Refugee who fled war-torn country first student to release album on university record label

A refugee who put his music career on hold to flee an oppressive regime in war-torn Sudan has expressed his pride after becoming the first student or graduate to release an album on Liverpool Hope University’s new record label.

Mo Shabaka was a famous singer with popular Sudanese group, Igd al-Jalad, before socio-political instability forced him to leave his home in 2017.

The 44-year-old combined performing to tens of thousands of people in stadiums and theatres across Sudan with his high-flying day job in procurement for the United Nations (UN) in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Upon arriving in the UK, he decided to pursue his passion for music, enrolling on Liverpool Hope’s BA (Hons) Music Production & Film and Visual Culture course in 2018, before completing a Masters in creative industries in the summer of 2023.

As part of his Masters, Mo produced his own album titled ‘Toll Call’which the university is releasing on its Wild Hope Records label.

Launched in 2023, the student-led label has been set-up with the aim of creating opportunities for students, staff and musicians from local communities to engage in the creative process of producing and releasing music.

Mo’s 10-track record is inspired by his Sudanese heritage, introducing Sudanese music in a contemporary style and linking and merging pentatonic melodies with classical pop and modern jazz.

Mo said: “I am honoured to be the first student to release an album on the university’s record label.

“Music has been my whole life, but in Sudanese culture performing is seen as more of a hobby, so whilst I was successful with Igd al-Jalad, I had to fit music in around my career.

“When I moved to the UK I decided to start from scratch and chase my music dream so releasing this album is a really proud moment for me and my family.

“I am so grateful to the university for giving me the chance to do so. I loved it here, the campus and my tutors were brilliant and I love the city of Liverpool, too. The people are friendly, have a good sense of humour and embrace different cultures.”

Mo arrived in Liverpool hoping to build a new life but the political instability in Sudan continued to impact him from afar.

Since war broke out in April 2023, more than 15,000 people have been killed in the conflict, whilst the UN says more than seven million people have been displaced.

Three of Mo’s friends from his days as a performer in Sudan are among those to have lost their lives, whilst his mother and brother were forced to flee to Egypt, making a fortnight-long journey to escape the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

All of this happened as Mo was working on his album, which contributed to his final grade in his Masters, but the stress caused by the concern for his loved ones forced him to put everything on hold.

Mo added: “I was devastated.

“It is impossible to describe the worry I felt at that time. I had lost three friends as a result of the bombing in Khatoum, including one member of Igdal-Jalad who I performed with.

“My mother and brother left their homes and travelled to a different city to take a bus to Egypt with 10 other families, but whilst they were making that two week journey the military and militias would have checkpoints and there were reports they were killing people who wouldn’t give them money.

“I wanted to be with my family and I wanted them out of Sudan. It was a nightmare. I got into a serious depression and had to call my GP and in the end I had to take a break from my studies and stop working on the album because I had no creativity whatsoever.”

Things are now looking up for Mo, who graduated from his Masters in the summer of 2023.

He is working in an operational role at Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and has settled in Allerton with his three children and wife, who is working in finance for the NHS.

He reflects with pride on what he has overcome to graduate and release an album and, with his family now safe in Egypt, he is looking forward to resuming his love of performing.

Mo said: “I am really proud of what I have achieved.

“Music has been a constant in my life so to have the chance to release an album here in an iconic musical city like Liverpool is a dream come true.

“I am enjoying my role at Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, which allows me to continuing working in a creative space and I am definitely going to start performing again, hopefully at the festival itself and Africa Oye here in Liverpool and also all around the UK.”

You may also like...