Su­dan Ar­chives

This month: heady, Afro­fu­tur­ist r&B from the vi­o­lin­ist and singer oth­er­wise known as Brittney Denise Parks

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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”

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