Rooted In History: Sunun Talks
“I guess I find these empowered attitudes where rhythm is used in revolution and staying close to ones' identity as really inspiring, and an inherently positive part of human nature.”
For Bristol based producer and DJ, Sunun, beats are more than just dance floor filler. Through extensive research she has plotted a line of revolutionary music that crosses oceans and eras.
The fruits of this research have found their way into Everything Is A Drum, her show on Bristol’s Noods Radio. They’ve also seeped into Ooid, her debut EP, out on outernational dub specialists Bokeh Versions. The four tracks (plus Kinlaw remix) sound like collages pulled into the gravity of a murky beat. The reverb-soaked stabs and muddy kicks acting as an interface between Bristol’s well embedded dub tradition and a global soundscape.
“The obsession over global cultures' rhythms started from a trip to Salvador, Brazil, where I was exposed to a religion called Candomble, which was brought across the Atlantic with the African Slave Trade,” she explains.
“Drums and specific rhythms are a vital part in transcendence in underground ceremonies. This religion had to be hidden under the aesthetic of Christianity at the time, and is still in practise today. I was so moved by the continual resistance these people fought to maintain their culture under the most extreme oppression, that the revolutionary powers music can have really started coming to my attention.
I started researching revolution music and found the central necessity of the drum to be a constant across different revolutions; The Maroons, freedom fighters from Jamaica who escaped into tribal clusters in the jungle, used to use drums to communicate to other clusters across the hills messages of warning when intruders would be near. Drumming is a Language by African Head Charge actually goes so deep.”
The deeper Sunun went, the more she noticed that certain components – hand drums, ‘raw and dry, sometimes wailing vocals’, and stringed instruments – kept cropping up, whether it was in music from the Middle East or the Caribbean.
“I even found similarities in some Ex-Yugoslavian records such as Rex Ilusivi- In the Moon Cage. These elements feel like the purest form of self-expression, in a language deeper than words. The message can cross cultural barriers. I think it might be to do with biology- we register rhythms with the temporal circuit in our brain, which is and was present in all vertebrates before us. It's innate. Perhaps I find this rawness so enticing living in a time when people have so many tools to cover up their reality. As if purity is rare.”
This obsession with the massive cultural impact of music also extends to the passion with which Sunun talks about the local scene in Bristol, a rich, vibrant and diverse past and present that is resisting a gentrified future.
“Bristol is full of indirect inspiration for creation. I often don’t realise how much influence it has until the tracks are completed, but I’m very aware of how awe inspiring a lot of what I see is. It’s within the individuals, the way they exist through music. There’s so many people who are sharing their musical possession with you, it’s so infectious.
We’ve had to disperse the hub of innovation though as a classic case of gentrification. It’s not even mine to pine over – I caught the tail end year of it whilst starting the show on Noods. The Surrey Vaults was where Bad Tracking and Asda first played, where Ceramics put their mind-blowing nights on and I first saw Mun Sing. You wouldn’t leave there without overwhelming elation, and at the same time hardly knowing this was the start of a new movement because you’re so distracted by talking about what the hell they were doing with, or more likely around, their machines. Never a still moment, and it was that for so many people. There was no need for drugs cos the hit came straight from the talent upstairs.
But the city isn’t struggling, the same people who held that place together are making amazing moves. Getting to see the birth of Kinlaw and Franco, for example (wait and see) is seriously special. I feel really lucky to witness it. It’s incomparably new and hypnotising.”
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Bristol’s music history, and Sunun’s own echo soaked, bass heavy music without mentioning Dub. Sunun’s time in the city has exposed her to legends of the its scene who are still going strong, such as Roots Injection, a producer around since the 70s.
“[Dub nights are] what bought me to Bristol in the first place, alongside Ossia’s translations of them and Sleng Teng at Young Echo. No matter what fads, or more likely obsessions, breathe and phase around the city, Dub is the foundation for so many of us. Monthly Bristol Dub Clubs keep Sound System very present and not just a thing of St Pauls carnival. That community we are so grateful for is spoiling us for dances all year. You can feel it so spiritually when they string up here. It will never lose it’s magic in this city. Shaka even just did a nationwide dance in Trinity Centre."
Throughout Ooid, Sunun seems to be simultaneously revelling in a globally connected world while trying to amplify the echoes of something lost. Just as global connectivity through the internet allows us to learn more about different cultures than ever before, or being part of a vibrant community is a constant source of inspiration, they’re also reminders of their own fragility.
“I had a conversation at the Surrey Vaults about Keening, a mournful wailing that was common practise after death in both Celtic and Islamic traditions. They came about completely independently of each other. There was no internet then. It’s music like that, which comes directly from human instinct which hits so hard. Though the advantage of the global connectivity we have today is everyone can draw parallels between music from around the world. There is an element of tradition lost, for the purist moments. But the birth of global subcultures as part of integration is exciting. Through travelling I’ve found how lucky we are if we are able to shape our social lives around music we love as individuals, that describes our identity. Mass connectivity makes this possible for those who might not have the same outlets. Although wouldn’t it be better if they just did…!”
Sunun’s Ooid is out now on Bokeh Versions HERE.