Unrivaled: How the Elgizoulis Style Sudan

It was love at first ten seconds… When I selected RIVAL by the Sudanese singer-songwriter Hiba Elgizouli for my Style the Beat series last month, I didn’t quite expect the mad clicks and wow feedback that followed. Y’all were real into it. Turns out, it’s a story of three sisters… which, being from a Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s home state, I appreciate on the deepest cultural DNA level… so I had-had-had to know more about Hiba, Mai and Sally Elgizouli who collaborated on the track and the video. How does one interview three sisters? You make it an international community effort! I reached out to my online students at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to come up with questions reflecting their respective departments: fashion journalism, styling, design, photography. Thank you, LaResa JacksonClair CoxRay EnriquezYu LiuTom GalangLiz Chavez and Katherine Welsh for your contributions! Now, y’all re-watch the RIVAL video and check out the story!

What or who were the inspiration(s) behind the aesthetic of the Rival video?

Mai (Director-Producer): The location itself was the source of inspiration for me. When Hiba first started recording the song and I listened to it, I began to relate it to spaces in that house. The house is the most studied place for me; it’s stored in my imagination. The plants, all the details and my grandmother’s old possessions. The song is modern with Sudanese elements to it, so that was the engine of our visuals and fashion as well.

Sally (Designer-Stylist): I wanted to reflect in the garments the originality of the melody and the song and at the same time to add simplicity and depth in the details and colors. Most of all, I was always inspired by the beauty of our Sudanese hairstyles and the ways of dressing which vary according to age, time and race. You can find women with long soft hair in Northeastern Sudan and Sudanese Women with big afro hair in the West and South which they usually style into braids. Reflecting modernism was also one of the motives behind RIVAL designs. I deal with the body as a canvas where I wrap the cloth and paint and put the accessories all together until I reach the final that fits the whole idea and spirit of the song. It wasn’t complete without painting blue dots on Hiba’s skin which gave me the perfect finish for the look.

The garments, the accessories, the hair, everything was so on point… is the daily style in Sudan similar or more casual day-to-day?

Mai: The casual looks in different parts of Sudan are colorful and clearly inspired by the surrounding nature…

Sally: We intended to bring the pride of our natural hair looks in this video. Looking at the casual wear in Khartoum [capitol of Sudan] at first glance you might notice different hairstyles mostly hidden under the scarfs. Some of RIVAL hairstyles are actually quite casual but with the accessories and small modifications we intended to give the viewers this joyful feeling as if they are seeing something new.

If you had to choose, which would be your favorite Rival look and why?

Hiba (Singer-Songwriter): I know Sally and Mai love the pink outfit with the Sudanese traditional hairstyle (Almasayir) and the pink balls as hair accessories. Every once in a while, I go for a different favorite RIVAL look, but for now I think I’d go with all of them!

How would you compare Harare fashion scene to other East African style centers?

Sally: In comparison to Ethiopia or Kenya, for example, we are still at the starting stage, despite the attempts of many young people here. The reason for this is the 30-year period of stagnation and economic deterioration that affected cultural and creative production. It has left its mark on many levels and led to the collapse of spinning and weaving factories, which would have provided a space for fashion in Sudan. Imports have become overwhelming. Lately, most of the local attention has been dominated by the traditional costume toub, which is a 4 meters [about 13 feet] long garment with original custom prints and colors. However, it is clear that the restriction on freedom of expression has cast a shadow over Sudan.

What has been Sudanese creative community’s response(s) to the recent #JusticeForNoura campaign?

[Editorial note: the question references a guilty verdict by a Sudanese court for the 17-year-old Noura Hussein, who killed her husband defending herself from marital rape. The trial has garnered international coverage for gender-based violence worldwide.]

Elgizoulis: Most Sudanese artists, filmmakers, cartoonists and writers are supporting the campaign by appealing the judiciary to stand with Noura! This includes influential members of the diaspora like the Ibiza-based artist Dar Al Naim and Khalid Albaih who is a social justice activist now doing political art residency in Copenhagen. They use their art to spread the word of justice!

What is the creative process like between collaborating siblings?

Hiba: We trust each other’s abilities and talent very much, so it was really easy for us to accept our ideas. The fact that we’re sisters and grew up together means we sometimes have a similar way of thinking on the things that we like and dislike. So, I could simply say it was smooth, fun, and exciting. Except, when we disagree a little sometimes we waste too much time arguing about it, but that’s just because that’s what sisters do, right?!

What advice can you give young creatives trying to get into the global fashion/music industry?

Hiba: I’d tell the young musicians (myself included!) to just keep making music and not worry too much about anything else; just keep experimenting and be productive.

Mai: My advice is to write down all your ideas and start with what is readily doable! During the making of RIVAL, we didn’t have any money and personally I wasn’t at my best emotionally. But Art is where I found my comfort and happiness, so keep going despite the tough times! We need Art in our countries.

Sally: Hold on to your authentic unique ideas and don’t change them to fit the uproar surrounding us nowadays. Be different as long as you are keeping it real and genuine!

Elgizouli Sisters

NOW, let’s help the Elgizouli sisters fund their next music video! The story for the original song BIDAYA (Beginning) will be set in the Nile River ancestral homelands and highlight Sudanese peoples and their life/styles with an empowerment message for the new generation of Sudanese women. The cost of transportation and labor is $2000. Let’s chip in and take pride in another beautiful creation from the gifted family! The Go Fund Me campaign in active NOW.

Stay tuned for a list of Sudanese creatives that Sally, Hiba & Mai want you to know next!

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