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Sudan Archives: born to be Black Athena

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On her debut album, Athena, LA-based singer and violinist Sudan Archives displays her unconventional, boundery-defying 'fiddle funk'.

The poster announcing her Athena World Tour features a snake wrapping itself around a violin, with the caption: “Expect a ballet of unhatched twins”. “You can look forward to a fresh, new sound,” Brittney Parks (25) aka Sudan Archives says when we call her at home in Los Angeles. Her self-declared fiddle funk is indeed far from conventional. “The fact that I am half of a pair of identical twins has meant that since I was a child, I have been very open to the dualities of life, and all the ambiguities that come along with them. And that is precisely the theme of Athena.”

Her recently released debut comes after two EPs that blended her unusual, self-taught violin playing with contemporary R&B beats. As a result, she and her inseparable loop station have been given a spot as the opening act for Beyoncé (at the leading American Coachella Festival), of which she was very proud, and all because her mother had once bought her a violin.

Parks – who has preferred her nickname Sudan to her given name Brittney since she was a child – took her first musical steps in a church in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she grew up. She would later play the hits that she heard on the radio with her violin and cobble together compositions using cheap music applications in her bedroom, which she would upload to SoundCloud. But her music career only really got started after she moved to Los Angeles, where she ran into Matthew David, the A&R manager of the Stones Throw label.

“He approached me at a party, and he released my first EP in 2017. Thanks to my interest in ethnomusicology, I had just discovered that I was not the only musician in the world who had learned to play music on her own violin. Exploring the music archives, I discovered African string instruments, but also a lot of other traditional stuff, like Irish folk. There were DIYers everywhere, often even playing on homemade fiddles.”

This not only boosted her self-confidence, but also led to her new stage name. From the time she started working on her first album as Sudan Archives, she knew that she wanted to appear on the cover as a statue, but not which goddess she wanted to be.

“Athena, the goddess of both wisdom and war in Greek mythology, suited the theme of the record best. Besides, when you google Athena, you never see any black women. It seemed like the part I was born to play. (Laughs) Growing up, I was always the rebel and the outcast. Now that I have come to terms with myself, I am better at taking care of other people. Check out my personal favourite ‘Glorious’, in which the vocals and violin are in perfect balance, and you’ll understand exactly what I mean.”

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