five-member rock band. Founded in Damascus, Syria in the late 2012 as a one-man project, the band consolidated in a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon in early 2013 after fleeing the conflicts and crises of their own country. Anas Maghrebi, Muhammad Bazz, Bachi Darwish and Hikmat Qassar & Dani Shukri make up the band and are currently working on a follow up to their 2015 self-titled debut.

Day Nine : Nancy Agag, Sudan

Having split time between her birthplace of Omdurman and the Netherlands from a young age, Nancy Agag brings a unique blend of styles to her renditions of traditional Sudan songs.  Though she has spent more than half of her life outside of the war-torn country, her connection to the history of Sudan through music acts as a lifeline between her shifting modern global life and the conflicts of her home.  Now based in Khartoum, Agag and the Kush Music Band perform music from all parts of Sudan in an effort to unite the shattered country under one peaceful cause of music.

Day Ten: Akvan, Iran

Akvan is the solo “Aryan Black Metal” project of Vizaresa, blending the sounds of western metal instruments with traditional Persian instruments like the tar and setar.  His songwriting tackles Iranian history and mythology through deeply considered meditations on his own culture and how it is misinterpreted—not only by outsiders, but by his own country’s leadership.  Even the mythologically-charged name of the project, Akvan, aims to encourage western audiences to seek understanding through education about Iranian tradition.  In a similar way Vizaresa attempts to reclaim and debase the racist implications of Aryan in reference to his own music and the black metal community.   Listen and find out more below.

Day Eleven: Omar Souleyman, Syria

Perhaps the most popular musician on this list thus far, Omar Souleyman got his start as a local wedding singer in his hometown of Ra’s al-‘Ayn in Northeast Syria.  He has released over 500 studio and live albums, both from his private engagements as a wedding singer and beyond.  In recent years he has worked increasingly with European dance producers like Four Tet to create a very unique blend of Syrian electrified folkloric dabke, Iraqi choubi and Arabic shaabi that has captured the ears of a worldwide audience.  Souleyman, in both appearance and sound, challenges conceived negative Western notions and racism toward Arabic culture, and in doing so stands as a testament to the ways music can break down walls of ignorance.

Day Twelve: Wirephobia, Iraq

As he describes himself on his bandcamp page: “Wirephobia is a guy who likes noise music and makes noise music and the albums here are all noise so be careful little child the road is hard to go!”  That and his hometown of Erbil, Iraq are the only two things we know about this elusive Iraqi noise musician, and somehow it makes his music all the better.

Day Thirteen: Groupe Amnar Awal, Libya

There is very little information available about this large band from Tripoli.  The music, like much of the recordings above, is a blend of Western instrumentation and traditional Libyan rhythms and singing styles.  Under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, music was essentially banned.  This ban accounts for the lack of publicly distributed music leaving the country at the current moment as the music community slowly forms amid more political instability in the country.  Listen and learn here: https://groupeamnarawallibya.bandcamp.com/album/awal-akalin

Day Fourteen: Sahra Halgan, Somaliland

Sahra arrived in Europe in 1992, a political refugee from her native Somaliland, a territory in the North East of Somalia (East Africa), formerly a British colony, self-proclaimed independent since May 1991, but as yet unrecognised by the international community.  Halgan began singing at the thirteen and throughout the Somalian civil war worked as a nurse, using her music as a form of medicine for the soldiers she treated.  She now uses her music to spread awareness for the unrecognized state of Somaliland, which has remained independent from Somalia as a sovereign democratic state for over 15 years.  Halgan currently splits her time between her home in Hargeisa and touring Europe and Asia.


Day Fifteen: Porya Hatami, Iran

Porya Hatami is an experimental sound artist based in Sanandaj, Iran. Working in the field of ambient/minimal, his compositions explore the balance between electronics and environmental sounds, utilizing processed acoustic and electronic sources and field recording. Hatami is concerned with the land itself and how sound travels through that land, and his albums often feel like journeys through landscapes both imagined and real.

Day Sixteen: Sinkane, Sudan

Born Ahmed Gallab, Sinkane has grown over the course of his career to be a true blend and amalgamation of his many musical and geographic influences. Though he has spent the majority of his life in the U.S. , Gallab considers his origins to be Omdurman, Sudan. Gallab left Sudan when he was five because of political pressure on his professor parents and migrated to the U.S. In his music Sinkane makes near constant reference to his roots in Sudanese pop music and rhythmic structures, while also bringing in his many electronic and new-funk influences into the sound. Before releasing his own music, Gallab worked as a session musician for Caribou and Yeasayer and fronted the Atomic Bomb! Band, a tribute act to William Onyeabor. His newest album “Lif & Livin’ It” is out now on City Slang.