Sudan Archives Sink EP cover.

Sudan Archives Is the Future

We talk to the buzzing artist, who blends Sudanese folk music with '90s R&B in her highly-impressive new Sink EP.

Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, producer and violinist Sudan Archives released her second solo EP, Sink, last Friday on Stones Throw, a dynamic collection of psychedelic songs that sway toward the minimal and experimental.

Her awe-inspiring, one-woman setup involves looping live strings over electronic beats and a songwriting style that pairs together Sudanese folk and fiddle music with '90s RnB. The cover of her new EP Sink features a portrait of Sudan Archives, her skin made several shades darker to match the midnight black of her iconic afro. It's a powerful piece of art to accompany the new tracks, a statement of unapologetic blackness and defiant beauty.

I spoke with Sudan Archives a few weeks before her Sink EP released. Her lively, oftentimes sassy persona had me cracking up–particularly when she took off on a Drunk History-style retelling of the Oshun story. We talked about Sudan's foundation of playing music in church, power through performance and her connection to Africa.

Are you in L.A. right now?

I'm in Pasadena.

Is that where you're based out of currently?

No, I live downtown. I just like coming to Pasadena to shop and eat. (laughs)

I was really interested to find out that you come from a religious household and were performing music in the church before anything else. How do you think that foundation has informed your own music?

I started playing the violin in church, because I didn't really have an orchestra in the school and my mom was just like, well you should join the choir and mess around and teach yourself how to learn some of the songs up there. I was really shy and didn't want to do it at first, but eventually I ended up there and I remember I was playing with a saxophone player and a drummer and a pianist and the choir. It was like a really small, 20-person choir at the church.

I sat next to the drummer. It kind of pushed me to learn my own violin lines to each song. I feel like that really helped me start making my own music, because now when I make my own beats I usually start with a violin, because that's what I did in church.

How old were you when you first started performing in the church?

I feel like I was freshman in high school, but I also think I was like 12.

What's your relationship to the church now? Is there a church that you go to in LA?

I think I do my own form of church, like my own ritualistic church in my home. I haven't found any churches out here or visited any churches out here, but I feel like I have my own spiritual practices that I do solo. I just like to pray and meditate and learn about religion. The music that I like in Sudan, typically they're Muslim and they sing in Arabic.

I'm inspired by music from several religions, so I try to teach myself about other things in life besides Christianity. On my own, I like to practice breathing, meditating, positive thinking. The space that I'm in has to have a vibe. It has to have the aromatherapy, incense poppin', just high self-care. Herbs. Bubble baths. Making your own teas. Making your own body care products.

Can you tell me about your upcoming debut LP? Is there a big sonic shift in terms of the solo approach to music of your first two EPs?

SA: Yeah, for example, I made a couple of songs that are gonna be on the album with another producer. We both produced it. He plays the piano more than I do, so I would like to have him onstage with me playing the part that played on the song. I just feel like I'm going to be working with other producers and musicians that are gonna come in the studio and lay down their ideas, but for EP1 and EP2 it was just all me messing around on my iPad and my computer.

My favorite song from your new EP is "Beautiful Mistake."

Oh, that's one of my favorite songs! I feel like it's very experimental, though, and a little out there. It's not gonna be everyone's favorite song... I was writing about this relationship, where I'm like ten years younger than the other person. I felt like when we started dating his friends were always like hating on me. They didn't understand the potential of my career. I was still making beats on my iPad. I was a barista at a coffee shop downtown and I was a waitress, so I had two jobs. To them it just seemed like I was this hippy girl. But they're just old people, so they don't know what they fucking talk about.

So I was just tryna tell him, wassup, you just gotta keep watering me. I felt like he was the main person at the time to help me get instruments. He bought my first violin pickup, and that's how I started experimenting with violin electronics, so I was trying to uplift him, like don't listen to the haters. Fuck them. (laughs) So that's what that song's about.

That's beautiful. There's a few live videos of your song "Paid" on YouTube where you sample audio of a woman telling a story of some kind.

That's Luisah Teish. It's basically the story of Oshun. Back in the day, there were several gods and they were all male, except Oshun. They were on Earth, they were trying to make things happen and they were like, "Oh, we don't need Oshun. Let's just like do our own thing. So she got really pissed and she went to the moon and started doing her makeup, and she was like, "Oh, y'all think y'all bouta shit on me? I'm bouta dry up the whole world. So she dried up the whole world, and the gods went to the supreme god and they were like, "Can you help us out, man? Shit's dried up." And they're like, "Where's Oshun?" So they had to go get her, and they apologized to her. And she was like, "I'll accept your apology, don't do that shit again."

It's a Yoruba tale and I'm also inspired by Yoruba West African one-string fiddling music. So there's a connection.

It feels like you're one of the only active female artists currently on Stones Throw's roster. Is that a pretty accurate statement?

