JUBA: "Let us go, we can make it," Mary Boyoi sings softly in a flute-like voice as she sways to the rhythm, sharing a dream that south Sudan will choose independence in next month’s referendum.
Boyoi, a rising pop artist, is one of several singers who are literally using their voices to get out the independence vote in the oil-rich but poverty-ridden region in a poll that looks set to divide Africa’s largest country.
As rapper and producer Lam Tungwar puts it, "artists are an advantage because a lot of people are listening to them more than to the politicians."
More than three million people are registered to vote in the January 9 referendum, a key element in the 2005 peace accord that ended two decades of civil war between the largely Christian south and Muslim north.
That war left more than two million people dead and millions more displaced, and made a lasting impression on Boyoi, who lost her father to the conflict in 1988.
"I have a message that my father told me when I was a little kid… When we grew up, we saw that unity was not attractive and that is why we say ‘let us go.’
"I am maybe very ashamed to say that I really like my brothers and sisters in north Sudan; I have so many friends (there), but really I see for us it is better to separate."
Another song, by Peter Garang, is entitled "No to Unity, Yes to Separation" and is on the playlists of local radio stations around the region.
But independence is only one thing these artists dream of in a charged political atmosphere where some fear a vote for separation could lead to renewed conflict with the north.
They want peace as well.
And that message is particularly poignant from hip-hop star Emmanuel Jal: at the age of seven, after his mother died, he was recruited as a child soldier by the rebel Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army.
After surviving action at the front, he managed to escape with 300 other "lost boys", enduring a three-month trek to safety without supplies.
One of only a handful to survive the journey, he was rescued by a British aid worker who smuggled him to freedom in Kenya and enrolled him in school for the first time.
"I have a song called ‘We Want Peace,’ because peace is the main important thing, whether we go successfully to separation or we go united," he tells AFP. "So we’ve got to respect the choice that the people take, and in all those choices peace is all we want in the end."
Jal has produced a video available on YouTube that also features Alicia Keys, George Clooney and Peter Gabriel.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah, I’m lookin’ for some people who are lookin’ for peace," it begins.
"Maybe together we can make war cease. Now we can send mankind to the moon, and we can reach to the bottom of the sea. That’s why it really kind of baffles me that we cannot end wars and bring peace."
If the independence cause is to succeed, at least 60 percent of those registered must turn out in a region where there is almost no infrastructure and traveling just a few miles can feel like an odyssey.
And of those who do cast their ballots, a majority must vote in favour of independence.
Getting out the message is particularly difficult.
South Sudan is made up of more than 200 ethnic groups. English and Arabic are spoken widely among the educated classes, but there are a number of native languages such as Nuer, Dinka, Shilluk, Acholi, Mabaan and Bari.
On top of that, only about one in four people can read and write.
Hence the high value of musical messages.
As Tungwar says, "we have to give them information in their own dialect where they will be able to understand what we talk about.
"It is why we encourage everyone, including the traditional groups, to do whatever they can in their own languages, in their dance, whatever, for a peaceful referendum."
"Now it is time for the referendum where people will actually go to vote and to decide the destiny of south Sudan. That is why most of the artists focus on that kind of agenda. They sing, and sing in as many languages as possible, so that a lot of people are able to listen to them."
Boyoi is already looking beyond the vote and anticipated independence: he is working on freedom songs now, he says.
"I think south Sudan is already independent. So it is time to make celebration songs for the big day.
"I have a song saying if south Sudan chooses independence north Sudan don’t be upset; we will still need each other."