Beginning with a fascination of the violin and the community that came with it, Ohio-raised Brittney Parks leaned into her gifts as a musician and violinist birthing the multi-talented, versatile artist that is Sudan Archives. Feeding into a sense of curiosity, Sudan crafted her sound by studying the vast interpretations of violin playing and specifically drew upon non-Western rhythms to inspire her music, crafting her own sound which she described to us as ‘Electro-fiddle R&B, Electro Fiddle-Pop or Fiddle Funk’. Connecting more with the experimental side of writing and producing music, Sudan has consistently pushed boundaries with unique ways of incorporating her origins as a violinist across different genres.
After releasing her debut album Athena in 2019, Sudan Archives returned in 2022 with singles ‘Home Maker’ and most recently ‘Selfish Soul’, a track that captures an honest and relatable conversation about hair and circles back to the many experiences Sudan had when discovering acceptance and self-assurance in one’s appearance.
When Acclaim had the chance to chat to Sudan, conversation circulated around the significance of West and East African influences in her music, how the name Sudan Archives came to be and where her sights are set for the future.
Thank you so much for sitting down with us today, can you tell us a bit about who Sudan Archives is?
I grew up in Ohio and I feel like that’s a big part of who I am because it’s just kind of a big empty space where you’re able to kind of.. imagine because the part that I was staying at always felt like there wasn’t much to do. So, I always would create things and imagine – I think that’s why I started doing what Sudan Archives does musically because I had a lot of time to experiment and that’s why I started playing the violin in this small town in Wyoming, Ohio. I feel like if I didn’t start playing violin there, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing at all, and I wouldn’t have had access to that violin community.
Can I ask where the name Sudan Archives came from and what is the meaning behind it?
So basically when I was 16 years old, I told my mom that I did not like my name Brittney. I was telling her that I was gonna change it and make changes to my name, this and that. Then I was like—how about Sudan and it basically became a nickname which turned into an artist name. It used to be Sudan Moon and then I switched to Sudan Archives because I started to get really into ethnomusicologists’ archives. I was really interested in studying as a musicologist, I guess. But also, I was just interested in a specific instrument in West Africa, and I was trying to basically connect what I thought was an American violin instrument, back to find its roots I guess.
I discovered that the violin has African roots and that really opened my eyes up to the different types of violin playing and violin cultures there’s not just a Western classical approach, there are so many approaches it’s crazy. So, I just became fascinated by I guess Sudanese violin culture because that was my nickname. I realised that they were playing the regular violin that I was playing but in a totally different way because it’s their culture and the way that they song write with the violin is so unique and I guess opened up how I could approach violin and singing at the same time. Because there’s not really a lot of artists that are doing that, they usually play the violin in a band or an orchestra or something so when I saw that there’s these Sufi violin maestros from Sudan, playing violin and singing and whistling and all these things, it made me basically realise that I could use the violin as a lead instrument like people do as guitar players. Like Jimi Hendrix is the lead guitar player, it made me feel like I could explore the possibilities of that but with the violin.
You’re right, we sometimes do have this perspective that the violin is like this classical instrument and not necessarily understand the depth that it has in other parts of the world. So, I guess that kind of leads into my next question a little bit – how would you best describe your sound and how does the violin impact what genre of music you lean into?
I feel like I would describe it as electro-fiddle R&B or electronic fiddle pop or something — I don’t really know. Honestly, I don’t know what genre to call it but I do know that it’s fiddle inspired. The way I play violin is definitely inspired by fiddle music but what inspires me to make the music sonically, I feel like I have so many inspirations because I grew up in the church. So, that’s like an influence and my mom and my sisters love R&B and neo-soul and jazz—and I am a little influenced by Russian classical composers and fiddle music, Irish jig music and East African, West African violin traditional music like that. I feel I’m also always listening to pop music because it’s just always playing on the radio, in the grocery store and stuff so I don’t really know what genre I would call it but sometimes I just say it’s fiddle funk like if that’s a genre, I would call it fiddle funk.
Your latest single Selfish Soul dropped last month. On the track you speak to the relationship that one has with their hair. Why was it important for you to talk about that on this track?
