It is known that hegemonic narratives have a tendency to center themselves around white, cishet men. If things were different, perhaps Sister Rosetta Tharpe would be a household name. Often heralded as the “Godmother of Rock and Roll.” Tharpe combined spiritual themes of gospel music with unique rhythmic sensibilities, creating a sound that preceded rock and roll. In the early twentieth century, being a queer Black woman in the music industry was a rarity in and of itself. Still, she appealed to secular and religious audiences alike with her one-of-a-kind sound and influenced early rock stars like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis.
Such is the namesake of Dua Saleh’s 2020 EP, Rosetta. It is clear Tharpe had an impact on them as well. Like Tharpe, Dua must navigate the music industry as a queer Black person. Their music explores the conflict between their queerness and their strict Muslim upbringing: tracks like “smut” and “Sugar Mama” are confident displays of their sexuality, while “windhymn” grapples with sin and internalized phobias. Their sound is a mélange of hip-hop and R&B that finds them braggadociously rapping and wistfully singing in both English and Arabic, and their often abstract lyrics are reminiscent of their early work as a poet. Dua’s production choices – skeletal soundscapes with deep bass and eerie synths – reflect these themes.
2020’s release of Rosetta certainly has me excited for Dua Saleh’s debut album. Until that comes, I will be watching their music video on repeat.
Favorite tracks: smut, Warm Pants, Sugar Mama
– DJ Mango