“What You Make Is A Part Of Your Life” Sango Interviewed

“Every rhythm has been used before. It's our job to find it again...”

The last time Clash caught up with Sango was back in 2016. A time when ‘One Dance’ by Drake ruled the charts; Rihanna had just dropped (what continues to be) her latest album; Pokémon Go was on the brink of taking the world by storm, catapulting everyone to spend more time outside; the Brexit referendum was yet to occur; and Trump had never been President.

Since then, the Seattle-based producer and DJ has remained a relentless creative force: teaming up with Frank Ocean, Smino, Juls, Drake, Masego and Rochelle Jordan in a number of projects and singles, whilst simultaneously releasing a handful of solo albums. The infamous ‘Da Rocinha’, originally intended as a trilogy, gained a fourth instalment, and, this time, staying true to its name “From Rocinha” — a reference to one of the biggest favelas in Rio de Janeiro — it counted with the features of only Brazilian artists, such as JXNV$, Luccas Carlos, and VHOOR.

Now, amidst the journey of designing most of the artwork for his projects, becoming a parent, and preparing for the imminent release of his upcoming album ‘North Vol. 2’, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Sango before his performance at Igloofest Quebec. Our conversation delved into what this current phase of life is holding for him, exploring the significance of personal connection in music creation, the influence of family on his work, and navigating the intricate nuances and complexities of multicultural inspiration in an increasingly globalised world — all coming from one of Soulection’s prominent faces himself.

Being a producer and a DJ, how do both of these practices contribute to your creative process? Do your live sets help your work in the studio — and vice-versa? 

I feel like when I DJ, it makes me view the music in a different way compared to making it. When I make it, you’re looking at it as something you hope the people will like. When you play it, you’re trying to figure out a way to keep people entertained. So the artistic approach with creating is more so like emotional. Not to say that DJing isn’t an emotional thing, but when you’re DJing you’re entertaining someone, trying to have them escape from something, and have a good time. That’s how I see it. That’s the difference.

And they kind of help one another, because if I’m doing something live that works I can try that in a song, or if I’m doing something in a song I can probably be like: “Oh, I like these drums, I should use these drums from this other song and put them when I’m DJing”.

It’s funny you mentioned that because I was going to ask if you can share a story about the most unexpected place you’ve found inspiration for a music track or a sample.

Oh, wow, the most unexpected place… probably my cousin-in-law. So, my wife’s cousin, he put me on to this whole new genre in Mexico. It’s called ‘Tribal Guaracha’ or like ‘Afro Cumbia Tribal Guaracha’ and it’s kind of hard to spell, but all the kids love it in Mexico, and when he showed me that it brought me to another wormhole of different genres in Mexico. And Mexico has some of the most — you can see it now with Peso Pluma and stuff, with all the Corridos and like Tumbadas, all that stuff.

Mexico is a hidden gem with genres of music, and that’s probably why having a conversation on DM with her cousin was amazing, you know? So, yeah, probably that. Because he’s not musical at all [laughs], he just likes… he’s like “Yeah, listen to this” and I’m like “What? This is the craziest music I’ve ever heard”.

As someone who incorporates influences from all around the world into your music, have you discovered unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated places? Do you think that certain musical elements or themes transcend geographic boundaries? 

Definitely, definitely. I feel like, for example, Amapiano. It’s obviously super big, from South Africa. Seeing how house music from America kind of made its way to South Africa in the 80s and 90s and then seeing them, South Africans, take the sound and make something else and create this whole new wave now. Amapiano does not sound like traditional house music. It’s South African. Same with Funk Carioca, Baile Funk. You hear Brazilian Funk, it got its inspiration from Miami Bass in America, in the 80s and 90s, but you hear it now and it’s so Brazilian. So, seeing that, everybody sharing different rhythms and it’s all kind of blended.

I always say: when it comes to rhythms, no rhythm has ever been created. It’s always been done before, and we’re just finding out about it again. No rhythm has been created from scratch. Every rhythm has been used before. It’s just our job to find it again. That’s what’s happening. People say: “Oh, this is new”. No, we’ve probably been doing this in Africa a long time ago [laughs] or wherever you’re from.

So, it’s interesting. Everybody’s taking each other’s sounds and using them. We’re exchanging. And it’s kind of funny, because you’ll see stuff, like trends on TikTok, of like a rap song — and this is true — a rap song in Milwaukee, that’s viral, and then they’re doing this Ethiopian dance to it, because it came from a meme, and everybody’s doing this Ethiopian dance that no one knows where it comes from, they think that that dance is just how you do the dance to the song, but no, the dance is from Ethiopia [laughs]. And then you see a lot of Ethiopian people getting on the meme, and it’s the craziest phenomenon, how just people don’t even know what they’re looking at. That’s just how it goes. Yeah [laughs], it’s interesting.

In your overall artistic process, how do you view collaboration? Do you think success depends on specific criteria, or is it more about personal connection and chemistry? 

I’d say a little bit of both. I’d say a little bit more heavy on the personal connection, because you kind of have to like being around the person a bit, and have a similar goal. If you don’t, you’re going to have a clash, and you’re not going to be able to create the best music.

So, I’d say, overall, creating music should be about a common goal and learning from each other. Even if we have the same goal, we might approach it a different way, and we should learn from each other when we’re doing that. Because I feel like you should never be too comfortable with making music. There should always be something that you’re worried about, because you want to be better. You just can’t be comfortable, because you’re not pushing yourself, and people want to hear something new, something they’ve never heard before, a new style of music that you’ve been into, or a new way of writing.

