From Sudan to Sydney: Yasmin Ibrahim Mohamed’s love for music travelled with her to Australia

This week is Refugee Week, a chance for the wider Australian community to recognise the contributions that refugees bring to the country.  Refugees have sought a new home to escape persecution, war or natural disaster, and refugees have been settling in Australia for decades.  Refugees have definitely made a positive impact in their new country, and here’s a list of people who were refugees, or children of refugees:

  • Freddie Mercury Born in what is now known as Tanzania, this frontman for Queen left with his family as a child during the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution and resettled in the UK.  Now you can’t rile up a home team without chanting We Will Rock You, so thanks Fredddie! :)
  • MikaReleased the song Grace Kellyand is originally from Beirut, Lebanon.  His family moved to Paris in the 80s to escape attacks on the American Embassy during the Lebanese civil war (his father was American).
  • Anh Do:  Comedian and author of the book The Happiest Refugeewhich tells the story of how he and his family fled Vietnam by boat to arrive in Australia.
  • Frank Lowy: Mallrats, where would you be without a Westfields to roam through? As a child, he was held in a detention camp in Cyprus, then a detainee camp in Palestine, before moving to Australia.

Another name to add to the list is Yasmin Ibrahim Mohamed, one of the performers from the recent New Beginnings Refugee Arts & Culture Festival. Here’s what they say about refugees:

Refugees and asylum seekers bring stories of tremendously difficult journeys and challenging circumstances, but they also bring vibrant and unique cultural expressions and heritage with them, including beautiful dance and music, delicious food and new visual perspectives

Yasmin is originally from Sudan, and is now a vocalist and songwriter with her band, Yasmin and Fanous.  I chatted to her recently about her love for music, and how this developed as a university graduate with merely a hobby-like interest in singing to it now becoming her passion.

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Yasmin fell into singing by chance

I’m from Sudan.  My singing started after I finished uni.  I used to sing with the uni choir.  When I was back in Sudan (she went to university in Egypt), my friends kept pushing me to join a big band there.  I joined as a soprano singer, and I stayed with them for 8-9 years.  And that’s how I started my professional music career.

Yasmin says, “I didn’t imagine myself to be a part of a big band and performing everywhere”

I got that courage from my friends.  I was a big fan (of the band she joined). They addressed political issues, and social issues, and they just really sang for social change, and overcoming all the difficulties that people might feel or live, either in Sudan or anywhere in the world.

We released 2 albums and heaps of recordings on TV and radio.  The name of the band was Sawra.  It’s named for a waterfall in a mountain in Western Sudan.  That waterfall is very unique, because there are rocks and steps at different levels of that mountain, and when the waterfall comes down, it kind of makes a different light and sounds … musical!

… With the differences you try to work out the one goal and one aim

But the name is a reflection of the diversity of the band.  There were around 6-7 vocalists (1 soprano, 1 alto, 2 tenors, 2 baritones), and then the instrumentation kept changing (note – at this stage, Yasmin mentioned the term, human voices when she spoke about the vocalists, as if to differentiate the human voices from the voices the instruments make. Not sure many people would make that distinction, but there you are, only someone with the soul and heart of a musically minded person would find voices even in instruments.  I love that).  There were six instruments – guitar, bass etc. At the beginning period of that group, for 4 or 5 years there was a brass section, like a trombone and trumpet and saxophone.  So cool!  And then they changed after that … some people kept moving, it’s hard to start from the beginning and train new musicians, and the instrumentation changed after that.  

“My real music study was here in Australia, where everything just changed after that as well”

Look, I didn’t study it but they were training me in that way, in the verbal pracising.  For me it was a big change, for it to change from being a hobby to a professional thing.

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Family and community were a big help

The first people who introduced me into the cultural activities in Sydney were the Sudanese community.  They knew me from before, like they were fans of the group.  So I started singing one month after I came here, straight away.  Yeh, it was really amazing.  

But my husband and my kids are just beautiful, they’ve been supportive the whole time, and they’ve been into my projects as well, just with our discussions, and being supportive in different ways.  Also my mum, she’s been just wonderful.  And my sister and brother – always with me, listening to my work, communicating with me, and making things easy between here and Sudan.  

