"I need to be free, time to spread my wings, I don't like leeches." - Sudan Archives
By Lexi Vollero
If you saw the confident Sudan Archives standing in front of you sporting vibrant African prints and her iconic afro while playing Sudanese fiddle, would you ever guess that she’s from Cincinnati? Believe it or not, the 24-year-old was born Brittney Parks and lived in Ohio until she was kicked out of her house and hopped on her first plane ride to her new home in Los Angeles.
Archives’ individuality is the cornerstone of her aesthetic and her music. Her bohemian style and interest in African attire led to her mother renaming her “Sudan” when Archives decided that her given name no longer suited her. As the self-taught violinist began exploring the music of the country she was named for, she discovered the Sudanese and West African fiddling traditions that inspire her playing today and make her music unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.
The best word to characterize Archives’ music is perplexing – often times, it defies both expectation and explanation. Her R&B vocals and lyrical content combine with percussive African rhythms, instruments and violin techniques to create experimental compositions with an aesthetic to match. It is important to note that just as her music blurs genre lines, her violin-playing style also the product of blurred cultural lines: the Western classical instrument was adopted and repurposed by a “non-Western” nation, departing from the standard limitations, technique and repertoire imposed on it by classical violinists. It’s in this departure that Sudan Archives found freedom.
Her self-titled debut album dropped in 2017 and has quickly gained momentum by virtue of the delightfully different sound it brings to the music world. One of the album's highlights, “Come Meh Way” embodies this new sound; it features a breathtaking violin melody, accompanied by bright exotic percussion, electric guitar and electronic beats. The muffled, filtered vocals make room for these layers to interact and change while showcasing Archives’ impressive fiddling skills in the song's sliding, bouncing refrain.
Another noteworthy track is “Nont For Sale,” a single she dropped on April 5th, just a week before performing at Coachella. This anthem of independence is propelled by percussively plucked arpeggios layered over droning electronic bass, and the light techno beats that enter the track on the chorus showcase her formidable production skills.
Aside from her own compositions, her cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta,” which she renamed “Queen Kunta,” is one of my favorite live sessions of all time. Alone on the floor with nothing but her violin, a mic setup and a soundboard equipped with various effects and loop pedals, her cover does Lamar's original justice. High praise, I know, but well-deserved. She maintains the mysterious, confident air of the original song while gradually increasing the track’s complexity with multiple layers of harmonies, violin melodies and percussive rhythms made by tapping the body of her instrument. This is especially apparent in the song’s breakdown at the end, where she loops and layers contrapuntal melodies while the track fades out. As evidenced by this cover, Archives’ work has undeniably proven she is a queen with limitless capabilities.