​Sudan Archives Reflects on Her Triumphant Year of "Kinda Sassy, Kinda Sensual" Music

"When they hear me play the violin, I might be talking about getting my titties sucked or partying — all this crazy stuff may catch them off guard," says Brittney Parks
​Sudan Archives Reflects on Her Triumphant Year of 'Kinda Sassy, Kinda Sensual' Music
Photo: Shane Parent
The challenges of being a musician in 2022 are well-documented, with artists as renowned as Santigold and Animal Collective cancelling their tours due to unsustainable economic realities. Sudan Archives' Brittney Parks, however, has enjoyed her most successful year to date (at least in terms of acclaim) thanks to her second full-length, Natural Brown Prom Queen. The normally outgoing Cincinnatian-turned-Angelino attributes much of her recent success to being locked down.

"I was in my little home studio every day. All I could do was make music," she tells Exclaim! over Zoom while on tour in Europe.

On NBPQ, Parks sings, raps, and speaks over violin-powered electronic beats that flaunt hip-hop bombast. She has spoken of the album as both "pop" and as music that only feels like pop because it's polished, but it defies clear categorization. Ultimately, "I just like to make music that feels good," she says.

Although NBPQ pushes beyond the boundaries of pop, Parks knows it carries the same energy — she's witnessed it with her own eyes. Since debuting with 2017's Sudan Archives EP, Parks has established a reputation for looping beat-based violin compositions that leave audiences standing still and gazing at her in awe. "With this album, what's different is people are dancing a lot, and I'm like, 'Okay!' Maybe that's why it's more popular, because it's making people feel good," she reflects.

No doubt, fans are extra amped because they can go to concerts again, but, as Parks observes, "I also think the songs [on NBPQ] are just more upbeat, and I am showing more of my personality. That influences people wanting to sing along, because the things I'm saying are kinda sassy, kinda sensual. I think it's empowering." As someone who's long decried the West's intellectual reverence of the violin, her fans' new vigour marks a tremendous victory for her.

Joy — whether seeking or sparking it — is a pillar of NBPQ. When forces like censorship or capitalism aim to extinguish joy, dictating that life is all about putting one's nose to the grindstone to eke out a mere existence, experiencing joy becomes an act of resistance. "It's in our nature," Parks says, a crucial reminder especially during one of the hardest years in memory.

Parks is well aware that some fans likely prefer her more serious presentation. Though she doesn't seek reviews, "I like hearing people's feedback regardless of whether they like it or not," she says. "Since this album's more eclectic, there's always a song that someone may like, but there's always a song that may not be their song. But that's okay. I wasn't afraid to express myself on this album and make music that was authentic to whatever I felt."

Writing NBPQ was an exercise in trusting her instincts. "My intuition has guided me to not be afraid. Sometimes, it's easy to put a lot of pressure on myself, especially as a violinist. When people see me — this Black girl on the violin — they expect me to sound a certain way. So when they hear me play the violin, I might be talking about getting my titties sucked or partying — all this crazy stuff may catch them off guard. But I feel like I haven't been afraid to be my true, free self and talk about whatever I want, even if it surprises some people."

NBPQ was largely inspired by feeling homesick for her family in Ohio during the pandemic, but there's one thing Parks didn't particularly miss: Cincinnati-style chili, a mound of spaghetti topped with shredded cheese and cinnamon- or nutmeg-spiced meat sauce.

"It's one of those things we're really, really popular for, and some people in Cincinnati love it, and some people hate it. I think it's good, but my favourite Cincinnati attraction would probably be Graeter's Ice Cream," a homegrown brand she says does the fundamentals well.

"It's just been a really grateful experience seeing people receiving [NBPQ] the way they've been receiving it," she says, reflecting on her year, noting that she won't get to see her family until her tour wraps at the end of November

"I'm looking forward to finishing this tour, and hopefully, I'll get nominated for a Grammy one day," she says with a laugh. Really, though, she tries not to think about such accolades: "I'm just focusing on each day, and, right now, I'm doing what I love. I'm blessed to be in that position. I feel like I already have won a Grammy." The real thing would just be the cherry on top.