Because it’s a huge part of me, my hair – sometimes in a good or bad way. I remember when I first heard this song ‘I Am Not My Hair’ by India.Arie, I remember how I felt when I first heard that song, I felt like oh, I’ve never heard a song like this. A song talking about 4C hair texture and talking about perms and talking about like all of the struggles and hard work that we put into our hair to get it to look a certain way, so we can fit in or not fit in and why that is. Also, specifically like what our hair can do and stuff and how it doesn’t confine you. No matter how you’re gonna wear it and the reason why – if you feel like you’re doing it from a political standpoint, or you feel like you just want your hair to look a certain way because you want it to be that way.
Like you shouldn’t be judged for it, you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you don’t wanna rock your natural curls, if you just wanna wear a wig – I feel it’s a song for all types of hair, not just natural hair. What you wanna do with your hair, you shouldn’t feel confined to it. That’s what that India.Arie song was saying to me and it spoke to me when I was young, because she was talking about Oprah Winfrey and how she never wears her natural hair, she’s always wearing weaves and you know Halle Berry is wearing her hair short and how she has her locks and her natural hair. I guess when I made that song, I realised oh I feel like I just channelled that song again, ’cause I just don’t really know a lot of examples of subjects that talk about it like that, in that way. So, I was really happy that I made a song like that but in my own way.
That’s beautiful. So, how has your relationship with your hair changed over the years?
Basically, around New Year’s when it was COVID, I cut all my hair off and that was the first time I’ve done it in my life. So, it was a really big deal and I always felt like if I cut my hair then maybe the person that I was with wouldn’t wanna be with me for some reason ’cause like some people have made comments like that. I feel certain types of partners want you with just long hair, even if it’s not your hair and it got to the point where I just felt like I needed a reset. I feel like that applies to all races because I feel all women, at one point, just really want to cut their hair off but they might not because of not even their own reasons, you know?
Is that why you titled it Selfish Soul?
Yeah, because in a way, you might feel like you’re being selfish by putting yourself first so I thought it would be a clever title to call it that. I think even in the hook I said, “it’s about time that I feed my selfish soul”. So, I just thought that that would be a perfect title.
I know you were one of the producers for this single, who else worked on the track and how did it all come together?
Well basically I’m just very open right now to other people’s contributions to songs. During COVID, I was just making everything in my basement and I remember with this song specifically—this was one of the songs where I really felt from beginning to end I already had it finished. It was basically just violins and the drum pattern that I wanted, and vocals. I even had a bassline but I really didn’t like the bassline. I remember the first person I reached out to was Dexter Story. I reached out to him because I feel like this song does have the East African string composition approach and it kind of felt like Ethiopian jazz to me in a way, mixed with r&b and pop. I knew that Dexter Story would be perfect to contribute to the track because he’s someone like me who is fascinated with East African music and traditional African music in general and the baseline he added was perfect. It kinda gave it more of an anthemic vibe to it and it was just perfect so I’m super glad that he added that. I remember that I had sessions with an engineer, Lafemmebear and that was the first female engineer that I ever worked with in my life. So, she added some drum programming and some synth lines and basically helped me rerecord a lot of the violins because I wanted a cleaner sound because a lot of this stuff that I do in my basement, I always have to kind of redo it ’cause I don’t really know what I’m doing engineering-wise. I feel like it was the perfect combination of people and it was good that I got to work with a female on a song about female hair you know.
Is collaborating on production something you’d like to do more of?
Well, I feel like it gets really lonely making music by yourself and I just don’t wanna do that for the rest of my life because it’s gonna make me a weird person—like I’m gonna be a narcissist or something (laughs). So, I feel I am always open to feedback and I’m always showing people demos and I also want people to have opportunities. I feel like now my career is getting to the point where if someone did produce one of my songs that would be an opportunity to uplift them you know. So, I think it’s like bigger than ego at this point, it’s about giving opportunities to people you love you know.
That’s lovely. You also have a couple of tours coming up in the second half of this year. What do you have in mind for when your live shows?
Yeah, I feel like I really wanna play more instruments on stage and I feel like I never did because I just kinda had a little bit of impostor syndrome. So, it’s like playing one instrument is already nerve-wracking for me and singing and stuff, but I feel I want to try to showcase the parts that I have contributed to on the tracks. It would be nice if I could try to whip out my Sub-bass and play some bass and some piano and stuff like that. I think that’d be cool.
Follow Sudan Archives here for more and stream the new single ‘Selfish Soul’ here.