Interview: Sudan Archives’ Ghana Travels and More

As of late, a group of artists has emerged that mix the mainstream and the avant garde in a way that continues the work of such vanguard legends like Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane.

Yet so often their work has been co-opted by newer generations of bands who, discovered a Mulatu Astatke record and decided to include “world elements” in their mainstream creations (this is no better encapsulated than one viewer commenting on Sudan Archive’s latest video with “African Alt J”). I’ll pause for a collective eye roll on that one…

Like Dorothy Ashby, Sudan Archives takes an instrument we all know, and refuses to follow the rules. With violin, loop pedal and laptop in hand, the 23-year-old has quickly established herself in a new wave of young prolific artists who defy classification. The self taught musician and producer draws inspiration from Sudanese fiddlers, and adds in her own strand of R&B and experimental electro. Her self-titled debut EP released this past summer. 

Watch her most recent video for “Come Meh Way” below, and read on to discover more about the rising artist.

What inspired the name Sudan Archives?
My mama nicknamed me Sudan when I was 16 because Brittney never fitted me. When I was trying to figure out my artist name, I thought Tokyo Moon would be cool but my mother thought Sudan Moon was better. I took on that name and eventually changed moon to archives.

How did you go from teaching yourself violin to producing?
I never could afford violin lessons and moved around schools that lacked music programs. I started playing violin in my church choir to learn how to play by ear. Whenever I turned on the radio, I would imitate the melodies and eventually started making up my own ideas. I started hanging out with a group of rappers that all produced their own beats which pushed me to do the same. I started downloading ipad apple music production applications like Garageband and Impc. I made all my beats on the Ipad and bought an interface for it so I could plug in my violin and microphone to record. I eventually bought gear like the sp 404, loop station pedals, and a laptop to make fuller productions.

What was the first piece you learned to play on violin?
When I was in fiddle club the first piece we learned was Swallowtail Jig. It’s a traditional jig song.

You’re music is inspired by Sudanese fiddlers and modern R&B – who are some artists that had a major impact on you and what was it about their music that inspired you?
Juldeh Camara is a one string African string player. His blind father taught him how to play the one string fiddle and local tradition claims his eyesight was taken from the spirits in return for learning music. One string fiddle players are a rarity and he is spreading the tradition around the world.

Jimi Hendrix is really inspiring because he was left handed and played the guitar upside down, couldn’t read music, and pioneered the sound of guitar playing by incorporating electronic gear.

You traveled to Ghana to shoot the music video for “Come Meh Way,” what was that experience like?
Upon arrival I was welcomed by the Ghanians hospitality. The people are inviting and warm and I felt an immediate connection.The humid heat, busy crowds, and highlife music makes you smile.Teaching the kids at the North Star School with The Taiwo Fund  was a dream come true and the main reason we traveled to Ghana. I launched a three day music production workshop and kids easily adapted to electric drum kits because they are already skilled drummers at their school. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to go and teach the skills I’ve learned and inspire the students to create with the tools that they already have.

What were some favorite places you visited while there?
The beaches, and getting outfits tailor made at some of the local shops in the village. The wace (bean and rice dish) lady on the main road of the street I was staying at, the food is so yummy there.

What was it like moving to Los Angeles from Cincinnati to pursue your music career?
I felt independent and was very aware the struggle of living on your own and finding work. The idea excited me. I crashed with a few friends before I got my own place. I had two jobs and juggled between occupations like serving, barista, and donut making while going to school at Pasadena City College. I wasn’t focused on getting a music deal but my career started to naturally blossom when I started uploading songs on soundcloud.

How did you come to be signed to Stones Throw?
I showed Matthew David my demo which PB Wolf heard and wanted to sign me. I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to launch my first release.

Describe your perfect day in Los Angeles:
Going to the self realization center, getting a smoothie, laughing with someone, swimming, reading, and making a beat.

photo by: Robb Klassen