This month: heady, Afrofuturist r&B from the violinist and singer otherwise known as Brittney Denise Parks
If the Marvel universe are looking to make a sequel to Black Panther, they might want to consider hiring Sudan Archives to soundtrack their mythical kingdom of Wakanda. The music made by this 24-year-old singer and violinist is a curious collision of African and American influences: ancient folk themes rub shoulders with wonky R&B beats, squelchy electronica and rap-influenced vocal chants.
“I come from a totally self-taught perspective,” she says. “I pick up cool-sounding stuff I hear on YouTube and incorporate it into my sound. Irish jigs, Jewish folk music, African fiddle music from Ghana, Burkina faso, Sudan and North Africa – it all goes through the filter.” She acknowledges that she is excitedly dabbling in various African musics, but rejects notions of cultural appropriation.
“I mean, lots of Africans have been inspired by James Brown and loads of other American music,” she says. “It’s a two-way street.” Sudan herself was recently in northern Ghana, “teaching schoolchildren how I make music. I gave them iPads and looper pedals. It was incredibly inspiring.”
Born Brittney Denise Parks, her mum called her ‘Sudan’ when she started wearing African-style hippy garb as a 12-year-old. She grew up in Wyoming, a small city in Ohio, in a largely Jewish neighbourhood, where she began playing violin in the fourth grade. “We moved to Mason and then Westchester, where neither of my high schools had an orchestra, but I continued teaching myself how to play violin by ear.”
She honed her skills playing in church, a happyclappy Pentecostal Church of God affair, while an early break came courtesy of her late stepfather Derrick Ladd, who used to be in a band with Laface Records founders Babyface and LA Reid. Ladd encouraged Sudan and her twin sister to form a teen-pop band called M2, but it never felt right. “Babyface and LA Reid came round and saw us doing some lame copy of TLC or Miley Cyrus. I just didn’t get that kind of R&B at the time. If I made pop music, I had to do it on my own terms.”
Sudan still plays the violin, but in her hands it often sounds more like a plucked kora, a bashed zither or a distorted guitar. Live, she does everything solo, singing in a soulful, low-key chant while using digital samplers to layer her pizzicato fiddle lines in real time, building up drum loops from scratch.
She recently started working with a MIDI violin, allowing her to trigger synth and drum sounds. “It gives me more options. Some tracks on my new EP sound like Alice Coltrane got gangsta; like Alice is playing her spiritual stuff and then gets mad with someone and says, ‘Don’t fuck with me, man!’” Other tracks, like “Nont for Sale”, display a strong reggae influence. “I’m now dating a guy who is a Rasta,” she explains. “I’ve been listening to a lot of Gregory Isaacs. He’s such a little pimp, always singing about young girls! But man, that voice!”
Both of Sudan’s EPs sound like teasers, works in progress rather than finished albums. “I like that about EPs,” she laughs. “It’s like being a cat, sneaking up on people with these short mini-albums, with just six tracks on them. I’m letting y’all look at the seed. You ain’t ready for the whole flower yet!”
“We were so lucky to have Sudan open for us. Every night she opened this magical door into musicland, swimming in heavy beats and ancient-future sound.” merrill garbus, Tune-yards
Sudan Archives: “Some tracks on my new EP sound like Alice Coltrane got gangsta”