Even in a busy crowded shopping area like the Dufferin Mall in Toronto, it is impossible not to discover (or perhaps rediscover) Ruth Mathiang. Taller than most, beautiful and confident to a fault, the one-time Sudanese refugee and now proud Canadian is making a great impression where ever she goes.
The emerging Canadian artist who aspires to use her voice and talent to advocate for important social issues has become a sought after voice -- both as an activist and an artist. Mathiang has performed in venues all across North America since she arrived in Canada as a refugee in 2001. Her elegant melodic sound has been described as a "mixture of traditional African music with modern hip hop, adult contemporary jazz and reggae inspired."
At the yearly Afro FEST, Mathiang has been welcomed regularly and is one of the most anticipated artists year after year. She sings in a trio of languages -- in English, Arabic and Kiswahili -- and her audiences are always moved by the beauty and style of each of her songs.
Most of her fans, even when she sings in a language they do not understand, they respond well to the passion that is rare and organic to their ears. If music can be felt instead of just understood, Mathiang is making what was once a foreign African sound to Canadians become a more mainstream and cool sound.
Her songs are filled with the adolescent like dream of world peace; the importance of social justice and the timeless fight for equality fill much of her lyrics. It seems she is emulating the activist voices of the past like, her musical heroes such as Africa's great, late Miriam Makeba and the socially conscious Tracey Chapman.
"I was a member of a church choir while in Kenya before I decided to pursue it professionally," she says. "My music tells real human stories as well us attempts to have a conversation with my audience". Indeed.
The journey of Mathiang to Canada started in earnest and by coincidence in a refugee camp in Kenya via a scholarship through WUSC (World University Service of Canada). With music in her heart and the urge to earn a university degree, she moved to Prince Edward Island (PEI). Upon earning a BA in political science and women studies, Toronto became her next destination.
Since then, she has been making important contributions to the fabric of Toronto by living its motto -- "Diversity Our Strength" -- to the fullest.
To date, she has released two albums: 2002′s Butterfly, and in 2006 the well-received Born Black. She is now in the process of producing her third album. It seems music has opened up countless opportunities for her to travel the world and support causes that are near and dear to her.
For her, it's the support of many causes that motivates her to go on. Her involvement and support of organizations such as Amnesty International as well as the Stephen Lewis Foundation are very important to her.
What is in the future for this inspiring Canadian who spends her days as a YWCA Immigration and Refugee Counselor? She wants to explore graduate school as well as work on musical projects.
What does she like about living in Canada? "Freedom," she says. Freedom? "Yes. Freedom," she tells me, as that is the most important thing in the world to her. Then again, only those whose basic freedom was once denied can truly understand what she means.
Ruth Mathiang is a patriotic international citizen who values and appreciates the power of being and owning a powerful Canadian citizenry.