So no more Da Rocinha? [laughs]

Well, now, that rhythm is in my albums. On my album, you hear like Pagodão, which is a newer version of Pagode, and people don’t even know about Pagodão. They just don’t. And you hear that. But no, no more Da Rocinha [laughs]. I did four, so I felt like that’s… I was going to stop at three, but four was like “Okay, one more”. And it’s funny because people started to think I was Brazilian. I’m like “I’m not Brazilian. I’m African American and Jamaican. Please, [laughs] let me respect the people!” I don’t want to take too much credit — because you know what happens?

A lot of people that don’t know Brazilian culture, but know American culture and they know about my music, they come to me and they’ll think that I’m responsible for creating Baile Funk or something like that, and I’ll have to redirect them to Brazil, like “No, this is just something I fell in love with, just like anybody else”, and if I don’t direct them, that’s where I fall at fault. You have to direct somebody to where the source is.

So I kind of stopped a bit, because I wanted to let the people of Brazil kind of keep what was theirs as theirs to a degree. Obviously you can share music, but we have to know where it comes from, if someone’s making it, because then things are going to get too blurry, and you’re not going to be able to understand where things are coming from — even if you mean well.

That’s why, in ‘Da Rocinha 4’, I had only Brazilian artists. Only. And that was really hard to do because, like, bro Brazilians, they’re not going to like you… if they like you, they like you, but if they don’t, you’re… good luck [laughs]. So I was honoured, because they welcomed me there, and it felt like I was family. We’re cousins. You come to America, you come to Jamaica, we’re family. I go to Brazil, we’re family, so it felt good.

How was the reception there? How did you cross that bridge, got to know Brazilian artists, and made that personal connection?

I was lucky enough to meet a lot of people before social media was kind of too much, because back then — it was maybe like 2012 — a lot of people were just more genuine to create music. I met my friend, he’s from Rio Grande do Sul, and it’s the farthest thing away from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, like so different, but it’s still Brazil. He was just telling me about all these things about Brazilian culture and especially with the music, and I was borrowing some of the stuff and, at the same time, he wanted to know about how we sample in America and our drums. “How do you get the bass to sound this loud?”. So I was giving him stuff and we kind of exchanged.

Then we were learning each other’s languages. I was learning Portuguese, at the time, he was learning English. It was beautiful. And I feel like that way, I established a relationship with Brazilians through Brazilians. You can’t just come there and expect to be — obviously, Brazilians are nice, they will welcome you, but you can’t go to Brazil and expect “Yeah!” They have to trust you, because there’s been so many things that gringos have done like [laughs], like subconsciously, not even knowing it was bad. So building that relationship kind of helped me ease my way into Brazilian culture.

Ultimately, help other Brazilians, like “You’re talented, let me show the world how great you are”. That’s why me and Vhoor are really tight, that’s one of my best friends in Brazil, and like working with Jonas and BK’. Those guys are the best. They’re so talented, but they trust me, because they know I’m not here to be just some coloniser [laughs], which is funny ’cause I’m black.

How do you maintain that balance of being inspired by something without it turning into cultural appropriation?

My rule is you have to come with something. When you arrive, you have to offer a gift immediately. You have to come with something. If you don’t, they’re gonna be like “What are you trying to do?” So what I gave was just my music, the drum kicks that I made, and connections. Make sure that everyone is understanding that I’m here to help, again, not to steal. But it’s funny because you don’t see me thinking I’m going to steal. That’s just, I’m not that type of person — which other people have. They take credit for stuff, it’s horrible, especially with that sound.

Now, with a new album coming soon, how do you conceptualise the structure of an album? Is it about creating a project which conveys a specific theme or concept, having individual narratives in each song, or something entirely different? 

Oh man, making an album for me it’s about — well, I made a new rule for myself. The new rule is: You’re always making an album. What you make is a part of your life. It’s like an idea, and it’s your job to collect all these ideas, refine them, maybe change some things, get rid of some stuff, ask for help, but you’re always making an album. As long as you’re making music, you’re making some sort of project, that could be something. I think when you’re in an ‘album mode’ — like people say ‘album mode’ — I think that’s when you’re just ready to pick apart the things you’ve made.

So, yeah, in my opinion, you should never put a cap on how an album is created and what an album should be. It’s gonna come from you, so it’s gonna be very unique. I hope. Some people just kind of see album making as a robotic thing. A factory thing. Like just “Next, next, next. How is this going to make money? And stream well?”. And it should be a concept to a degree, if you want to do that, but you have to worry about where it’s coming from. It can’t just be music, out of the blue, because you want to make money [laughs].

And finally, I have a question, I don’t know if it is too personal…

You can ask any question you want!

How has being a parent influenced your work?

That’s a great question! [laughs]. When you are a parent, and you are married, time is limited now. Every day. And I’ve learned that the time I have to work on music, it has to be done right, I can’t waste time. I feel like a lot of people, when you don’t have a kid, and you first find that out, you’re like: “Oh wow, I took all the chances, all the free time I had, for granted” So yeah, having kids is important because it pushes me to manage my time well, and good time management means things are gonna get done [laughs], you’re gonna care more.

Words: Sofia Batista 
Main Photo Credit: Taz
Inset Photo Credit: Gordo

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