Gordon Koang is a musician that grew up in the Upper Nile region which is now South Sudan. He plays music to make people happy and spread a message of peace and unity! A blend of traditional Neur rhythms and original compositions in English, Arabic, and his mother tongue, Neur; his music infectious as is his million-watt smile that lights up a room. Despite his challenges in life, being born blind and having to flee his home country due to unrest and civil war, Gordon is one of the most positive people we’ve ever met.
GORDON KOANG: Let me tell you this, forgive me for my English because at times it’s not good because I learned it six years ago when I came to Australia from Africa. I didn’t know how to speak English but, the conversation that I have and the discussion with musicians in Victoria, I learned English.
That’s absolutely fine. How about you do your best and I’ll do my best!
GK: Yes! Thank you very much [laughs].
I saw in your Instagram stories that you have been making a gospel record.
GK: That’s true. We started last week. Yesterday I did two songs and now I record already three songs and there remain only seven and it will be a full album.
Why did you want to make a gospel record?
GK: Because my history is very long when I start the music. I have a very long background from when I was born to when I start the music, I started in church.
I know that you’ve been playing music for 31 years; why do you love to play music?
GK: It’s a very long story, if I come there to tell you this, it’s really very good. I’ll do it properly. I start my music exactly as you say, 31 years. In 1989 I was a boy at the time that I start the music. Let me go from my beginning time from when I was born from my mother, I was born blind—I never see this world. When I become eight-years-old I get a teaching from my cousin, the man, his name is Luka – he is not still alive, God has taken his life – he teach me to learn my instrument; the traditional one, its name thom. He teach me and then when I know how to play the thom, I decide to go to church to play the choir songs. When we play the songs together with the choir it was 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995.
I become sixteen years, I decided to pray and ask God; what I can do? ‘Cause I understand all world has so many Gods, but I choose Jesus to be my God when I was a young boy. I pray to God because I know myself that I will not be able to do work because I was born blind. All my brothers and sisters, they are seeing and I’m not seeing. I say, I can pray to this God, the God I choose; this God can help me with a way for what work I can do in the world. I ask him and he get me to do the music, gospel alone, and then I decide to do my own song. When I start to learn the thom 1988 to 1996, then I compose my own song.
Wow! That is such a beautiful story, thank you for sharing that with me Gordon. When you started writing your own music back then; what kinds of things were you writing about?
GK: When I pray, dreams would come to me. In 1996 a dream come to me that somebody like angel come to me like a person, that’s how it look like, it said: do your music and talk about love, peace and unity among the people, then they will understand you. When you talk to people and you are blind and you tell them to love yourself, have unity and have peace among you, they will understand what you are saying. Love is not broken, somebody cannot see it but it’s in your heart of people. Unity, nobody will see it because it’s in your heart of people. Also the peace, nobody can see the peace, it’s in the heart of people. The angel told me like that and I decide to compose my songs talking about love, talking about unity and talking about peace.
Have you always loved yourself?
GK: Yes, for sure. Exactly! I start loving myself first and then I go to other people. I reckon when people love when I’m playing it’s because I am singing and playing thom at same time. When you love yourself this is the way you will love other people. You talk to me and I see you love me and now my heart went to you and I love you so much!
Aww that is so lovely. Love is the best thing.
GK: Yes, for sure. Love. Unity. Peace.
Your new record that will be coming out soon [August 14] is called Unity, right?
GK: Yes, that’s true.
In these times we are in now I think we need more love, peace and unity. Your album is very timely.
GK: Yes. Now I also to do another album, it will come up when this album went to the people… we record it for the Coronavirus, the songs, it will be an album for it.
You’ve also just released a remix for your song ‘Mal Mi Goa’ by Ginoli (James Ireland); what did you think of the remix when you first heard it?
GK: He’s a very good man. I play my thom and then the brother did the remix. What I think about is to make people happy, to give them a smile and then I also need them to think about me when they listen to my song, even if they don’t understand the language they can still feel the music.
I love that music can transcend language. Even though I don’t know the language that you sing in, I still feel the sentiment, the feelings behind it, the intention.
GK: Exactly! I am singing in Arabic and Neur, my mother tongue, and the little English that I have—I compose some songs like this. “Stand Up (And Clap Your Hands)” and another one say “My dear Asylum Seeker, we know you are waiting for your permanent protection visa” sometimes it’s hard, but be patient I tell them.
What does your song ‘Stand Up (And Clap Your Hands)’ mean to you?
GK: Song ‘Clap Your Hands’ mean to show people my love because you see sister, when you are a blind person you are in a different world ‘cause even when I love them when they love my songs they don’t know when I love them because… people tell me they love hearing from the higher person. I show them my love and say “Clap Your Hands” don’t keep quiet, move your body and come up here on stage with your partner and you can dance; show us your style! That’s what we say with my band. I feel them and they feel me.
I’ve been listening to your new song that will be released [today] on June 19 ‘Tiel E Nei Nywal Ke Ran (We Don’t Have a Problem with Anyone)’; what is the feeling behind this song?
GK: Yeah, that one I compose and Neur my mother tongue! I show the people that will listen to my song that we don’t have a problem with anyone. When I show my band how to play the lines and I play the solo with my thom, we need only people to become happy, we don’t care what they think about… what we need to change their minds to be happy always because if you are happy you decided to do all the beautiful things, all the good things. This world sister, we are coming into it for a short time, when we were in our mother’s stomach for nine months and then this world for ninety years if you are lucky, and if you are very lucky 120 years. We need to do our best and to do things that will remain with our coming generations.
On your new album Unity; is there a part you think stands out as being very interesting?
GK: A lot of things interesting. ‘Asylum Seeker’ song. Also, I love ‘Stand Up’. There is the song in Neur ‘We Don’t Have A Problem With Anyone’. There is another one that says that the world is corrupted, change from the climate, all the diseases coming into the world—we need to keep to do the right thing. I did it like that because I want people to think, not relax too much. When you relax there is a lot of things coming up and you don’t feel them. Think morning, afternoon and night-time.
From the beginning I start my music to now with my eleventh album I compose them in different ways. At the time I will compose my twelfth album there will be a lot of things I compose in English because I need my music to be international [laughs]. Even if English not good, God will translate them to people.
I understand you’re a big fan of Rihanna’s music?
GK: Yeah, for sure. She is very nice. You see in this world if there is no woman, no man can come to the world. It’s what I’ve been thinking about because, I love my mother so much. Now she is not alive but I know when the time comes I will see her again. I’ll get a good high from Heaven and I will see my mother. I love woman so much. Woman is important.
Despite all the challenges that you’ve had in your life you still seem to be so optimistic and hopeful and happy and loving; what helps you be this way?
GK: I decided to do this because in the beginning, when I “see” the thom I start to know it’s a thom, I was 7-years-old. When I tried with my body I feel it, the change with how I feel and when I’m happy I feel the change and know it’s good. It’s why I choose to love people and do the right thing. I will be longer good life if I am happy. I understand that I have got enough.
What is next for you?
GK: I have a future plan that this music I did, I get it from my cousin like I tell you before, I don’t need it to go with me when I leave this world to go to another world—I need to leave it to all the people and coming generations. They will sing about me and say that long ago there is a man named Gordon Koang that teach people with his thom and it make people happy. We need people to have love, peace and unity among them. We need to sing like him. I need to do something for when I go. I have to do something good in this world. If I do a centre I can teach people. This is my future plan if God give it to me [laughs].
Anything else to tell me?
GK: I want to tell you this sister, love your work. Don’t say I am tired, do it because it will remain when you are gone and help generations.