Diaspora is a trip. For the socioeconomically privileged, diaspora is a pretty word made up of sensible longing, promises of greener pastures. For others, it is a sinewy thread of expulsion. A experience of relentless displacement and indescribable loss. Diaspora, for some, is a choice. And sometimes, it is anything but. So it goes.
For Mah Moud, a Toronto-born-and-raised Eritrean singer-songwriter son to two Eritrean non-singer-songwriter parents, diaspora is about feeling. On Maba, his second EP released earlier this month, he draws a map of his geographical inheritance. Starting in Gezabanda, Eritrea, the journey mirrors that of his parents and the parents of many first-generation East Africans: to Roma, to Khartoum and Cairo, to the settler-colonial state of Kanata. The clips cut into each track offer their own latitude and longitude. If you listen closely, his words do, too. “Home means everything and nothing,” he says to me over email. Listening to the project, its hard to believe that’s true.
Singing about love and destruction, Maba, at 14-minutes long, is a snapshot of a snapshot. A particular story of particular conditions. It does not attempt resolve or healing. And on “Kanata (29th Avenue),” a natural end is found to an unending, unnatural thing. “What do you mean ‘what do I mean?’” a child says, mid-conversation. In the clip, he speaks to the ongoing oppression of various minority groups: African-Canadians (and I would take it further to suggest Black Canadians), Indigenous peoples, refugees. When asked if it—this mammoth ‘it’—happens in Canada, the track crackles slightly. “I believe so,” he decides.
Who is Moud?
My name’s Mahmoud, I'm 20 years old... I know this is the part where everyone says "I've been singing my whole life blah, blah, blah.” I think I'm a cool person. I don't know. This is a hard question.
How did you start singing?
Singing was always weird to me. As a child, I used to take my dad's cell phone, call my home phone—making sure that no one answered—run into a quiet room, and record 30-second messages of me singing. Usually something like the Jonas Brothers. I'd then rush back to the answering machine, make sure no one was around and listen... I'd smile, and then I'd delete the messages.
Where are you from? What does it look like?
My parents are from Eritrea, and though they have a deep-rooted tribal history that traces back to the towns of Massawa and Senafe, they were born in Asmara, in the neighborhood of Gezabanda. I was born and raised in this area of Toronto called Leslieville. I used to be able to go to the corner store and get an RC cola, a freezie, a chicken patty (had to switch to vegetable patties when Ma yelled at us for them not being halal), and candy, all for under $5. Now, with all the pregnant yoga ladies and cafés on every corner, your boy buys a small fries for $12. (Spotify, come through with the check. I'm not tryna fast outside of Ramadan.)
Let’s talk about the EP, Maba. A bunch of the songs are named after places in East and North Africa: Gezabanda, Khartoum, Cairo. What does that represent, in the project?
Maba is completely dedicated to my parents. It's the portrayal of their journeys as refugees through music. The wars, the friendships, the exposure to an immense collection of cultures and identities. Every place offers up its own story.
Can you tell me about the skits? Who is speaking on them? Why did you find them important to add?
The skits are there to offer a perspective of the place being portrayed. I think language and the preservation of language is so important in understanding identity. I know that generationally, things change in diaspora. My kids won't speak the language of my parents (and their parents’ parents). These skits will forever exist as reminders [of that lineage].
In “Gezabanda,” the vocal clips are in Tigrinya, Tigre and Saho, languages native to Eritrea [and other countries in Africa’s Horn]. The Tigre and Saho recordings are cut from documentaries and films I’ve seen. The clip in Tigrinya is a personal recording; the ones in “Khartoum” and “Kanata” are recordings of my interactions with my family.
What's changed for you since the last EP? How did you approach the making of this one?
Truthfully, not a whole lot. My mum still thinks music is Shaytan's work*. But with this project, I decided to take the responsibility of telling my parents’ stories. Artistically, I had to remove myself from the equation and play the role of an aqueduct. I took their stories in hopes of preserving them. Maba is a reminder.
*= Happy belated Eritrean independence day and Ramadan Kareem and good morning/afternoon/night only to East African mothers who call music Shaytan’s work
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