Snoh Aalegra: on connecting the dots of her Swedish-Persian heritage
17 Nov 2017
If you’re a fiend for samples like myself, you go to the ends of the earth to figure out where you’ve heard that little melody from. This was the case with Drake’s ‘Do Not Disturb’. There was cluster of high-pitched vocals playing in the background of the song that resonated with me deeply. I did my thorough research and found that those exceptional vocals belonged to the beautiful Snoh Aalegra.
Trust and believe me when I say, she sounds as cold as her name is – in the best possible way of course. Currently touring the US as an opening act for Daniel Caesar, I had the great pleasure of catching her after the final L.A show, as she sat in a shimmering blouse and quilted satin skirt slaying my life. I started by asking a question journalists rarely ask: how are you?
“I’m doing great; this show was so much better than yesterday. I didn’t know yesterday was an extra added date. Today was the main show and there was amazing energy.”
“So I was born in Sweden, but my parents are Persian. I speak three languages; Farsi, Swedish and English and a little bit of Spanish”
“So I was born in Sweden, but my parents are Persian. I speak three languages; Farsi, Swedish and English and a little bit of Spanish. Before I moved to L.A, I actually lived in London for like three or four years whilst I was dating someone over there. I plan to be there next year. I miss Wagamamas and Selfridges. A lot.”
Describing the UK as a “mecca of music”, Snoh resonates as a huge Elton John fan and fangirled when he played one of her songs on his Apple Music radio show. Listing many UK artists as some of her inspirations, Snoh can’t wait to be embraced over the pond. Having only performed once in the UK as an opening act for Mayer Hawthorne, Snoh longs to do her own little tour.
Regarding other inspirations outside of the UK, there is a long list of individuals who make the sound of Snoh today. “I’m all about vibes so Daniel [Caesar] really inspires me. Sonically, I’m so inspired by movies and soundtracks. I grew up being obsessed with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson so I’m really old school. Later on in my life, it was Lauryn Hill and Brandy. Lauryn Hill made me pay a lot of attention to my writing. I feel like her album is still so relevant to me so I’m inspired by my own life and the music I listen to. All my lyrics are real life, everything is a true story.
Snoh also lists her background as significant inspiration for her sound especially in her debut album, FEELS.
“The Swedish gloom and dark winters brought a lot of melancholy to my life and my writing”
“The Swedish gloom and dark winters brought a lot of melancholy to my life and my writing. Also growing up in Sweden, I was a big fan of all the Swedish pop producers like Max Martin and Denniz Pop and Ace of Base so I’m a mix of that. Coming to L.A and really doing research of soul and its roots here in the United States, I knew I had to come here if I wanted to be the best I can be at what I do. I wanted to learn from the best and obviously in Europe and Sweden they have soul but it’s just a different vibe.”
The Persian songstress has the ability to fluctuate her sound depending on what mood she’s in, meaning her music is never all the same.
“My Don’t Explain EP had one sound and the blue stripe on the artwork represented me feeling blue. With FEELS I chose the rainbow stripe because of all the different vibes within the project. FEELS stands for vibes. I was actually working on two projects at the same time. One was contemporary, one was more old school and I combined them. That’s why there’s a bit of a mix but it all went together. I wrote like 50 songs after ‘Don’t Explain’ and I couldn’t just make another EP. I had to put these 13 out and that’s why it’s an album now.”
Many people like myself discovered Snoh through a Genius video listing all the samples on Drake’s More Life.
Many people like myself discovered Snoh through a Genius video listing all the samples on Drake’s More Life. Once I heard Snoh’s (her song ‘Time’ was sampled on ‘Do Not Disturb’), I just had to do more research into this amazing woman.
“So I work with Boi1da, the producer. He produced [my track] ‘Charleville 9200’ so after that, we always wanted to work together more. He was here in L.A and asked me if I could do some hooks for Drake. I was actually writing ‘Time’ at the time – no pun intended – and I had this beat from Boi1da and I was like let me try the hook for ‘Time’ on this. I sang ‘Time’ but I sped my voice up so, I would sound like a soul sample from the 70s or 80s.I was with him in the studio when he sent it to Drake to which he responded immediately and he loved it. I was never sure if he was going to use it until like two days before More Life dropped. I’ve never met Drake though.” Inserts sad face.
You would think someone this talented would already be on your radar despite the Drake feature, considering who she’s already collaborated with: RZA, Common, Vince Staples and No ID to name the least. “It’s amazing that people are discovering me through Drake. I just wish for more people to hear my music.”
“All the love songs are about the same guy”
Snoh weaves her background, her life and experiences into her music. “All the love songs are about the same guy, the same guy from ‘Don’t Explain’ so the story actually continues.”
“‘Time’ is about my Dad passing away in 2009. I wrote that song because I feel like I didn’t have enough time with him. It was crazy seeing Drake’s dad on the cover of More Life where he’s celebrating his dad so that made me feel more connected to the project. I also wanted to explain my background because people are always asking where I’m from so I wanted to put some hints in the album that’s why I’ve got a Swedish feature with Timbuktu. He’s one of the best, most legendary rappers that Sweden has. He’s like our Nas or Jay Z.”
Snoh tells me about her time working on visuals for ‘Nothing Burns Like the Cold’. “I’m in Persian environments. The house used was owned by a Persian family here in L.A. I really wanted to show that side of me especially with the Swedish narrator talking in the video. I even have two more videos coming from within the same universe. I want people to connect the dots and understand my background.”
When asked about her favourite song on the album, she couldn’t make a definite choice. “They vary every day – it depends on what mood I’m in but I think that one of my favourites is ‘Out of Your Way’ because it’s just kind of chill. I’ve got a remix planned with an amazing actor/singer for it. I think I might even do a FEELS remix project so that’ll definitely be a part of it, I’m super excited!”