Sex Education star Dua Saleh made us a back to school playlist
The Minneapolis musician and actor discusses playing Cal in S3 of the Netflix fave, good advice from co-stars and their forthcoming EP, 'CROSSOVER'.
Photography Braden Lee
Dua Saleh is feeling pretty good, and not just because the world is about to witness their major acting debut as new kid Cal in Season 3 of Netflix’s Sex Education. “I’m sitting by a windowsill, surrounded by trees, smoking a joint and listening to Lyra Pramuk,” they tell us. “I just cued up Jasmine Infinity, booboo, and papa mbye as well.” Music, to those uninitiated in all things Dua Saleh, has been the 25-year-old’s primary focus for much of their adult life. The Sudanese-American artist and producer released their debut EP Nūr in 2019 (sexy stand-out track “Sugar Mama” is still a favourite of ours), then swiftly followed up with ROSETTA in 2020, followed by a live i-D i-N SESSION performance streamed direct from their studio.
While for many, the past couple of years has ushered in a creative drought, Dua has instead added acting to their repertoire. They’ll join Maeve (Emma Mackey), Otis (Asa Butterfield), Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and Ola (Patricia Allison) as new non-binary student Cal at Sex Education’s Moordale High. Cal is a free-spirited skater and stoner who clashes with the school’s new headmistress Hope, played by Jemima Kirke of Girls fame.
Desperate for an insight into Dua’s listening habits, we called on them to make us a back to school playlist to celebrate their first term as a student at Moordale. The result is an eclectic one hour and 44 minutes of songs they listened to on set, a selection of music by other queer Midwestern artists and a hyperactive track made by ZAH — a tattoo artist and producer they just got inked by. Listen to the playlist below and read on as we disrupt their day to discover that Dua was actually a massive nerd in high school, get their take on South Wales (where Sex Education is shot) and find out what we can expect from their next EP, CROSSOVER.
Hi Dua, what’s this playlist all about then?
This is a back to school playlist that’s filled with songs that I’m listening to at the moment and artists that I love.
Do you have a favourite track from your selection?
Probably “3AM” by Kamilla Love.
Is there anything on there that you think might surprise people?
I added a lot of artists that I love on this playlist including someone that I got a tattoo from named ZAH. I also include an Andrew Broder song from his recent project Walk to Detective. We made a song together on that project called “Bloodrush” ft. Denzel Curry, Bon Iver, and Haleek Mall for the Alan Moore film, The Show.
You play Cal in the new season of Sex Education – is there a particular song you associate with your time making the show?
The song “Antidote” by Orion Sun. It’s one of the songs that I remember playing in my trailer while getting ready for my scenes.
Cal is your first major acting role – did any of your co-stars share any good advice that stuck with you?
One person that gave me good advice was Jemima Kirke. She made certain to keep a distance from people while on set so as to remain in character prior to shooting, which helps her set the tone for her scenes. She’s very caring and gracious with her words. I’m really glad to have met her.
What was the mood generally like on set?
People are very sweet on set and attentive. In a rapid pace setting like that, having people who are aware of their surroundings and thoughtful in interactions is really helpful.
Do you remember your first impressions of Wales? What did you learn to love about it?
I think my first thought while driving through the countryside and seeing the hills, bodies of water and all of the lush greenery made me think that I was immersed in a fantasy tale. It’s a very ethereal and enchanting place. I learned that there was a community of East Africans close to the area that I stayed. It was nice to see familiar faces while grocery shopping for Sudanese ingredients. I cooked a lot of Sudanese food when I felt homesick between acting and music, which was nice for the spirit.
What were you actually like in high school?
I was sort of a serious kid. I was very active in after-school programs and a huge nerd (debate club, manga, indigenous informed gender theory, etc). I think Cal and I have pretty different personalities because I was very shy in high school, especially when I was around new people. Cal seems more grounded in who they are, even as a teenager. I was a late bloomer, but I’m sure that we would’ve been really good friends in high school.
What’s next for you?
My next EP CROSSOVER is dropping very soon on October 22. The project is about my transition into the public eye with more visibility from a mainstream perspective. The first single “fitt (with Amaarae)” is an Afrobeats song with some hyperpop elements. I hope people like it, especially because Amaarae’s feature is so exceptional. The song is produced by Psymun and Ahya Simone, and also includes backing vocals from Velvet Negroni.