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Sudan Archives on travelling to Ghana, changing her name and sharing a bill with Beyoncé

13 Jul 2018

Sudan Archives, the genre-floating violinist, has cultivated a unique sound that blends her love of west African instrumentation, with experimental electro and future R&B. It is refreshing in a climate of chart-chasers, to discover artists like Sudan who can push artistic boundaries, whilst also staying true to the traditional melodies that shape their music. On May 25th, Sudan released her second solo EP, Sink – a vibrant collection of afro-electronica that blurs between minimal and experimental. Speaking from LA, Sudan sat down with me to discuss her evolution as an artist, her EP, Sink, and all things Coachella.

At the age of 17, Sudan asked her mum for a name change, after deciding that her original name,  Brittany “didn’t really suit her hippy personality”. Ironically, it was by renaming to ‘Sudan’ that she sparked an interest in Sudanese music, but it was only until her move to LA where she cemented her name as Sudan Archives. She cites Francis Bebey, one of Africa’s most illustrious electronic musicians, as one of her key influences, saying that “Francis Bebey and Sudanese violin players like Asim Gorashi, push me to keep playing violin, even if I don’t sound like them, the way they play these instruments in such a free-spirited way is inspirational.”

“Francis Bebey and Sudanese violin players like Asim Gorashi, push me to keep playing violin, even if I don’t sound like them, the way they play these instruments in such a free-spirited way is inspirational.”

A self-taught violinist, Sudan adds that it was her journey in defining what it means to be an African-American woman that made her connect more with these African violinists, who expressed themselves so freely compared to the conventional Western style. “It was what also inspired me on a recent trip to Ghana, to pick up the Goje” – a Hausa-named violin almost exclusively played in West Africa. “It is really interesting as the violin sounds smoother, but the Goje is played with a bowstring, and sounds like a whisper, so it adds a really cool touch to the music.”

The trip to Ghana not only exposed her to the Goje, but also was source of inspiration in her fabulously defiant video, ‘Nont For Sale’ – a highlight from her new EP, Sink. “The song was actually inspired by a hand-painted banner I found on my travels saying “THIS LAND IS NONT 4 SALE.”  The powerful message plays out in a beautiful afrocentrist video, brought to life by both director, Ross Harris and Sudan who champion African culture, fashion, and dance throughout. With lyrics like “This is my seat, can’t ya tell?” you almost feel that Sudan’s had to come on a journey to be able to stand this tall and empowered today.

But with such a unique sound, what does this mean for her fan base? Having sat on line ups with Beyoncé and Cardi B (Coachella) and Erykah Badu at London’s Field Day festival, it is safe to say Sudan’s being received well! She laughs, and nods her head in agreement, responding that whilst she “isn’t yet a major artist, people are walking down to my show and listening to me, maybe because I play the violin, they think it’s interesting. The first week [at Coachella] the crowd was really cool, and then the second week there was even more people!” I saw this write-up on Vogue where I was mentioned alongside Cardi-B and Beyoncé. Maybe it’s because Beyoncé was headlining, they saw this as a special moment for female empowerment at the festival!”

Sudan’s contemporary twist of traditional West African music, also extends into her personal fashion style with a love of African print, and traditional dress. She details her Coachella outfit, which was designed by local Belgian-Sudanese designer, Abdel El Tayeb who flew out to Los Angeles to fit her in a beautifully handwoven, red Sudanese dress. “It is interesting because he is doing the exact same thing as me but in the Fashion world.” As ever, Sudan, the multi-dimensional artist, has tons of things in store for this year, so if she’s not on your radar now, she will be soon enough.