Singing in the rhythm of peace: Meet Maboto Motivated and Princess Donna from South Sudan

Aug 3, 2021

By Charalampia Armpounioti

Living in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, Samuel Kuol Daniel and Donna Imanya Otome are two 25-year old musicians using their natural talent to advocate for peace and social justice. They both believe that, in a country where more than 70% of the population is under 30 years old, youth can be a driving factor for change, and urge their fellow youth to freely express themselves and speak up for their rights.

(Photo by Donna Imanya Otome)

The early years

Samuel or Maboto Motivated, as he is more widely known in the music scene, was born in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, and is currently living in Juba, South Sudan. He admits that it was his mother who instilled in him a genuine love for music; “She had the radio on most of the time, so I got attached to that”, he recalls. The childhood memories from his beloved mother who passed away in 2014 greatly influenced his decision to become a musician. A true artistic spirit by nature, Maboto has also studied fine arts, specialized in digital drawing and now works as a designer, alongside his singing career.

Similarly, Donna’s love for music started from a really young age; the young South Sudanese confesses that she kept telling her parents that her dream was to work in the music industry right after high school. Her first big opportunity came in 2015, when she joined the Talent Search contest and gained visibility to a greater audience. More commonly known as Princess Donna, she is currently working as a recording artist, radio presenter and peace activist.

(Photo by Samuel Kuol Daniel)

As Maboto admits, convincing his parents to become a musician was not all roses. “While my father was okay with my interest in design, he wasn’t initially happy with my decision to become a singer”, adding that for the first year of university he was forced to study logistics and procurement. Maboto waited until he moved to South Sudan to follow his true passion and start singing. “Today, I’m proud to say that my father is my biggest fan”, he affirms, boasting with pride.

Donna’s parents also insisted that she finish her education before jumping into the music industry. Once they realized how serious their daughter was about pursuing a career as a recording artist, they promised to provide her all the support she needed as long as she finished high school first. And they did keep their promise. As Donna recalls, her family, and especially her mum, gave her “all the support she could have wished for”, and countered every negative criticism along the way.

(Photo by Donna Imanya Otome)

Challenges and motivation

When asked about the challenges she faces as a young artist advocating for peace, Donna deplores that music is not a lucrative profession in South Sudan; songs are available for free and artists have to pay for their own recordings and videos. ”If you’re a musician you do it because you love it”, she affirms. Despite all adversities, she uses her songs to promote peace, wishing to provide fellow young South Sudanese with a platform to have their voice heard. “I have many young people who approach me or follow me on social media and I want to be the right person to bring their concerns to a wider audience”, she states.

In his life, Maboto stresses that his motivation stems from what he went through as a child. “Many of us who were born in South Sudan were born into war, we grew up in the midst of war, and now we still have violence.” He sees his country not only as his home but as his responsibility: “it is my responsibility to make it a better place for me and for everybody else living here. It’s my duty to advocate for the rights of people, for a united, more prosperous and peaceful South Sudan.” To him, it is the very sense of patriotism that motivated him to record songs like “Sawa Sawa” and remind everyone that South Sudan is one people, one nation and one identity.

(Photo by Samuel Kuol Daniel)

Youth in peace processes

Both Maboto and Donna are strong advocates of the active involvement of youth in peace and decision-making. “Young South Sudanese have tremendous power and potential”, underscores Maboto, and urges youth to participate in the socio-political life of the country, as they will be the future leaders of South Sudan. The young musician believes that young people should preach the gospel of peace in their own communities and families and share the message of unity with everyone they know. To him, this is a “collective and individual responsibility.

Acknowledging the richness and beauty of her country, Donna stresses the need for stability, as South Sudan is only now marking 10 years of independence. She admits that youth are often afraid to speak their mind and bury their problems. However, as “nobody can understand, empathize with and articulate the concerns of young people like youth themselves”, her message to her fellow young South Sudanese is clear: “speak up and speak out, and do not allow others to mute your voices.”

Like Maboto and Donna, two young South Sudanese women, Joy Mbraza and Hippai Benna, also help promote peace in the country through music. Watch them speak about how they use music to uphold women’s rights and support peace by clicking here.

Singing in the rhythm of peace: Meet Maboto Motivated and Princess Donna from South Sudan was originally published in We The Peoples on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.