It's pretty accurate, because it describes the Oshun story. Don't fuck with me. Don't fuck with Oshun. Recognize. I'm the fucking main queen y'all. (laughs) I'm just playing. I'm really grateful. I'm not having any issues. I feel like they recognize the divine power. They're super cool and supportive. (giggles) I'm like the princess of Stones Throw.

As a black female solo musician getting booked internationally, do you feel a sense of power of when you're performing onstage?

Yeah, it gets a little weird, because I used to perform under a table and not even want to be seen. So I'm just now getting used to being seen and entertaining people. I feel like at the beginning of the set I always try to look up at God, so maybe that's where the church life comes from, because I always try to praise God and give thanks before I even engulf myself in the crowd and connect with them. So that's a ritual I do at every show. It kind of gets weird with everyone watching you. It's good if you can humble yourself before you even like, you know, turn up.

Who were some of the first Sudanese and West African artists you were listening to when you were first writing music?

In Sudan, Asim Gorashi. He's a violinist. He makes really cool music. He plays violin and sings at the same time. He's also a world champion whistler. So that's kind of cool. I also like Francis Bebey. He's where I get my main influence from because he incorporates electronics. He's doing traditional instruments with electronics mixed together, kinda like what I'm trying to do in my own way. His whole sound is very minimal. He's not doing a lot, like his track "Forest Nativity," he's just talking, the electronic beats are very simple. You hear some flutes but also it sounds like strings. That's how I try to make my strings sound, like kinda drone-y.

I read that you first started going by the name Sudan as a teenager, before you moved to LA. From the way you dress to the way you style your hair to the visual aesthetic you cultivate in your music videos, Africa seems to be a huge part of your music and your image.

Yeah with Africa, I think all black people should go and think of it as vacation, because we are African. We're just in America. That's how I look at it. My connection to Africa is very natural, it's just me, like how people wake up and wash their hair and let it go and let it be, that's just how I'm living my life. I'm not doing anything different to my hair. I'm just kinda not altering it permanently and just waking up and washing my hair however it grows out of my head, it's just the way it is. It's just natural.

What was your first visit to Africa like?

I went to Ghana, because I volunteered with The Taiwo Fund, which empowers children at the North Star School. I taught music production. It was some of the students' first time even using computers, but they all play drums. So it was really easy to teach them the electronic drum kits, because they just have so much natural rhythm. It was really fun because it was my first out-of-the-country trip, but it was also my first time teaching students. So it was like so much to handle, so much to consume. It was a great, life changing experience and I learned a lot from them and I'm just so grateful and humble.

If you could curate a mini-festival in L.A. what artists would you book and who would you get to headline.

SA: It would be an Afro-futuristic vibe. There's a lot of artists that I'm friends with like Petite Noir, Oyinda, FKA twigs, me, Solange, Jojo Abbott, Ras G, Kaytranada--oh a rapper. Maybe uh... Isaiah Rashad!

Sudan Archives' new EP, 'Sink,' is out now on Stones Throw Records.

Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

Photo (c) John Liebenberg


"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.


Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.

The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:

mage courtesy of TIFF

Senegalese Filmmaker Mati Diop Tells a Haunted Story of Migration

We caught up with the celebrated director at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about her new film, Atlantics

It's been a good year for French-Senegalese director Mati Diop and her film Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story.

The movie got its North American premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month after wowing critics and audiences at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix. Diop was the first Black woman to successfully submit a film in the Cannes competition, and naturally the first to win any award at the iconic festival.

In Toronto, the Paris-born director was also honored with the inaugural Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Female Talent, presented at the TIFF Tribute Gala on September 9. The award is named after Mary Pickford, a Toronto native who went on to conquer Hollywood in the early days of the industry as an actor and producer. Co-founder of United Artists, she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood in her day.

Mati Diop, actor and director, was born in Paris into a prominent Senegalese family, the daughter of noted musician Wasis Diop, and niece of well known filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. As a director, she has several short films under her belt, including Atlantiques in 2009. Her short films Big in Vietnam and A Thousand Suns screened at TIFF in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story is Diop's first feature, which she directed as well as co-writing the screenplay with Olivier Demangel.

It's in the story of the first Atlantiques – the short – that the new film came to be. "The two films are both connected and not connected," Diop tells OkayAfrica. The short Atlantiques was self produced, and shot on video on a shoestring budget, she explains. Diop was moved by the constant stream of reports, between 2000 and 2010, of young Senegalese taking to small wooden boats and braving the ocean waters in a bid to reach Spain and better opportunities. As she notes, the media tended to treat the phenomenon as largely an abstract issue, one that had to do with economic forces. Diop wanted to tell the story of the real people in that situation.

