In Jamal Mahjoub’s The Fugitives, Sudanese Music and a Road Trip

“The truth is, I’ve been trying to write this novel for years,” the British Sudanese author tells us. “I wanted to write about the impact of cultural fascism on artists, painters and musicians.”
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The Fugitives by Jamal Mahjoub.

The Fugitives by Jamal Mahjoub.

The British Sudanese author Jamal Mahjoub has a new novel out. The Fugitives explores the unique terrain of Sudanese music, narrated by a fan of the Kamanga Kings, a legendary fictional Jazz band that broke up, long before they received an invitation to perform in Washington D. C.

Rushdy, a secondary school teacher, lives in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and is the son of an original member of the band. When the invitation comes, he feels compelled to live out a reality much bigger than his, and along with his best friend, they set the journey of the book in motion: to get this legendary band to perform once again.

It is “the story of a road trip unlike any other,” Canongate publicity manager Lucy Zhou told OPEN COUNTRY MAG. “Set between Khartoum and the chaos of Donald Trump’s America, it is about friendship and the desire for home. Mahjoub brings to life a side of Sudan that is rarely seen: close intergenerational family relationships and a bohemian arts scene that has been suppressed by religious sanction.”

Canongate describes the novel as a “gently humorous and ultimately universal tale of music, belonging and love,” comparing it to Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments and Oscar Hijuelos’ The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and Buena Vista Social Club.

Jamal Mahjoub by The National News.
Jamal Mahjoub by The National News.

“The truth is, I’ve been trying to write this novel for years,” Jamal Mahjoub said in a press release to OPEN COUNTRY MAG. “Back in the 1990s, Bashir [Sudan’s corrupt president from 1989 to 2009] and his goons imposed the notion that Islam was the only culture the country needed—a complete distortion of history. I wanted to write about the impact of this kind of cultural fascism on artists, painters and musicians. Sudan’s music is popular and quite unique in its own right. No other music sounds the same. To bring the story alive I had to create a legendary band, one that everybody knew and nobody could forget. And so the Kamanga Kings were born.”

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Jamal Mahjoub has published eight titles since his first, Navigation of a Rainmaker in 1989, and they include In the Hour of Signs, Travelling with Djinns, The Carrier, and The Drift Latitudes. He also has at least nine crime fiction books under the pseudonym Parker Bilal, including the Inspector Makana crime series and the Crane and Drake series. His short story “The Obituary Tango” was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2005, and his non-fiction book, A Line in the River: Khartoum, City of Memory (2008), was longlisted for the Ondaatje Prize.

In a blurb, two-time Booker Prize finalist Chigozie Obioma calls The Fugitives “A novel of regeneration through music and the secret hunger of quiet lives. . .  from a truly great writer who deserves a very wide audience.”

Jamal Mahjoub’s The Fugitives was published by Canongate on 1 April 2021. BUY HERE.

Listen to playlists on Spotify and Soundcloud.

Emmanuel Esomnofu
Emmanuel Esomnofu is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. He is a culture journalist and has written extensively on Nigerian music and on several moving parts of popular culture. His writing appears online in Native Mag, Okay Africa, Kalahari Review, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere. He was published in print in The Muse, the oldest student journal in West Africa. In December 2020, he worked on "Fuji: A Opera" as a copywriter, creating informative and exciting stories from Fuji's rich history.

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