Beyond acting: Sudanese actress Eiman Yousif's many talents

Ati Metwaly , Tuesday 4 Jun 2024

Known for her role in Goodbye Julia, Sudanese actress Eiman Yousif is a well-rounded artist, with music - singing and playing instruments - being one of her channels of expression.

Eiman Yousif
Eiman Yousif


The name of the Sudanese actress Eiman Yousif immediately brings to mind Goodbye Julia, a highly successful film directed by Mohamed Kordofani. An important breakthrough in Yousif’s career, Goodbye Julia premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2023, becoming Sudan’s first-ever film to compete in Cannes and winning the Freedom Prize. It was also Sudan’s official submission for the 96th Academy Awards in 2024.

To date the film screened across the world and scooped many awards, including several for Yousif who portrayed Mona, a Muslim upper middle-class singer from North Sudan. 

However there is much more to this well-rounded artist, who throughout her life also explored theatre and music, singing and playing instruments. It was her passion for music that caught the director’s eye. In one interview, Kordofani revealed that he spotted Yousif singing in a video posted on social media: “I really liked her voice and I tried to contact her immediately. Then I discovered that Eiman also had a theatre background. Once she came to the audition, I had no doubt that she was the one; Eiman was exactly how I pictured Mona.”

And though Eiman Yousif’s name has become synonymous with Goodbye Julia, the young actress has an assortment of talents. During our meeting in Cairo, where she arrived with her family shortly after the outbreak of war in Sudan in April 2023, she shared that art has always been present in her life. 

“My mother’s family has a few visual artists and musicians. They always encouraged me. My father writes poetry, and would enjoy my singing and acting, yet he would never consider it a career path. My dad’s family is more restrictive,” she explains, recalling the days when, as a kid, she and her cousins she would stage small sketches to entertain family and friends. 

Yousif was born just three years after the Islamist-backed president Omar Al-Bashir came to power in 1989, and grew up in times where art and culture had nowhere to thrive.

“I would then join small theatre productions in school. I would memorise the songs and keep singing them, even if I didn’t understand the meaning of the lyrics.”

She pursued her bachelor of science in management at the University of Khartoum, graduating in 2013. While embarking on a career in corporate companies, she then returned to the university for an MBA in Project Management. In 2015, pushed by her unfaltering passion for music and theatre, she inaugurated the School of Management Faculty Choir at the University of Khartoum.

“I continued with music and theatre… I loved the stage, I felt I could be an actress. I continued singing wherever I could,” she reveals.

With the country witnessing growing popular discontent and the eventual outbreak of the Sudanese Revolution in December 2018, Yousif became one of the foremost female faces participating in the protests.



“It was not always easy, and my mother was constantly worried about me,” she recalls the increasing use of force by the security forces and crackdowns on the protesters. “But we all believed in change; we had to fight for our rights,” she recalls the protests of the 2018 and 2019 which, as recent history has shown, did not lead to the realisation of the people’s hopes for the country. 

In those years, the young actress-singer-activist continued with her creative engagement. “I was also taking qanoun [Arabic string instrument] lessons at the Bait Al-Oud (Oud House) in Khartoum,” one of the Arabic music institutions founded by the Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma in several Arab countries. She excelled at the hands of Naseer’s nephew Ahmad Shamma and Diaa Hafez, an Egyptian musician, among other oud masters. “I also enrolled in the vocal department,” she continues about her boundless interests in music.

No wonder at a certain point “my mum told me that I had too much on my plate. I worked in business administration, I studied at Bait Al-Oud, I sang and acted. She was always telling me to focus on one thing so I could master it.” 

The casting for Goodbye Julia took place in 2021 and the shooting at the end of 2022 surrounded by the political havoc and a complete lack of infrastructure for cinematography.

“In fact, the film pushed me to take the decision. I gave up on corporate life and decided to dedicate myself to art, acting and singing. This of course came as a shock to my family; they were very worried about my future. Others raised their eyebrows or even laughed at my decision.”

Yousif sings a few songs in the film, including Gol Ley Kef in which her highly emotional and beautifully mastered voice is joined by that of Niile, a Sudanese singer, rapper, and songwriter. When shooting ended, she continued to sing and play the oud against all odds. She then remembers the day the black curtain fell on her artistic explorations. 

“It all happened at the same moment. We knew about Goodbye Julia being accepted at Cannes on 13 April 2023. The next day, I performed in a big concert at Bait Al-Oud. On the morning of 15 April, we woke up to the sounds of war.”

No more chance to celebrate the Cannes news, or savour the sound of the orchestra…

Fast forward to Cairo: Yousif wants to focus on music as well as acting. “Where did the dream go? Why did they sell it? They sold the homeland. And we are the ones paying the price. Our hope is in a great tomorrow,” Yousif sings in Wein El-Helm (Where is the Dream) released on her YouTube channel. 

With music and lyrics written by Yousif, and arrangement by Mazen Hamed, the song is a small journey from pain to hope, embellished with simple harmonies and colourful Sudanese-flavoured percussion. 

Eiman has already given a couple of concerts in Cairo, and keeps auditioning for films. “I hope to land a role in an Egyptian productions. I’d be particularly lucky should the film tackle Nubia, or southern Egypt in general,” she smiles.

While expressing her readiness to embark on a new cinematic endeavour, the young artist always takes refuge in music.

“In my life I practised singing more than acting. It runs in my veins. More recently, I started writing my own songs; this is one of my channels of expression. I will sing about everything we are going through. There are a lot of emotions in my compositions, a lot of sadness, a lot of truth.” 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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