Meet Sudan Archives, the Electro-R&B Violinist Who’s Mesmerized By Jellyfish

By
Photography Quinn Wilson

Published March 12, 2019

The violin occupies a curious place in Western culture, conjuring images of powder-wigged men cradling its hollow, dainty body, and long-limbed women at weddings meditatively drawing its bow. That is not the same stodgy instrument played by the electro-R&B musician Sudan Archives, who has awakened the full potential of the violin to dizzying, dazzling, and, at times, disturbing effect. “Have you seen that movie Queen of the Damned?” she asks me, referring to the 2002 Aaliyah-led horror film. “There’s this scene where the vampire Lestat picks up the violin and basically hypnotizes this lady because of how fast he’s playing. That’s the vibe of my next album”— which, following the recent success of her first two EPs, is set to come out “when it gets hot next year.”

Born Brittney Parks, the self-taught musician spent her childhood shopping for African jewelry at thrift stores across Cincinnati, before decamping at the age of 20 to Los Angeles. There, she rediscovered the music of West Africa while tinkering with the xylophones, shakers, and one-string instruments at Motherland Music in Inglewood. “The reason why I’m still playing violin is because of these West African one-string instruments,” she says. “Seeing people of color, people who look like me, play those Stone Age–looking instruments pushed me to keep playing.”

When she’s not hypnotizing audiences with her electric stage shows, Sudan likes to hypnotize herself — with the help of jellyfish. “I have a whole playlist of jellyfish videos on YouTube that I put on before I go to sleep,” she says, her warm drawl stirring with excitement. “The way they move is so slow, but mesmerizing. They’re really cute and soft and pretty, but they’ll fuck you up.” 

———

Hair: Lena Jaye
Makeup: Sophie Haig using RITUEL DE FILLE
Photography Assistant: Simone Thompson
Production Assistant: G Laplanqe