Photograph courtesy of Sônge. 

sônge's new track is an otherworldly ode to afro hairstyles

Listen to 'Magic Hairdo' here.

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Dec 3 2018, 9:43pm

Photograph courtesy of Sônge. 

In the video for her song “Roses,” singer and producer Sônge has over 300 feet of thin, shimmery gold chains hanging from her braids. They took three hours to put in but the lengthy process was more than worth it — they’re spellbinding, badass, and powerful. Sônge’s new song, “Magic Hairdo,” is an ode to such otherworldly styles. The track will appear on Sônge’s debut album, dropping in spring, but it’s premiering today on i-D. “‘Magic Hairdo’ is about the secrets of the universe, things that can’t be named, things you can’t explain, like the hair beauty secrets of afro women,” explains Sônge. “It’s an ode to curly, nappy, wavy, smooth hair. A song that celebrates the variety of women and their hair, whether natural or braided, colorful or extended.”

Sônge, who is half Cameroonian and half French, was raised in France’s northwestern region of Brittany. She grew up playing African percussion and singing in a band with her friends. Jazz, reggae, dub, and trip-hop comprised her sonic upbringing, and despite earning a degree in business that saw her studying all over Europe, for Sônge, it always came back to music. “I realized it’s what I want to do forever,” she says. “When I returned to Paris I said, Okay, let’s go, and enrolled at the Conservatoire de Paris to study jazz.” A mixture between M.I.A., Santigold, FKA twigs, and something else entirely indefinable, Sônge’s experimental sound is untethered in terms of genre and direction. It’s a unique amalgamation of R&B, electro, and pop influences grounded in beautiful harmonies and technical chord progressions — indicators of her classical training.

i-D talks to Sônge about “Magic Hairdo,” her love of the mythical, and seeing sounds as colors.

Your music is far from classical What did you gain from attending the Conservatoire de Paris?
I was not a jazz woman, I was more interested in hip-hop and electronic music, but it was a good experience because of what I learned about harmony. I learned how to sing scales and how to improvise on a song or with a certain chord — I learned so many things that I now use today.

What was your approach to getting your music out and getting noticed after school?
I put my very first video clip, for a song called “Now,” on YouTube. I made it with friends. Right after, I started receiving emails from agents and labels saying they’d like to hear other songs and asking me to meet. I ultimately signed with Parlophone from Warner. It was so good because normally you can make music and never get any feedback or you have to make an effort to contact people.

What interests or influences do you draw from when you write music?
I’m very inspired by tales. Tales from everywhere in the world. I love magical stories and mythology, these are big influences. Brittany, where I grew up, is a land of legends, there are so many legends there. I’m also inspired by fantastical universes like those you see in films. Of course, I’m also inspired by music. I like Björk, I think she was one of the first musical tornadoes I got wrapped up in. My parents, they used to listen to reggae music, so bass music speaks to me. The trip-hop from Bristol also speaks to me so much because of its bass.

You have synesthesia and see sounds as colors. Can you describe what kinds of sounds might elicit which colors?
The color depends on a mix of harmony, scales, and sound texture. There are some scales that are very silver for me, I don’t know why. Other scales are very purple, like the B scale. It’s not always about a scale, it’s a matter of scales and chords. When I do chords with a diminished fifth it’s always kind of purplish because the diminished fifth is devilish, you know? Sometimes it can be related to the texture — when I hear a song with a lot of air inside it can be green. Like when it’s very ethereal and windy.

How does synesthesia affect your writing process?
Most of the time I start by writing the music and then I create the story on top of it. I begin by searching for chords with my laptop and a little keyboard. When I have a nice chord progression it’ll give me a color, like deep blue, for example. When I have this mood I can continue to work on top of it like a painting. I put in some contrast or add in some light and sometimes I’ll mix it with other colors. The melody will come little by little and then the story will come little by little. It’s rare that there is a text at the beginning. It’s music, colors, mood, and then melody and then the lyrics.

What is “Magic Hairdo” about?
“Magic Hairdo” is a parallel between the mysteries of the universe and the mysteries of the beauty tricks of African women, specifically those involving their hair. It’s a hymn for African hair — for all African hair. For natural curly hair but also straightened hair. I don’t want to say, “Oh, we have to only wear natural hair and those who don’t are post-colonial victims,” you know? That is absolutely not my point. I think all hair is great. Fake hair and natural hair, extensions and wigs — it’s all nice. Personally, I like to wear different hair styles. I like to have braids, extensions, natural hair — I’m open.

When you perform, you sometimes wear glasses called luminettes. What’s the story behind that?
I have trouble sleeping so I went to see a doctor in Belgium. He told me that I should buy luminettes and wear them in the morning and then the night after I would sleep better. It’s called light therapy. When I received the glasses I said, “Oh, I want to put them on on stage!” Normally I wear them for medical reasons, not to entertain, but I thought they were so great. When I wear them on stage I don’t see anybody in the venue, I am really blind. It’s nice when you do your first songs and you don’t see anything, you can liberate yourself. It’s like, “Nobody sees me, I can do crazy things!”

Outside of what your music conveys, what do you stand for as an artist?
I believe in feminine creativity, feminine entrepreneurship. I believe in harmony between guys and girls and people who identify as non-binary. I believe in feminine energy, like a sisterhood. And also in diversity. The most important thing is that people of all colors mix and live together, and the same goes for women of all sizes. In life, everybody is not the same—that is important.