Sufyan Ali: Sampling Sudanese folklore in hip-hop

Sufyan Ali: Sampling Sudanese folklore in hip-hop
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Sufyan Ali: Sampling Sudanese folklore in hip-hop
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Updated 22 July 2016

Sufyan Ali: Sampling Sudanese folklore in hip-hop

Sufyan Ali: Sampling Sudanese folklore in hip-hop

Personally, I have been blessed to meet highly talented Sudanese men and women. Mass-media seems to always portray Sudan as poor, violent and corrupt. These issues might be there, but there is also light! It is a rich culture to be discovered with their people’s loyalty toward their heritage. There are talents in and out of Sudan always representing the true culture. One of these talents is our guest today, Sufyan Ali who is a Sudanese music producer that has impacted the world with his authentic beats. It will not take long for you to fall in love with the sound Sufyan gives you, it will also not take long for you to start picturing Sudan with its beauty, art and strength.
Arab News sat down with Sufyan and had the below discussion:

Arab News: Was there any one moment that actually inspired you to start producing?
Sufyan Ali: There wasn’t a specific moment as far as I can remember, but I always had the curiosity for making music in general. I started making beats for the first time maybe five years ago just so I could have something to rap on; but gradually I found myself writing less, and producing more. And eventually I was 100 percent producing.

AN: You’re from Sudan, but you have lived in Kuwait. Does that factor have an impact on your music?
SA: Yes, to some extent. Growing up in Kuwait, I had a lot of friends with completely different taste in music, we would spend a lot of time exchanging cassettes, and doing mix CDs of songs we recorded off the radio, which lead us to absorb a huge variety of genres, and I think it helped in shaping my outlook on music in general. And of course, after moving to Sudan, I became more exposed to Sudanese music, which is a huge part of my sound.

AN: You’re also a dentist! Do you ever work while your tunes are playing in the background?
SA: I haven’t done that before, but I usually cannot stay focused on important tasks while listening to music without being distracted. Maybe in the waiting room, for patients, some elevator style music.

AN: I personally enjoy the samples you use, the tunes you create. Tell our readers, how would you describe your sound?
SA: I would describe my sound as Sudanese inspired beats, I try to keep a flexible approach to making beats in general, that’s why my own definition of a genre is pretty loose. I’m either making electronic music with Sudanese/East-African elements, or I’m sampling old Sudanese records into hip-hop beats, the latter being “Pseudarhythm.”

AN: Your beat-tape “Pseudarhythm” samples Sudanese music in a hip-hop style. How has the feedback been on that tape?
SA: It’s been great. The feedback was awesome, I’ve been receiving a lot of random messages from people of different backgrounds from around the world interested in knowing more about old Sudanese records. I’m always happy to help.

AN: What are your thoughts on the Arab hip-hop movement? Who do you listen to?
SA: The scene has definitely been growing in the last 6-7 years in terms of both quality and quantity of music. I get introduced to new producers and MCs every now and then, and it’s always refreshing. There are a lot of strong movements and hip-hop communities on social media and such.
Now, the scene itself is not weak, but it’s definitely under-appreciated, and there are a lot of factors in play that are keeping it underground. and of course, the social stigma attached to hip-hop still being “foreign” in the Middle East, the average listener doesn’t have much input on Arabic hip-hop besides comedy acts, and TV commercials with generic raps in them. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but one can only hope for the best.

AN: Name your top 5 producers of all time?
SA: For hip-hop: Dre, J Dilla, Flying Lotus, Battlecat and Nottz.
I listen to a lot of Muqata’a (Boikutt) music,
I’m also a fan of The Narcicyst, Omar Offendum, Sandhill and a few others.

AN: How did you discover hip-hop? Do you remember the first song you ever heard?
SA: I discovered hip-hop through MTV, and local radio stations in Kuwait. I didn’t even have an Internet connection at first, so I’d see a music video on TV, then go look for the cassette/CD, and it was frustrating at times when I failed to get hold of a few albums.
I can’t remember the first song I heard specifically, but it was probably Outkast, Eminem, or Busta rhymes, those are the first that grabbed my attention as far as hip-hop is concerned. Eminem’s “Marshall Mathers LP” was the first hip-hop album I bought.

AN: It seems to me that you can easily score a film/documentary. Have you done that before and if not, would you be interested?
SA: Yes. There are a few independent movies, and a handful of documentaries that I contributed to with some of my music in the past few years. Most of them had very interesting visions and made the most out of it.
Yes, I’m always willing to contribute, as long as the project is interesting.

AN: What are you currently working on?
SA: I’m currently working on a few projects, one of them being an electronic album, which is a continuation to my “MEROE EP” that I released a year ago, I don’t think it will be ready before the new year though. And of course “Pseudarhythm Vol.3.”
I’m also working on a few random collaborations that should be released soon.

AN: Describe Sudan in one word.
SA: Bittersweet.

AN: Do you think that music in general can impact the youth and elevate them?
SA: Yes, music just like literature, theater, or most other art forms, can influence people of all ages, positively or negatively.
Culture and music, both affect each other simultaneously, which in turn has an impact on whole generations.

AN: I am a huge fan of Oddisee. Would love to see a collaboration. Have you guys connected? And what do you think of his music?
SA: Yes, I’m a fan of Oddisee myself, he’s probably one of the few that are equally great at both, the mic and beats. I’ve been listening to his music for the past 4-5 years!
I’m definitely planning to work with him, who knows, maybe in the future.

AN: Would you ever leave Sudan?
SA: Maybe. I’m currently in the process of moving back to Kuwait, but it’s taking some time due to processing. So I won’t hold my breath on it.

AN: What has been the sort of support you have been getting? Locally and internationally?
SA: Internationally, the support was always great since day one, even though I’ve been taking small steps with each release for the past three years. I do consider myself privileged to be associated with like-minded individuals from around the globe who’ve been doing a great job in spreading my music around.

AN: Tell Arab News readers something not a lot of people might know about you.
SA: I do oil painting occasionally.

AN: What are your social media links?