I am still in touch with musicians in Sudan.  They try to get my work from there, and get news from me over there.  And also my fans, they’re just amazing, just through social media, it’s amazing!  If I’m having performances and gigs here, I’ll announce it and they would be all into that, and they’re following what I’m doing.  I feel proud, and they feel proud, and they just support me along the way.

Performing in Sudan is different to performing in Australia

It is totally different.  There, I was in a group and I didn’t have to worry about many things.  A group project brings out different ideas. Differences as well, but with the differences you try to work out the one goal and one aim.  

Now I create projects from scratch.  So I have to do many things, including the studying of the music.  I enjoy that.  I see myself progressing.  Like, I’m learning.  I’m learning from this journey.  I’m learning from the guys with me in the band, I am learning in the band.  I don’t like to say, “Hey, let’s do this”.  No, I like to work together, we do a workshop, it’s fantasic.  I love it more.  

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Sometimes there are “disaster songs”

Some songs don’t take long.  I would compose it, then sit with my friend Michael who is a guitarist with me in the band, and workshop it for one day.  So maybe three days (to complete a song).  But other songs, we call them “the disaster songs”, where they take long or because of the different rhythms or different structure.  You know, I compose it in the Sudanese way.  I do whatever I like, if it comes, it comes! 

The message to the audience

My projects can be split into two parts.  One part is the lyrics, it speaks to people who understands the language.  I perform in Sudanese, it’s a dialect of Arabic. Most of my songs talk about social change, political things, and everyday things from happiness, to sorrow, to suppression, to hope, to frustrations, to poverty, to prisons, to everything!  So I talk about that, and people who talk the language get that.  And I suppose here in Australia I have different perspectives, and the music itself might be different.  

If I was performing in a big venue, and if we have more time and space, I would talk briefly about the song.  So I would say,  “This song is about hope, or nostalgia”.  But then it gets back to your question – music itself is a language.  It gives the space for people to share with me how they feel.  I share my feelings and share my stories through music, and then I would try, me, myself and the group, to provide that space for audiences where our music speaks to their heart, to their soul, just through their imagination.  And just to experience the music however they want it.  It’s a connection to the music and a connection to each other as well.

And with a different language, it’s amazing how we connect to that.

Starting again in Australia can be difficult

It’s very hard.  Immigration itself is very hard, let alone the other difficulties, you know.  The new place, the language, and getting adjusted to that.  And if you have a family, finding education and housing, that sort of thing, for kids, that’s hard.  But my kids, they’re finding it much easier.  Like my kids are in school and they’re part of both cultures, having both things from both countries, from Australia and back home.  Often when you come from a country where you have, you know, wars or devastation, that’s even harder.

My advice is that to remember that we are really blessed that we are in Australia.  It’s an amazing country, with an amazing society.  It’s a place of peace and freedom and positive feelings.  So, my advice is that we need to overcome our sorrow and sadness, and we need to overcome our difficulties.  We need not to put much more barriers in front of us, we even need to take those negative things and make them positive.  We need to move forward.  We need to contribute to the society and to the country.  Because in that way, we contribute to ourselves as well.  So that would be my advice.  And that wouldn’t be easy in a fragmented society, but here in Australia we supporting each other, we have that respect and understanding between people, and appreciation between people.  Respecting people’s background and heritage.

We need not to put much more barriers in front of us, we even need to take those negative things and make them positive.  We need to move forward

Yasmin’s future looks bright

I see myself with more expertise, and more in-depth in broader creation.  And that’s the thing, you never stop in one spot, you’re always learning.  I see myself performing everywhere, and my music being heard worldwide, and reflecting Sudanese music, but at the same time reflecting that change that happened through Australia, and to the people of Australia that made a big change in my music.

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Final thoughts from Yasmin

Oh the hardest thing (about starting over in Australia) is that everything is just new! People need time to get familiar and get adapted to the new place.  You need strength to overcome that.  But the place itself is encouraging.  The best thing to do is to take the negative and make it positive, otherwise we would be broken down and be, you know, doing nothing.


Yasmin performed during the New Beginnings Refugee Arts & Culture Festival, as part of Yasmin and Fanous. You can find Yasmin and Fanous online or via Facebook at


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