Artist Spotlight – Sutra

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Sutra is an alternative artist that makes music for the soul. Her debut mixtape The Art Of Being is a beautifully crafted sonic experiment that connects you to parts of yourself you might have forgotten even existed. She spoke to us about her early musical influences and creative process.
 

sutra

What does music mean to you? 

I had to think on this a little before an answer came to me, because literally music is everything. It’s alive. It is the common thread between our spirits, to God and back. Music is a medium, a language, an essence.

What were your earliest musical memories growing up? 

Waking up every Saturday morning to loud music. My Dad was a DJ in his uni days, and he had this massive CD collection as a result. There were shelves of it, and this huge speaker system he was super proud of haha. Every Saturday, he’d wake up and put something on. There was classical, hi life, funk, gospel, latino, “world music”, and a whole lot of jazz among other things. You never knew what was coming. I didn’t recognize it then, but this played a big role in developing my attraction to different forms of music. Saturdays became the days of the week to hear sounds that lifted your spirit, made your body move, gave us joy. And then on Sundays, in church. A lot of my craft came from that space, and my faith now definitely influences a lot of my music. We used to go to a pretty traditional church, lots of hymns and harmonies, raw imagery.

 

Those are my earliest memories of sensing the connection that music can give, emotionally and spiritually. Later on, I began to listen to other stuff. More RnB and soul, then I went to uni and got really into acoustic/folk, electro and hip hop. Oh, and grime. I am 100% here for grime!

At what point did you consider making your own music? 

Making my own music just kind of happened. I’ve never had singing lessons but I loved singing, and would do little things at school but I was super shy of my voice. Like, it was mad haha. But I guess, I just went for it and realized that I have a voice, this voice, for a reason. I performed at a uni open mic and the room went silent, time stood still. It was the most bizarre thing. After that, I couldn’t stop. I started doing a few gigs, building momentum and experience, but then didn’t feel like I knew who I was as an artist so took a break from live shows in like 2014. That was the year I began to teach myself production on my laptop. So I guess I’ve been doing this – properly – since the mixtape came out in 2015.

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Who were your early musical influences?

My early musical influences…there are many. But Randy Crawford sticks in my mind a lot. She was the first big voice I can remember from those Saturday mornings. Stevie Wonder, Santana, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. Other (less early) influences have been Nina Simone, Phaeleh, Emeli Sande, Hiatus Kaiyote, Lianne La Havas, Robert Glasper Experiment. I really like Nao’s music too.

Take us through your thought process when you sit down to put down a verse.

Well I used to read a lot…books opened up a whole lot for me. Seriously, I was that bookworm who rarely put the book down (!). What developed from that was I discovered I was a writer. And so I started off writing stories as a kid and then poetry/spoken word as a teenager. I process information visually and with imagery so you’ll find that a lot in my music. My songs tend to start off either as poems that I give a melody to, or I will write a vision I have seen when I hear/create the instrumental. It’s always visual for me.

How would you describe your style of music?

Alternative. Ambient. Emotive. I’m beginning to understand that I can be a storyteller through my music, but also the more intriguing thing is that the music can literally become a space. Where for 1, 3, 4 or however minutes, the listener either wholly forgets or wholly remembers a part of who they are. Because of that connection to the music. I like to think that people can hear my music and know they aren’t alone.

Would you say you’ve found your voice as an artist or are you still evolving? 

I’ve found my voice, and it’s a thing that is evolving. Because what good is a voice if it doesn’t grow? Sometimes I’ll record a voice note and I’ll listen back and be like what the heck. It’ll be so different to the last thing I did. And I think that can be scary – take my song Simon for instance. It’s an unconventional song, both in terms of song structure and the way that I sing it almost as a rap. Not sure where it came from but it keeps me on my toes. I do see how I’m beginning to craft a “sound” from what I’ve done so far, though. And that’s pretty cool that people now hear stuff and recognize it’s by me. I’m grateful.

 

What would you attribute your style of writing to?

Books, poetry, water. I’m inspired by water a lot.

Who do you listen to these days?

A whole lot of Alfa Mist. Mick Jenkins. Jaime Woods. Look, I could give you a list. My soundcloud likes list is the most confusing explosion of genres from awesome musicians, I love it. I’m also really digging a lot of “underground” artists like The Melman, Ria Boss, Solo Woods, Akenya. There’re a lot. But also the art/music scene in Ghana and other parts of West Africa is actually one of the things that excites me right now. Artists like Worlasi, Falana, Mensa, Somi. Odunsi, too. I’m paying attention.

How and When did the transition to production happen?

In my 4th year of med school, 2014. I was in a really remote but naturally beautiful place, on a placement. I guess it inspired me, being surrounded by so much stillness and beauty. I had a lot on my head and heart at the time, so music production became an outlet.

How do you balance music with your regular job? 

I’m still trying to figure this out. I don’t get to spend as much time doing music right now as I’d like to, to be honest. When I was recording the mixtape I’d go straight from the hospital to the studio until late, to repeat the next day. This happened most days until the project was finished. With filming #W I had to take some time off work. I was working some pretty hectic shifts to compensate and my health suffered as a result, but I’m getting better at balance. I think when you have multiple passions, you have to trust that the work will be done despite you. It may not happen how you expect it to, but as long as you’re true to yourself, it’s not going anywhere. You can achieve anything.

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Would you ever like to make music full time? What would need to happen for you to consider it?

Yeah, I would. I was really frustrated during some of med school because I wanted out. But I’m glad I stuck it out and found my place in medicine. For now I’m enjoying it. I’m seeing how things go combining the two for as long as I can, until I have to make a decision.

Tell us about the artistic direction that you decided to take with your tape The Art of Being. 

I wanted to test myself. Honestly, there was no direction. I wasn’t certain where I fit or who I was at the time musically but I just wanted to go for it. So The Art of Being was me experimenting with different styles to communicate different messages and different parts of my being. It was an introduction to what I was capable of, which is why I called it a mixtape rather than an EP or album. My next project is definitely going to have more of a theme or direction.

What inspired The Art of Being?

I remember that year was part of a tough season in general for me. And in going through it, I learnt what it meant to rejoice. To sow, without promise of reap. To just be, to find the middle ground. I really believe that what binds us together, as people, is a simple vulnerability. And it is in being vulnerable, in sharing ourselves, in choosing to love and to fight when appropriate, that we can find our strength. In a busy life filled with distractions, our greatest asset is to know how to be present. To just, be. I believed and still believe that it is this form of ‘being,’ which produces true art. Essentially, my mixtape was a collection of music and sung poetry that captured the origin, thoughts, fears, heartbreak, joy, frustrations and aspirations of my self at the time. And it’s work is honest, unafraid but also deeply vulnerable.

 

How long did it take to put together?

About 3 months, I had to split time between hospital attachments and the studio.

How did you choose the artists and producers you collaborated with on the tape? 

BOSTON is a dope producer and we have a mutual friend who connected us. I met him in a café one day and told him my crazy plans and we went from there. I also worked with two incredible Ghanaian producers, who’ve become friends: DOTSE – who also co-directed my music film #W with me – and EDWVN. The only artist feature on the mixtape is my sister Flo AA, who’s a fantastic rapper. And yeah, that’s it. I tend to choose people who/whose work I feel connected to, even if I don’t yet know them properly. It’s a strong feeling. And it paid off, The Art of Being is work that I’m proud of. I’m really thankful for all the love and support.

Stream Sutra’s The Art of Being;

 

Follow Sutra on Twitter, Instagram and SoundCloud


 

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