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Of all the side gigs Twin Cities musicians turned to during the pandemic, Dua Saleh's might beat them all.

The St. Paul rapper/singer landed a TV role in the cast of one of Netflix's most popular series, "Sex Education." Producers of the provocative yet hilarious teen comedy unexpectedly approached the 26-year-old performer last year to play the show's new nonbinary character, Cal.

After a few auditions, five months of filming around southern Wales and ample praise and attention for Saleh's small-screen debut, the Augsburg University grad is still floored to have received the call in the first place.

"I wasn't pursuing acting at all; I was strictly focused on music," Saleh said with a discernible sense of wonder.

"I have a lot of gratitude over the things the universe has brought me."

That extends to Saleh's music career, too, which itself was a bit accidental — and which remains a focus alongside acting.

Just a month after the third season of "Sex Education" hit Netflix in September, the rhythmically experimental and lyrically sardonic electro-poet dropped a new multilingual EP, "Crossover," also now earning raves. Pitchfork called it "a hypnotic mélange of club anthems with a hallucinogenic delivery."

Talking in St. Paul two weeks ago — with a move to Los Angeles soon on the horizon — Saleh highlighted the (welcome) challenge of pursuing two artistic avenues instead of one from here on out.

"I realized I'm going to have to be more strategic about it, and dedicate time to creating music away from acting," said Saleh, who like the "Sex Ed" character Cal is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.

"Acting took a lot out of me. I was too tired at the end of the day on set to even think about writing songs. Just the energy that's required to either do acting or music is too all-consuming to try to juggle both at the same time."

Saleh's interviews with the music press talking about identity and gender issues are largely what brought the musicmaker to the attention of "Sex Education's" producers.

Of course, Saleh also had to prove they can actually act. They only had a smattering of experience as an actor with alternative Twin Cities outlets such as 20% Theater Company.

"I was really nervous about it, having anxiety attacks left and right," Saleh recalled.

But after working with an acting coach and then arriving on set, "I started to warm up to it. I sensed my acting skills were improving. Working with the other actors really helped me learn the dynamic of it, too."

They found a certain sense of comfort in the filming locations near Cardiff, too.

"There's actually a pretty big Somali population there," said Saleh, who emigrated from Sudan at age 5. "I felt a little more at home from that."

The story lines surrounding Saleh's character on the show range from frustrating run-ins with an antagonistic headmistress to a sweet and sometimes comical relationship with a jocky male student named Jackson.

Talking about the latter scenario, Saleh said, "I liked that they were both so honest with each other. I like how Cal and Jackson were able to set their boundaries and talk about what they are comfortable with, and express what they need out of romance and what they need just as friends."

Saleh was proudest of the scenes that show Cal helping a student who is struggling with binding — wearing a bandage wrap or too-tight attire to flatten their chest — since that's something they struggled with in real life.

"I used to bind that way when I was in college, and I would pass out on the bus and miss my stop by like 10 stops. It's so bad for you. It was special to me to see them portray that on the show and let people know there are other, safer options."

Whatever the story line, Saleh praised the show's writers and directors for "being thoughtful and getting it right." That includes the show hiring a nonbinary person to play the role.

"I think that was very vital," Saleh said. "It might have been quite uncomfortable for a lot of people if Cal was depicted by somebody who isn't from the community they're trying to depict. I personally feel upheld by 'Sex Education' as a result of this."

Saleh's positive experiences on the show played a role in the lyrics and sounds on the new EP, which they cranked out after filming wrapped in early 2021. The title "Crossover" could be about the transfer over to the acting world, or about the identity issues that played out for Saleh on screen as well as in real life.

There's also quite a sonic transformation on the EP, Saleh's third. Once again working with Twin Cities sonic wizard Psymun (the Stand4rd, Yung Thug) — alongside a new slate of outside producers such as Kyle Shearer (Tove Lo) — Saleh concertedly incorporated more up-tempo and Afrocentric beats.

"That was based on the darkness everybody experienced during the pandemic. People have been really intensely depressed or anxious or bored, and people aren't as connected to their bodies. So I wanted people to get up and dance and vibe to the music in a way that physically felt good."

The EP's cross-section of grooves ranges from the Afrobeat-manic sound of "Fitt" and the techno-pop/house beats in "Fav Flav" to the sly reggaeton flavor of "Tic Tic." Saleh trades verses with New York rapper Haleek Maul in the latter song, one of multiple tracks to feature lyrics in Arabic and Spanish along with English — a variance that "just felt right with how the beats sounded."

One more reason for the EP's added rhythmic punch, Saleh said, was to liven up live shows. There hasn't been much opportunity to perform of late, of course — between the pandemic and the "Sex Ed" obligations — but they did sneak in a short halftime set at a Timberwolves home game last week and hope to book more dates next year.

"Not to toot my own horn, but I actually think live performance is where I thrive best."

Of course, Saleh's concert schedule will depend on if and when they return to the "Sex Education" set. Showing a newfound familiarity with corporate TV protocol, they could not confirm if they're returning for a fourth season.

At least they confirmed they would be proud to continue with the show given the "positive impact" they've already witnessed from it.

"There have been multiple scenarios where I've heard of people coming out to their parents or trying to explain about being nonbinary, and their parents will say — Oh, like Cal from 'Sex Education!' " Saleh proudly noted. "Or they'll use the show as a reference point to talk about what being nonbinary is. That's been really special to me."