In Conversation: Sango

Clash meets the Soulection star with Brazilian flair...

Back in 1999, David Bowie sat down with the BBC’s bastion for change, Jeremy Paxman, and meditated on how the emergence of the world wide web could change the musical landscape. Ever prophetic, Bowie could barely hide his excitement at the prospect of there being a direct line between artist and audience, a platform for dialogue and a solvent of vast cultural and geographical differences between scenes and movements – a single, global music community which, as Bowie put it, is ‘carrying the flag for rebellion.’ 16 years later, and the future of music as Bowie saw it is here: Self-aware, eclectic and defiant.

The cult of Soundcloud has birthed a thousand movements, the vanguard of which is California’s Soulection; a new model for creative innovation which is focused on unearthing, nurturing and use social media to connect with, adopt and develop promising artists who produce music outside of the confines of genre, whilst sat, more often than not, within the confines of their bedroom. Any roll call of ‘ones to watch’ in 2016 is likely to include numerous Soulection affiliates; some, like Kaytranada or Goldlink, with rapidly gaining attention from the mainstream. There is though, a revered member of the Soulection old guard, who seems to stands out from his contemporaries for his enigmatic production style and multi-lingual beats. He goes by the name of Sango, and by all accounts is a quiet, humble 24 year old graphic design graduate from Seattle, who just happens to be creating music for and of the entire planet. 

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Sonically speaking, Sango’s horizons are so wide that describing his in music in any specific terms is an almost impossible task. One moment he’ll release an EP of Brazilian-inspired beats, the next he’ll be popping up with production credits for a major label R&B star like Tinashe, Kehlani or Bryson Tiller. Unpredictable, versatile and fearless; Sango’s work epitomises the melting-pot potential of online platforms, sampling James Blake, Drake and Justin Timberlake alongside obscure sounds from rural scenes across the world.

When I meet Sango upstairs in The Steelyard, surely one of the capital's most impressive new venues, set across three railway arches beneath Cannon Street station, and he is sat there wide eyed and less than phased. It's a stretch to say that Sango is like a musical Indiana Jones, but he does have this uncanny awareness of the unique identities of each city he visits, and the ability to effortlessly succumb to their cultural quirks and musical nuances. “My parents were both in the navy, and they traveled the world” he explains, “we grew up on all kinds of music. You can’t hide from that kind of influence.” The globetrotting inheritance transcends and informs his music, as his fascination for language and travel feeds a collection of influences as vast as his sample library.

Sango doesn’t hide from influencing factors, he embraces and shares them, positive or not and instead of transposing life experiences into 140 characters or a series of pithy captions for a Tumblr blog, Sango finds ways to articulate them in his instrumental releases and remixes.

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We grew up on all kinds of music. You can’t hide from that kind of influence.

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At the end of last year he released the third and final of the ‘Da Rochina’ series: a trilogy of beat tapes which distil the vibrancy and energy of the favelas with such authenticity that even Brazilians were fooled. Only a week or so before the sold-out show at The Steelyard, Sango’s headline tour took him to the cities that inspired some of his most popular releases, and his personal adoration was reciprocated tenfold. “Rio De Janeiro was the best show ever,” he reflects, excitedly. “Some guy was like ‘Yo man, it took you four years to play in your city, why did it take so long?’”

This is because unlike even some of the most talented producers, Sango fully immerses himself in the culture he is trying to capture. His peers might borrow and sample from outside of the usual hip-hop lexicon, but not many can say that they learnt French from STWO and Kaytranada, Spanish from their spouse and Portuguese from a young Brazilian rapper they met on Twitter.

Back in 2002, thousands of young people all over this soccer-loving planet started to foster a particular affection for the Brazilian national football team who were just about to lift the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. A team that played samba football at its finest, with cocky flair and undeniable style. I can only imagine that Sango, 16 years and 3 full-length baile funk EPs later, was impressed more than most. Being a huge soccer fan himself, and only a couple of years my senior, you can practically hear the same awe inspiring tenants of Ronaldinho & Co.’s beautiful game running throughout the ‘Da Rochina’ tapes, and even earlier on his Bandcamp releases from 2011, when he was 19.

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I steer the conversation towards the Brazilian connection, and Sango’s posture relaxes further, like it's his favourite topic in the world – no matter how many times he has had to speak on it. For him, like football and faith, music is more than a hobby; it’s a personal exercise in optimism, and an exploration into the phenomenon of community spirit which helps to build new relationships, grow his sonic appreciation and enhance his cultural awareness:

 “I have an album on Bandcamp called ‘There’s Eugene’ [2011] and there’s a song on there called ‘The Differences’, with a sample I found on YouTube. It goes, ‘I am Jonathon of the new generation – Translated to Portuguese’ That’s a little rapper kid, it came from a Baile Funk album, on a track I heard by accident on Pandora. The kid is called Kojak who I just connected with on Twitter – we’re now good friends, he’s the reason I speak Portuguese, and I’m teaching him English.” A real sense of pride fills the room when he tells the story. Sat in his Brazilian-flag cap, always more than simply a fan.

While there’s no denying that music is Sango’s first love, it is graphic design that he has studied to degree level. “I got scared man,” he admits. “I felt like I needed money so I went to school for that. I don’t have a design job, but they teach you taste, four years and they teach you taste.” The skills he learned are still prevalent throughout his work, from designing artwork for Selection’s Beats 1 show, to paying attention to detail on the forthcoming vinyl re-issue of his ‘Da Rochina’ trilogy – which will be coloured with Brazil’s green, yellow and blue.

 With the trilogy complete, Sango intends to take a break from the influences of his beloved Rio and Sao Paulo, back to his place of birth, Seattle, with his forthcoming debut album ‘In The Comfort Of’ set for release at the end of the year. The LP is the culmination of his experiences in the last five years, and is about riding this whirlwind of change.

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It’s about a sense of self…

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“It’s about saying ‘I’m comfortable with who I am. I’m comfortable with my flaws,’” he reveals. “You know, the daily sins you go through, or the things you don’t like about yourself or the people you’re with. It’s about a sense of self.”

 To help him articulate these themes, Sango is currently working on enlisting a wealth of emerging vocal talent to feature on the record. Once again, with another display of the producer’s diverse tastes and global interests, he reveals that a dream line-up would feature existing collaborators SPZRKT, GoldLink, Chris McClenney and Bryson Tiller alongside the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Jesse Boykins III and Stormzy.

 “I’m experimenting with grime,” he admits, of the another culture he’s developed a love for from afar. “Taking the polyphonics and like I did with baile funk, I’m trying to translate it to an American audience – and American’s don’t like the harsh accents or the loud noises – So I’m sampling R&B, and garage and the same grime bounce and making it American. Crazy gospel sounds, 808s…”

As a point of disclaimer here, it is important to say that like with the culture of Brazil, Sango has been fully immersed in grime culture for a number of years, citing Ghetts Wiley and Kano, saying that he’s listened through the rise, fall and resurrection of the genre with keen ears.

Sango has a sense of place that not many producers possess; completely able to tune in to the unique frequency of wherever he finds himself – and translate the vibe into his production. His beats come from a laptop and headphones, made on planes, trains, green rooms, Starbucks; anywhere outside the sanctuary of his family home in Seattle. Soulection and their artists are preserving the future of music, and without even trying to, Sango is constantly breaking down spatial barriers and championing creativity, diversity and exploration through sound and design. For this reason, he is absolutely not to be slept on.

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Words: Robbie Russell

Catch Sango at this year's Lovebox (July 15th – 16th).

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