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sudan archives writes a love letter to east african string music

Amira Rasool

The California-based musician's new EP, 'Sink,' melds traditional church music with contemporary R&B.

For someone who’s never visited Sudan, California-based violinist and vocalist Brittney Denise Parks –– aka Sudan Archives –– has an incredibly deep spiritual connection with the East African country. Growing up, her mother nicknamed her Sudan, sparking her interest in exploring Sudanese culture and history. What she discovered in her search was the powerful sounds of traditional Sudanese music, which eventually shaped her musical identity and love for string instruments. Sudan's latest EP Sink, out today via Stones Throw Records, is an unofficial love letter to the nation's traditional string music and the contemporary R&B she grew up listening to.

Sink is the second official offering from Sudan, following her 2017 debut EP, Sudan Archives. The self-titled release’s lead single, "Come Meh Way" set the tone for the R&B-Gospel-Folk fusion that has come to define the 24-year-old's musical aesthetic, which she now refers to as "Fiddle Funk". The up-tempo, string-heavy track deservingly grabbed the attention of fans around the world via a beautifully captured music video filmed in Ghana, and helped earn her a spot on Coachella's lineup this year. She carries this brand of music into Sink along with additional sonic elements picked up from her recent travels to Europe and Ghana. Most impressively, she’s once again curated a full body of work as a one-woman-show –– producing, writing, and performing each track with little outside assistance.

It’s clear from Sink's first single, "Nont for Sale," that Sudan has a renewed energy about life that balances her naturally positive attitude with her freshly acquired no-nonsense demeanor. In “Nont for Sale” she sings: “ This is my light don’t block the sun, this is my seat can’t you tell?” she sings. “This is my time don’t waste it up, this is my land nont for sale.” The lyrical switch-up still manages to live cohesively in the mellow, uplifting melodies and is consistent with her typical, motivational rallying calls. Infused with heavy synths, the EP highlights Sudan’s vocal talent, while placing the violin further toward the center of her work.

i-D spoke with Sudan about about Sink and her first time playing at Coachella.

What mental space were you in when creating Sink ?
I just came back from Ghana so I was feeling pretty lit. EP One was doing okay so I was already happy that I accomplished that release. I was definitely feeling a little more confident. I was traveling to Europe around that time as well, so that was a new experience to me. I was going out, meeting new people, developing new feelings about people. So that always inspires something.

What new sounds did you experiment with?
I just bought a mini violin which is basically a way for a violinist to plug in their violin to their beat making computer program and make any sound they want. You can do that on keyboards but it's been hard to do that with other instruments. Some of the songs are basically made with only the violin. It doesn't sound like it because it's manipulated into other sounds.

How have you evolved since the Sudan Archives EP?
I feel like I can tell someone to shut the fuck up if I really want them to shut the fuck up, and I won't even give a fuck about how they feel because sometimes you got to take control. I definitely feel like I'm naturally introverted; I don't like to speak a lot. But sometimes you just got to speak up for yourself. I guess I just feel a little more in charge of my future. It's tangible, I can mold it however I want now.

How did performing at church when you were younger help mold you as an artist?
Church music is uplifting. I was always very positive as a young girl. I was like a hippie. I always wrote about really cute uplifting shit, so that's kind of like church because you're praising somebody. That's when I first started developing how to play by ear because I had to be in the choir and I had to just listen to the choir and play something that matched with it. So that was the starting of my producing career because that's me composing my own ideas.

What first attracted you to Sudanese music?
I realized that they have a very beautiful violin culture there and a lot of their traditional music has heavy heavy strings. I just really like the style, the arrangement of their songs, the scales that they play the violin in, and the singing styles are just very beautiful to me. It makes me feel really, really good inside. I was like, how I'm feeling I'm trying to make people feel like this with my music. That's what inspires me to have the underlying positive vibe always in the music.

What Sudanese music do you enjoy the most?
There are specific violin players in Sudan that have really inspired me like Asim Gorashi. He's a world whistler champion, he can whistle a whole Mozart song. He's like the African version of Andrew Bird. He really knows how to play the violin and sing at the same time. He can just do five songs in a row playing complex violin riffs and singing at the same time. That is really hard.

What is it about string instruments that you love?
I think it has a healing kind of vibe to it, like a therapeutic vibe. String music is kind of ancient. I feel like I'm on some ancestral shit right now. I feel like violin goes all the way back to when people were cooking with rocks. I feel very powerful. When you hear strings in music it's kind of powerful, and that's why people always incorporate strings in their music. Sometimes you just don't notice but it's always there.

How was it playing at Coachella this year?
Oh my God, it was so good because my designer is Sudanese and he took 300 hours to make me a tailor-made dress. It's actually inspired by a Sudanese tribe, the Dinka people. They wore these really cool corsets so my dress kind of looked like that in the middle, and then he made these elaborate long gold tassels. I looked like a royal jelly fish.

What’s one final thing you’d like to say about this EP?
These EPs showcase my improvisational skills and my self-expression. Some people be like, “Oh it's too short.” Y’all wouldn't be ready for it if I gave it to y'all at once. I'm just trying to plant these seeds so just watch these seeds grow.