Local Eritrean Ethiopian-American poet and singer-songwriter Lula Saleh just dropped her latest video poem. It's about Nabra Hassanen, the Muslim teen girl who was brutally abducted and murdered in Virginia earlier this month. Made in collaboration with hip-hop artist Sidiq Abdullah, “Nabra: A Eulogy Poem” creates a space for healing in the face of violence.
“I saw the news [of Hassanen's horrible death] pop up on my Twitter feed,” she says. “I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so triggered, so overwhelmed.” A Muslim and immigrant herself, Saleh couldn’t focus on her work the next day. “What am I going to do with this emotion?” she thought.
She began to write a poem.
Saleh knew almost immediately that it would be a video. “The visual just came to me,” she says. “This is very sad material, so I wanted to evoke that, but also create a space for healing. I wanted it to be very meditative, and I wanted to make people find relief.”
The pieces includes flower imagery as a way to symbolize life and change. Saleh also conjures spirituality, with references to Islamic terminology and prayers. “I wanted something that memorialized her,” Saleh says. “Something that would memorialize what she went through, to create space for her and to be able to grieve.”
Fluent in poetry, spoken word, and music, Saleh doesn’t like to be put in a box. She plans to release a musical project later this year. Thematically, she does touch on political and social topics, but there's also love, fun, and more carefree themes.
She does, however, feel obligated to use her art as a platform. “I don’t want Nabra or anyone like her to be on the long list of forgotten names who have been killed because of their racial, religious, or gender identity,” she says. “We are living in a time where violence is the norm.”
Saleh has performed at local venues including Intermedia Arts, the Dakota, Pillsbury House Theatre, and Honey. Video is a newer form for her, and includes her video “How Many More Must Die?” about the dangerous journeys of refugees searching for a better life.