I heard about Ajak Kwai on a recent episode of Music of Africa on KBCS. Ajak is a Sudanese refugee living in Australia. She grew up in a small town called Bor in the Malakal Region of the Upper Nile where villagers would gather for ceremonies under the moon, singing and dancing throughout the night. These celebrations left a big impression on Ajak as a child. Unfortunately in 1992 due to political and religious unrest, Ajak was forced to flee Sudan for Egypt. She spent seven years in exile in Cairo, where she put together an all-female group with fellow refugees to perform traditional and Dinka songs. Eventually she was granted refugee status under the UN Humanitarian Aid program and moved to Australia to join other Sudanese refugees in Tasmania. Ajak mixes her rich Dinka roots with grassroots Australian music to create raw, uncompromising grooves.
She released her debut album, Why Not Peace and Love? in 2004, which features the sounds of the cattle camps in the the East African savannahs fused with the bustling rhythms of metropolitan Australian life. 2008 saw the release of Come Together, which was produced by multi-instrumentalist Chris Basile. Come Together features a tight, funky sound with her accomplished band mixing Afrobeat and soul in a nice set of powerful songs. Her song “All My Wives” is a stunning track that features the best of the band with Ajak’s moving vocals and asks when is it the right time for a woman to have many husbands? Her latest EP is entitled Rieuke Piu (Watersongs), which came about after Ajak visited the remote Australian Indigenous people’s community at Beswick in the Northern Territory. These songs celebrate the shared spirituality shared by all people based on water as the essence of life. You can find all of Ajak Kwai’s music on CD Baby. To see Ajak Kwai and her band in action, watch a performance of “All My Wives” below or on youtube.