Born and raised in Cincinnati, the singer-songwriter, violinist and producer Sudan Archives is the ever-evolving product of blending together a limitless amount of raw talent, a burning passion for one's craft and a fearless drive to bring something new to the world. Categorizing Sudan's music with a lazy label like "worldly" wouldn't do her music justice. Her unique fusion of soulful vocals, modern electronic production, ambient melodies and hypnotizing Afro-folk violin work transcend genres and is quickly gaining attention and praise from fans around the world.
Sudan now lives in Los Angeles, where she utilizes various studios and new production techniques to weave together modern electronic beats with West African folk sounds. I had the chance to quickly catch up with Sudan over the phone to learn some more about the true drive behind her unique songwriting and the humble road that led her to where she was today.
There's a clear electronic influence behind her music, so I had to find out what the dance scene in Cincinnati was like to have inspired this. Sudan shared, "I didn't have much money growing up and as a teenager had to work as a manager at McDonalds and Forever21 while living in a strict household back in Cincinnati. I had to be home at 9 pm every night, so I used to lie and say I was working the night shift so I could sneak out, and hit up the music shows in local college neighborhoods. That's when I first came across The Comet, a local venue where all the dance sets would play."
But rather than just being a fan and enjoying the shows from the distance, Sudan was more interested in the equipment being used on stage producing these various sounds. Sudan continues, "Those shows were when I first knew what I really needed to do. I immediately decided to save up money and invest in electronic gear to make my own music. I saw all these producers making these incredible beats and I asked myself, what's stopping me forming doing the same?" But Sudan's music goes beyond just the production aspect, as she also plays a mean violin and delivers soulful vocals in each track. She adds, "When I was at these clubs, I used to hang out with different groups of rappers who would rhyme over their own beats and lyrics. So I figured I could make an entire track from start to finish my own way too."
So, with little money in her pocket, Sudan moved to Los Angeles but never lost sight of the goal she had set for herself. "The first piece of gear I got was an iPad, I downloaded a few music apps and utilized Garage Band a lot. Actually, "Come Meh Way" was partly made on that iPad."
Her thirst and interest in producing her own music never slowed down. "After starting to really getting into the beat production side of things, I went and picked up a Roland 404. Then adding a loop phrase and suddenly the whole game changed for me and I was finally able to repeat the violin flux which opened up a world of more complex sound composition." For me, what really sticks out with Sudan's music is there's this underlying sense of sincerity deep within each track. The varying sounds, whether a looping violin, bluesy vocal or hard hittign beat, they all dance and weave around one another in such fluidity, that you can tell they came from a real place.
Sudan masterfully blends electric beats across a broad spectrum of Afro-Western influences. It turns out that all the while she was exploring these new production techniques after first moving to Los Angeles, she never lost sight of her interest in holding true to these African inspired sounds. "I was always trying out ways to keep incorporating African music into the electronic sounds I was producing. I first got the confidence for it when I was in LA at Amoeba Records, I was still incredibly broke at the time and just browsing records looking for inspiration when an album cover with a naked lady and a ton of stuff on her head caught my eye. It was an album from Francis Bebey, who wrote a ton of books on and helped pioneered African electronic music. When I listened to his album I couldn't help but think of how ahead of his time he was. I went on and read all of his books shortly after."
Following our phone interview, I had the pleasure of seeing Sudan perform during San Francisco's Noise Pop Festival. Watching Sudan live feels as though you are intruding on an intimate moment that you accidentally stumbled upon. Sudan took to the stage in a beautiful green Tinkerbelle style dress and danced gracefully across the stage as if she were alone in her own bedroom free of any inhibitions. Towards the end of our interview, Sudan had shared, "I love playing "Come Meh Way" because I get to shred, I like putting in samples of drums in my set and just shredding and playing the violin and occasionally looking over at people in the crowd with completely stunned faces." She ended her set with this same track and that quote stuck with me. As she finished the song with an all-out shredding session on her violin, I looked around and couldn't help but chuckle at the sea of stunned, motionless fans in the audience left with open jaws dropped to the floor. Sudan is here to blow your minds, leave you stunned and she's certainly been doing it so far. Expect some big things from this artist!
Photo credit: Robert Alleyne