The Kamanga Kings, a Khartoum jazz band of yesteryear, is presented with the opportunity of a lifetime when a surprise letter arrives inviting them to perform in Washington, D.C. The only problem is . . . the band no longer exists.
Rushdy is a disaffected secondary school teacher and the son of an original Kamanga King. Determined to see a life beyond his own home, he sets out to revive the band. Aided by his unreliable best friend, all too soon an unlikely group are on their way, knowing the eyes of their country are on them.
As the group moves from the familiarity of Khartoum to the chaos of Donald Trump's America, Jamal Mahjoub weaves a gently humorous and ultimately universal tale of music, belonging and love.
‘A novel of regeneration through music and the secret hunger of quiet lives. It is an immersive, humorous and powerful novel from a truly great writer who deserves a very wide audience’
‘A terrific work of fiction . . . Mahjoub moves his characters around one another and the events they’ve brought upon themselves with the command and finesse of a master storyteller who knows he has his audience enthralled . . . A truly humane story of love, hope, and faith. An exhilarating, profoundly moving, musical romp. I loved it’
‘A rip-roaring adventure from Khartoum to Harlem and an ode to jazz, creativity and freedom of expression . . . a heartfelt and touching book’
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 8 members
A delightful surprise, The Kamanga Kings, a Sudanese jazz band, has fallen into disarray thanks to old age and political repression so when an invitation from the Kennedy Center arrives, well, what to do. Rushdy, son of one of the founders, decides they must reconstitute in some form and go to the US. They manage to make it through immigration (a miracle in and of itself) but then find themselves ripped off and in trouble with the law, It's both humorous and sad in one but it's also a very good read I likely would not have picked up had it not been on Netgalley (thanks to them). Definitely a good read.
Despite its serious sounding title, Jamal Mahjoub’s The Fugitives is an uplifting and delightful romp about the Kamanga Kings, a legendary Sudanese jazz band. When elderly Uncle Maher receives a mysterious letter from the United States, he asks his nephew Rushdy to translate. As Rushdy deciphers the strange letter, he slowly realizes that it is an invitation to the Kamanga Kings to perform at Washington, D. C.’s The Kennedy Center. There is one big problem. Decades earlier, Sudan’s then conservative Islamic government had banned the Kamanga Kings, just as it had banned all music, literature, and art that threatened the government’s power by stirring the people’s souls. Most of the Kamanga Kings are long dead.
Without the Kamanga Kings, Jamal Majoub would have no novel. Rushdy would have no story to tell, for the novel is presented as English teacher Rushdy’s account of his troubling musical heritage. “When my father died,” he writes, “he left me two things: a rather battered trumpet and the legend of the Kamanga Kings. . . . Like all legends, that of the Kamanga Kings was a blessing and a curse. Their exploits were woven into the fabric of my life.”
Following a brief introduction, Rushdy tells his story in three parts. “Part I: Raising the Dead” centers on the reforming of the band from two aged original members and five new ones, including Rushdy on his father’s trumpet. “Part II: The Kamaga Kings Fly!” spans the band’s travel to the U.S. through its performance of a lifetime at the Kennedy Center. “Part III: The Fugitives,” gives the book its title as the band flees Homeland Securities and ICE.
This is the story of Uncle Maher and Alkanary, of Hisham, Wad Mazaj, John Wau, and Kadugli. It is the story of people the band unexpectedly encounters along the way, such as the fly-by-night record producer Waldo and the Latino hotel caretaker Rudy, whom the band saves and who saves the band. Perhaps most of all, it’s the story of Rushdy, who must come to terms with his heritage and find his future.
Thanks to NetGalley and Canongate for an advance reader copy of this highly recommended book. Although it is my first for 2022, it is sure to be one of my most enjoyed.
Sometimes a book comes along that is so good that I am dumbstruck when I discover how few reviews it has had - and presumably that equates to far too few readers. Such is the case with The Fugitives. Published back in April 2021, at the time of this review (Dec 2021) there are only 4 reviews on Goodreads and none on Amazon. So I urge everyone to hunt out and enjoy this wonderfully inventive and original novel that will make you laugh and despair in equal measure. For although it is a humorous and often light-hearted tale it deals with some dark themes and issues and the serious is never far from the surface levity. It tells the story of the Kamanga Kings, a legendary Sudanese band whose days were numbered when the new political regime under President Bashir banned music. So it is a surprise indeed when out of the blue an invitation arrives asking the now defunct band to come to Washington DC to perform. Rushdy, our narrator, a discontented and disillusioned teacher, the son of one of the original line-up, sees this unexpected invitation as an opportunity not to be missed and in short order has managed to reform the Kings and they are on their way. What follows is a sometimes almost farcical, but never quite, (well, maybe on occasion…) and picaresque, but not ridiculous, adventure for the band in the US, a post-9/11 America when distrust of foreigners is endemic and Trump’s anti-immigrant presidency is in full flow. So can music trump (sorry) ignorance and prejudice? Can the new Kamanga Kings live up to the reputation of the original band? Can this group of skilled musicians win over their public? This is a delightful book, well-written, well-paced, full of humanity and generosity, politically hard-hitting when it needs to be but never heavy-handed - and there’s even a playlist on Spotify. Read it – please.