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Edwig Henson

Five on it: Sudan Archives celebrates the diverse beauty of hair on ‘Selfish Soul’

Sudan Archives’ new track is a joyful tribute to Black hair in all its forms. Plus music from EFÉ, Mahalia, Santigold and 070 Shake.

27 May

When it comes to hair, music lore is well versed: Ariana Grande can’t stop buying it; Lady Gaga is hers entirely. But with Black and diverse hair, the topic is more fraught – while texture unlocks a whole world of hair creativity, for women of colour it comes with the baggage of white, Western beauty standards.

Sudan Archives pushes back on such outdated ideals on her latest single ‘Selfish Soul’. Following in the wake of ‘Home Maker’ – itself a counter celebration on the comfort of domesticity as a woman – ‘Selfish Soul’ continues this theme of joy by checking off factors that make Black hair maintenance unique, the often difficult relationship that can arise from societal pressures and, more importantly, the freedom of reinvention that comes with it. 

“If I wear it straight will they like me more / Like those girls on front covers,” posits Sudan. “Long hair make ’em stay little longer / Stay hair, stay straight though we feel ashamed.” Later she hypothesises on more intimate practicalities: “I was worried about the clip-ins in my hair coming out / Couldn’t even catch a vibe.”

Despite asking poignant questions, the track’s prerogative is euphoria. Why bother being hung up on the matter when the world is your oyster? Long weave? Sure! Au naturel? Just do it. Blonde, pink, blue, purple, or nothing at all – it’s nobody’s business but your own.

This is something Belgian artist Charlotte Adigéry reflected on with her 2019 track ‘High Lights’, which saw her wax lyrical on her addiction to changing her hair with synthetic wigs, playing with alter ego and enjoying the power she found in people not necessarily recognising her because of her new do: “I woke up like this, ‘cause all you need is glue”.

“She is not her hair, she is so much more”

Whilst Charlotte’s celebration takes a more lighthearted tone (despite the “financial ruination”), there are many tracks that depict the strife and emotions synonymous with trivialised societal interactions with one’s hair. Solange’s ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ proffers a quiet and composed threat to any who would dare to touch her crown, extrapolating that, for her, it’s not just aesthetics: it’s art, it’s pride, it’s glory, it’s culture, it’s “the feelings I wear”. 

Elsewhere the topic gets more political. Taking inspiration for ‘Selfish Soul’ from songwriter India.Arie and her song ‘I Am Not My Hair’, the track reflects on the racist assumptions that come with choosing to wear your hair in traditional styles, such as being rejected from corporate jobs because of dreadlocks. “Good hair means curls and waves / Bad hair means you look like a slave,” quips India, before calling out others to redefine what diverse hair can be – whether that means shaving it, wearing it straight like Oprah, or a loc like Bob Marley. “If it’s not what’s on your head, it’s what’s underneath,” she says in the track. The antithesis of Gaga, she is not her hair, she is so much more – and Sudan Archives agrees

“I feel like there’s an American standard of what beautiful hair is, and I wanted to show in this video that’s not what all beauty is; to showcase different hairstyles and different types of women and their hair,” she says

“I was inspired by India.Arie’s ‘I Am Not My Hair’, one of the first songs I heard about this subject. She’s not her hair; she won’t conform to the comparisons that would come up if you had a weave or sew-in or natural hair or Afro – that doesn’t represent her.”

Sudan Archives – ‘Selfish Soul’

Whilst this year’s earlier release ‘Home Maker’ proved one of Sudan Archives’ most accessible to date – in comparison to her prior avant-garde work that fully embodied her talents as a violinist – new single ‘Selfish Soul’ ups the ante and takes a stab at a life more pop. Opening with throbbing synth and giving way to handclaps and gleeful riffs, the track is a stomping celebration of Black hair in all its forms.

Mahalia – ‘Letters to Ur N(ex)t’

Earlier in the year Mahalia made a very welcome return with comeback single ‘Letters to Ur Ex’, an intimate peace offering to a new partner’s ex lover that extends an olive branch of understanding in an attempt to diffuse any awkwardness of the situation. As the new single and title track from the accompanying EP, ‘Letters to Ur N(ex)t’ continues the conversation, piano-led and earnest, the track unpicks misinformation and differing perspectives of a relationship, and offers a warning to the next woman waiting in line for heartbreak.

Santigold – ‘High Priestess’

Her first solo release in four years, Santigold’s ‘High Priestess’ packs a pretty powerful punch. As intimidating as it is magnetic, the track is imbued with a restless and barely contained energy, a frenetic stream wriggling through the track. Underpinned by chunky beats and squirming production, the trump card of ‘High Priestess’ is its anthemic hook. “The energy I was looking for couldn’t be the old version of punk rock, it had to be the future sound of punk rock,” Santigold explains. “I want to make music that sounds like the past and the future all in one; music that makes you feel safe enough to jump in, but then takes us on a journey to where we needed to go but have never even heard of.”

070 Shake – ‘Body’ feat. Christine and the Queens

Upon first reading, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a collaboration between New Jersey artist 070 Shake and French pop icon Christine and the Queens is a bit too left-field, but one listen to new single ‘Body’ and the combo makes perfect sense. Dropping ahead of new album You Can’t Kill Me, pulsating beats and chilly synths percolate for a heady concoction that is as foreboding as it is intoxicating; whilst Shake’s vocal maintains a detached air, Chris’ emotive warbles hit like a sucker punch to the heart.

EFÉ – ‘LIME’

We last heard from EFÉ with this year’s earlier outing ‘KIWI’, but like one Harry Styles, the Dublin songwriter can’t quite shake off that affinity with fruit. The latest track shared from her aptly titled upcoming EP Vitamin C, new single ‘LIME’ is as zealous as it is peppy, its toe-tapping pop and catchy melodies unfolding in a dreamy haze. It’s all a bit bittersweet, however, as EFÉ – the moniker of 22-year-old Anita Ikharo – states the track is “about people that try to convince you that you need them in order to be great, to succeed. I guess it is a song that pays homage to knowing your own self-worth and knowing that you don’t need someone and you can be in charge of your own faith!!!”

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