.Natural Brown Prom Queen: Sudan Archives brings her eclectic virtuosity to San Francisco

Brittney Parks, more popularly known as Sudan Archives, knew at an early age that she wanted to get out of her hometown of Cincinnati, OH to pursue a career in music.  

Growing up, her stepdad had dreams of her and her twin sister forming a pop duo. However, in high school, she would frequent the Cincinnati rave scene, which ultimately inspired interest to pursue her own creative aspirations. 

As a kid, she taught herself how to play the violin by ear, and began to reimagine her musical career as a violinist after being exposed to violin culture in Sudan, Ghana and Eastern Europe. While violins in the U.S. are played in more old-fashioned settings, in some cultures across the globe, violins play a central role in festive party experiences. 

Relocating to Los Angeles a few years after completing high school, with a violin and iPad handy, Sudan Archives has embarked on a musical journey that now has her on the cusp of becoming one of music’s most promising stars. After two EP releases, her 2019 debut album, Athena, generated massive buzz and critical acclaim from music publications such as NPR and Pitchfork. 

Fast forward to 2022, fresh off the release of her acclaimed second album, Natural Brown Prom Queen, Sudan Archives is no longer an artist with independent buzz, and has developed a national following selling out venues across the globe. Possessing a sound that blends hip-hop, techno and house, while maintaining her mastery of the violin, Natural Born Prom Queen also provides us with the opportunity to get to know her more playful and charismatic side.

Following her Sept. 27 sold out show at The Independent in San Francisco, East Bay Express spoke with Sudan Archives about her Cincinnati roots, early beginnings, and her continued growth and evolution as an artist. 

EBX: Describe to me your entry into making music? 

Sudan Archives: Probably when I got my first iPad. Nothing too crazy. But then it turned into something crazy though (laughs).

EBX: Much of this album was recorded during the pandemic, and throughout the process you experienced some levels of homesickness by not being able to visit your hometown of Cincinnati. Growing up, you said all you ever wanted to do was leave Cincinnati. How has your perspective of home changed over the last two years, and how has it influenced your music? 

Sudan Archives: Even though it can feel like it’s boring, where you grow up, I now have more of an appreciation for how it’s made me into the artist I am. You know, growing up in the church and being in the indie scene in Cincinnati, even with the experimental shows I used to do that were not really considered popular, but it was just so much fun. It was what I wanted to do. So I think, in retrospect, it’s like, now, even though there’s that homesick feeling, there’s also that wow, like, I can see how I was on my grind in Cincinnati, and nobody really knew who I was. That’s what really made me the artist I am today. 

EBX: Was there a moment where you decided you wanted to layer in themes from Cincinatti into this album? 

I feel like Cincinnati doesn’t get a lot of recognition. Even though there’s a lot of people that have come out of Cincinnati and Ohio in general, like Bootsy Collins and John Legend, I feel like it’s not a name we hear.

I think leaving home made me want to rep my city more. There’s a whole lot of people there who are just as talented as me, and some that are more talented than me you know; we all deserve to get some shine and recognition. 

I want to put cats on the map. I want to bring people to know people from Cincinnati. So that’s why I was always adamant about riding with people who are from where I’m from. 

EBX: How did you decide on the album name Natural Brown Prom Queen ?

I said I’m a natural brown prom queen in my song, “Topless,” and then my manager said that line was pretty cool, and that it should be the title of the album. 

EBX: On this album, you did a little bit more rapping—do you tend to rap when you’re feeling more loose in your recording process? 

Yea, you know with this album, I feel like I’m expressing more of my personality. I’ve always been very silly and goofy, but in my previous music, people didn’t really see that side of me. So when I’m doing the rappy melodic music, it’s kind of like me showing my personality and silly side. 

EBX: You recently had your late night debut on the Stephen Colbert show—what was the planning process for your introduction to the late night stage? 

it was just like any other show, like so easy. Everybody was so nice. I didn’t even feel like I was on TV.

EBX: Was there a difference between doing that and doing NPR “Tiny Desk”?

I think one major difference with “Tiny Desk” is that I had a quartet. That was cool, because I kind of had been working with those violinists and cellists, but that was our first time playing together on NPR.  We had been practicing for a while, because they had just been sent the music, and then we came together. And that was our first time in person playing together. 

But it was a lot different wth the Colbert show. With this set, we had the background singers. And that was cool, because usually I’m so used to being a one woman show. I’m used to it just being me and my iPad or just me and my loop station. Now, it’s been cool to kind of like, expand and kind of begin to incorporate people because I’m so used to playing all by myself.

EBX: More and more artists are starting to blend elements of house into their music—however, you have direct lineage to this sound—your mom is from Detroit and your dad is from Chicago. How do you feel about this growing trend, and how does house music’s growing influence impact you as an artist? 

I feel like with Detroit a lot of people don’t know that’s where Motown began, and I feel there’s a lot of house music coming out of Detroit right now. My mom is from Detroit. I’ve always been really influenced by a lot of techno too. 

Chicago and house music, and then Detroit—it was kind of like everything influenced me. And then growing up with my dad being in the church—he was a preacher at one point—I always had like that gospel influence too. Just playing in church and getting an ear for melodies, because everyone was always pushing me to play my violin in church.

EBX: You are now set to embark on an international tour—what are you hoping to accomplish ?

I always want to just do my best on stage. And I hope that in the process, when people see me, I can represent hope, and whatever that looks like to them. I didn’t realize that when I started playing that it can relate to people’s dreams in different ways, and it doesn’t have to be the same dream to inspire them, and I think that’s really cool. 

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