“This group Barrage came to my school when I was 10,” Sudan Archives (real name Brittney Parks) tells me when ask her when she first wanted to pick up a violin. “Sometimes Barrage went to schools to just fill up the tour, but what they did was play the violin and viola, then stand up and dance at the same time.”
“So, it's like different than orchestra a little bit more, a little bit freer as you can”.
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Around this time, after seeing Barrage, Brittney then found Miri Ben-Ari. “She was just known for just being like that violinist girl that you get to play on your track. So, when I saw that, I was like, oh, maybe I kind of want to do something like that. She seems like she has her own career. And she plays the violin, but it's not like in a typical orchestra setting or anything like that.”
She was certain the violin was for her. “I try to learn some beginner classes in the school that was that then we moved pretty soon. So, I just kept playing violin and church and I kept figuring out how to play certain like solos for the choir and stuff. And then from there that's probably past I'm just messing around. And, you know, just whatever I heard on the road Try to play that song,” Sudan recounts.
After this epiphany the American artist formed a group with her sister - “mostly R&B / pop stuff” - left home and moved to LA. It was here that Sudan started experimenting seriously with the violin and electronic music on her iPad and released her debut EP ‘Goldencity’ in 2014 under the Sudan Moon moniker on Paxico Records. “It was like my first-time making beats. Like it was kind of funny”.
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Musically everything is starker than her Sudan Archives releases with hazy R&B flourishes that recall Prince at his most playful. Lyrically, most of Sudan’s music, ‘Goldencity’ has an immediate, almost personal, feeling, like you are listening in on something you shouldn’t.
But as soon as ‘Goldencity’ was released Sudan had dropped the Moon and picked up Archives. “When I moved to LA I started to find out about African string music and stuff. That probably gave me the idea to archives because I was listening to a lot of like archive music,” she says. “People that look like me playing the violin. They're also just doing it and it seemed avant garde to me because it didn't have this Western approach.”
Sudan explains that seeing a Sudanese musician playing violin, singing and whistling at the same time gave her the idea and inspiration to want to be a solo violinist, because that isn’t really the norm in Western music. “You don't really see that in bands. You usually see like, a lot of guitars and a lead guitarist, but you never see like in a band. A lot of violins and like a lead violinist”.
In 2017 Sudan released her next EP, the self-titled ‘Sudan Archives’. This time Stones Throw was the label. Stones Throw A&R Matthewdavid heard Sudan’s new demos and wanted to put them out on Leaving Records, a Stones Throw offshoot, but then decided help finish off the demos and signed her instead. “We mix the rest of the stuff together.”
The follow EP, 2018’s ‘Sink’ features songs recorded at the same time as ‘Sudan Archives’. “I planned it being one album,” Sudan explains. This makes sense as textually ‘Sudan Archives’ and ‘Sink’ feel similar when played back-to-back. And this brings us almost up to date and her flawless debut album ‘Athena’.
When asked when the recording started Sudan says: “I have a couple of demos that I was that I was probably had already made when the second EP was out. I like make music by making a lot of demos and then I just don't really do anything to them. So, I guess you can say it was halfway done by ‘Sink’”.
This makes sense as ‘Athena’ is a very immediate album, all raw and frayed around the edges. But it is also fragile too. Listening to the album, it reminds me of looking at china in a museum - you recognise there is a fragility to it, due to the strings and minimal productions, and you know it could break if you treat it roughly but at the same time it's sturdy because it's 300 years old.
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And that's how we feel. Her songs are there sort of like china ornaments. They’re on shelves they're like you don't really want to mess with them too much because you could break them but at the same time, those songs are robust, and it sounds pretty.
Thematically Sudan is discussing her everyday life, but how that fits into large issues of race, sexuality, happiness, and where she feels she fits into society. “They're big deals and they need to be talked about, because it's just my life. Yeah. I feel like colourism was one of those topics. I talked about that on like three songs. ‘Did you know?’ I'm talking about my hair texture. And I'm comparing it to this other girl's hair texture. And saying that I guess you didn't like mine because it's coarser and it's thicker. And hers is like really cute like little baby hairs.”
“I'm talking about insecurities, but I feel like sometimes it's harder to date being a dark-skinned black woman because people will say weird things like you're really pretty for a dark-skinned girl or they like I like your hair straight.”
She goes on to explain about negativity and positivity, and “how many people are kind of like the centre point of yourself. You can you can ignore those negative thoughts and ignore the positive thoughts and they make you the person you are. So, you kind of must embrace both sides of that.”
“Also, I feel like it talks about I feel like a snake was like a theme of the album. A lot of people perceive a snake as an evil, dangerous, scary creature. But really, he's nice and shy. And I feel like a lot of people perceive me in ways that aren't real, but just okay that are like rumours.”
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When asked what the next 18 months old Sudan pauses. Then goes on to explain that she wants to record her follow up to ‘Athena’, but she needs to figure out her next sound. She doesn’t rule out another Sudan Moon release, but her follow up to ‘Athena’ will probably be a Sudan Archives release.
Sudan says she wants her next album to be fast. We joke it’ll be an acoustic techno album, but after talking to Sudan for a while you don’t know when she’s joking or not. She can probably sense this and adds: “I don't really know I just know that I want to start now. It's hard to know how long it's going to take me, because I pretty because I have like, a decent amount of time.”
And she’s right. Time is on her side. She’s released what feels like an instant classic and is expected to sit on her laurels for a bit, but that isn’t her style. Always thinking of the next release, always thinking about her evolution as not just an artist, but as a person.
After speaking to Sudan, it dawns on me that she might be one of the most singular artists making music now. She speaks her mind and have strong beliefs, but never gets angry when discussing her mistreatment by others.
She never raises her voice. She never complains. She knows her mind. She knows what she wants and how to get her point across and does so with exquisite music. Maybe Sudan is Athena after all.
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'ATHENA' is out now.
Related: Clash Albums Of The Year 2019
Words: Nick Roseblade
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