"I felt that my cinema should be put at the service of their voices," she says. "I wanted to understand." It's part of what motivated Diop to get into film in the first place. While the short was shot documentary-style, she worked the story as fiction. The actor featured in the short had actually made an Atlantic crossing, but was subsequently turned back by Spanish authorities. The way he spoke about the experience connected with Diop; in particular, his determination to try the perilous journey once more. "I am here, but not here," he told her. "Serigne felt it was here [in Senegal] he would lose his life," Diop says. She wanted to understand what drove so many young men to risk their lives. "He felt that his life was vulnerable in Senegal." The actor's words took on even more resonance when he died, while still in Senegal, before he could try again. Diop says he had gone to a hospital after falling ill, but the staff were on strike. After his death, it left her with mixed feelings. "I wondered if I had the right to continue."

TIFF Tribute Gala Mati Diop | TIFF 2019

Diop was left with the poignant memory, and a haunting impression. "When you leave, it means you are already dead," she says. After filming the short, she attended Serigne's funeral, and filmed his mother and sister—the women left behind who would become the focus of the feature film treatment. Diop says that the character of Ada, the protagonist of the new movie, is based in large part on the sister, who, in the short film, does not speak any lines.

In Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story, Ada is 17 years old, in love with Souleiman, but her parents have already arranged a very practical marriage with another—and much wealthier—man. On the eve of her wedding, odd things begin to happen, and Ada learn that Souleiman and his friends have left Dakar in a boat, hoping to reach Spain. Ada and her BFFs anxiously await any word from them, as the mysterious happenings keep piling up.

"The beauty of women comes through marriage," a cleric tells one mother. Ada's story embodies the life of a young West African woman—torn between traditional forces in both her family and society, and the friends who wear Western dress and don't bother with the old ways. The wealthy family she has married into owns a large construction company, the one that didn't pay its workers for months, leading the young workers to try their luck in Spain. She loves Souleiman, but she also needs to find her own path.

Mama Sané plays Ada, the solid heart of the film, as a tangle of emotions and repressed desires. She veers from defiant when dealing with the police detective sent to investigate the strange occurrences, to a wordless expression of longing with the kind of intensity only a teenager can muster.

Diop's directorial vision turns Dakar into a place of both surreal magic and harsh reality. The film immerses the audience in the city's sounds, from the goats bleating outside a window while Ada and her friends talk, to voices in the next room, with the eternal heaving of waves against the shore as a recurring refrain. The original music by Fatima Al Qadiri adds to the effect.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon has shot the film with a poetic eye. There are many images of the shifting surface of the sea, with the open sky and sun above it, each different from the last. The streets of Dakar at night take on an otherworldly edge, framed in palm trees against the artificial lights. The building the young men have been working on is futuristic in design, all glass and steel, and the company owner's neutral modern mansion contrasts with the broken rubble on the streets, from slick sports cars to horse drawn carts. It adds to the sense of the surreal.

Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was acquired by Netflix after Cannes, and is intended for worldwide release by the streaming service, (with the exception of China, Russia, Benelux, Switzerland, and France.) As part of its new policy, Netflix, which became an official member of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America,) earlier this year, will be giving the flick a "theater-first" release, opening in selected theaters on November 15, with streaming available from November 29 in North America.

The film also stars Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré, Nicole Sougou, Amina Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, and Diankou Sembene. Dialog in the France-Senegal-Belgium co-production is in Wolof with subtitles.

(Photo by Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images )

Exiled Tunisian President Ben Ali Has Died

The former president had been living in Saudi exile since 2011.

Tunisia's former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, 83, has been declared dead while in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali became interim Prime Minister in 1987. He ran unopposed and was elected Prime Minister in 1998 and served for 23 years – from 1988 to 2011. He was known for using autocratic techniques, eradicating presidential term limits and altering age caps in order to stay in power. In the beginning, Ben Ali was considered a "people's head of state" and garnered the nickname "Benavie" which loosely translates to "Ben Ali for life." By the 2000s, however, he had become deeply unpopular and prompted protests and unrest against his oppressive rule.

His reign ended when he fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 amid protests that ultimately led to a string of revolutions dubbed the Arab Spring. He had been living in exile in Saudi Arabia ever since. As France 24 reports, in 2018 Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia by Tunisian courts to "more than 200 years in prison on charges including murder, corruption and torture."

Though there is no cause of death just yet, Ben Ali had been in intensive hospital care for lung cancer for three months. According to Al Jazeera, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha announced Ben Ali's death to news agencies via phone and the claim was confirmed by Tunisia's foreign minister.

There is footage of a Tunisian lawyer taking to the street at dawn celebrating the news of Ben Ali's death.

This past Sunday, Tunisia held free elections advancing Kas Saied and Nabil Karoui (who is currently jailed) as presidential candidates with neither receiving a majority vote. A run-off election between the two will be held September 29.

Tunisians and others are sharing their reactions to the news across social media. Here are some reactions:

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