Dubbed by Maverick Music Magazine as the “very epitome of world music: no boundaries, no rules,” Canadian supergroup Sultans of String have released their brand-new single, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).”
The song features the four core Sultans, as well as incredibly talented and inspiring special guests Tara Salah Moneka and Ahmed Moneka, and arrives ahead of this November’s upcoming album, Sanctuary.
Originally written by Sonny Bono and sung by Cher and Nancy Sinatra, this is a new take on the song that speaks to people from the perspective of marginalized voices; it is a benchmark of how the world has changed with the Black Lives Matter movement and the thirst for equality around the world.
Toronto-based Sultans of String worked with Ahmed on their previous album, Refuge. An artist and a musician from Baghdad, Iraq, Ahmed came as an artist to Canada, and then stayed as a refugee in order to save his life.
“I love what I’m doing here now, and Toronto gave me a lot of opportunity to continue my journey as an artist,” he said. “I used to be an actor, and a lot of projects and my work focus on human rights and supporting the story that no one has told before. I came to TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, as a main actor in a film called The Society, and this movie was the first film talking about the history of homosexuality in Iraq, and the first film like it of its kind in Iraq.
“We filmed the film, but we were scared to screen it until 2015,” Ahmed continued. “Then, the first premiere was at the Cannes festival, and it was a nice, amazing exposure to the film.
“At the same time, there was a revolution in Baghdad in the summer of 2015, with a lot of ISIS in the north of Iraq and people fighting. There was crazy chaos. Several people, like the open-minded people, were taking over. So I was part of the revolution as well.
“And then, in September, I came to Toronto, and TIFF were screening the film. They made a big exposure of this film; they went to my father, because my father is very well-known as an actor in Iraq, as well, and told him, ‘Hey listen, if Ahmed comes back, we’ll cut his body into little pieces, so you’re not allowed to come back. Let him stay in Toronto.’
“I was exiled, literally, from my country, and that was really crazy. I started my journey without knowing any English, and then started learning in an ESL school as a political refugee, in a new country, and that’s why I ended up in Toronto.”
It was just this past year that his super talented younger sister, Tara, and the rest of his family joined him here, with an emotional greeting at the airport in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic that risked derailing the entire settlement process. She was also forced to flee the country with her parents after receiving multiple threats from militiamen against her singing. To them, Tara’s music is considered forbidden (haram. They would shut down events where she would appear and directly threaten her life.
“Ahmed and Tara are amazing individuals,” Sultans of String bandleader Chris McKhool said. “They are so strong, and full of hope for a better tomorrow.
“And I think, in a way, they teach us to be better Canadians by seeing our country through their eyes!”
Since his arrival, Ahmed has certainly ingratiated himself to his adopted country and has collaborated with many artistic institutions, including the Canadian Opera Company, Tarragon Theatre, Aga Khan Museum, Tafelmusik, Driftwood Theatre Group, Toronto Jazz Festival, Koerner Hall and many others. He is one of the founders of the band Moskitto Bar and is the creator and leader of Moneka Arabic Jazz — a 2019 Stingray Rising Stars Winner at the Toronto Jazz Festival. His sister, Tara, seems to be following in his footsteps and becoming a key player in the local arts scene.
“Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” is available now in standard stereo as well as Dolby Atmos. Sanctuary is available Nov. 10.