At home with Alsarah & The Nubatones

Vision’s Andy Buchan speaks to the lead singer of the retro-pop quartet about searching for home through music in Sudan, Brooklyn and Dubai

‘My name is Alsarah and I'm a Brooklyn based singer/songwriter hailing from Sudan. I have a band called Alsarah & the Nubatones and we practice what I like to call 'East-African retro-pop.'

A succinct introduction, but there’s a lot more to ethnomusicologist Alsarah and her group the Nubatones, fresh from playing their second, sell-out gig in Dubai on March 9.

Born in the volatile Sudanese capital of Khartoum, Alsarah’s family escaped to Yemen when she was eight before fleeing again to the US following an outbreak of civil war in 1994.

Fast-forward nearly a quarter of a century and the picture is very different. Based in Brooklyn, the Afro-funk star still jumps from country to country but nowadays it’s on tour with founding member Egyptian percussionist Rami El Aasser, bassist Mawuena Kodjovi and fellow New Yorker and oud player Brandon Terzic.

The band’s 2014 debut album Silt is a beguiling mix of Arabic and North African influences exuding an exotic, polyrhythmic blend of music with a modern day hipster touch. 

Alsarah & The Nubatones 2
The Afro-funk star with founding member Egyptian percussionist Rami El Aasser, bassist Mawuena Kodjovi and fellow New Yorker and oud player Brandon Terzic

But there is a connecting thread to the 32-year-old’s lyrics that unite her music and help it to resonate across the world, she says.

‘My lyrics are usually about life and a search for home. From simple love songs to socio-political pondering, its all about life and home at the end of the day to me.’

Dubai, with its diverse crowd, must feel like a home-away-from-home for Alsarah, not least thanks to the rapturous reception she’s received both times from a packed out Music Room at The Majestic Hotel.  

‘Absolutely,’ she smiles. ‘I'm from a large cosmopolitan city and have travelled around the world to end up living in another large cosmopolitan city. My sound is a reflection of the meetings and fusions that occur (most often but not necessarily always) in large urban centres.’

‘I am always inspired by different people I meet on the road and I make note of those encounters for reflection later on. From Dubai to Cairo to Nairobi, every experience counts.’