Los Angeles’ Sudan Archives (AKA Brittney Parks) is a force of nature. A self-taught violinist and self-described “punk”, she has released two incredible albums to date: 2019’s Athena and 2022’s Natural Brown Prom Queen. The latter was released in September and boasts 18 truly unique tracks that masterfully blend RnB, jazz, folk, and electronic influences in a dazzling whirlwind of sound quite unlike anything that anyone else is creating right now. Last Thursday, the artist performed to a sold out Band on the Wall, and completely raised the bar.
The audience was alive with anticipation as they waited for Sudan Archives to enter the stage, like a swarm of bees ready to collectively descend on a flourishing flower. And she did not disappoint: prowling onstage dressed in a high-cut black leotard, sparkling tights and long black gloves, complete with a blonde dreadlock mullet that fell down to her waist, the singer seemed to hypnotise every member of the crowd before she even opened her mouth.
Opening with songs off her new album including ‘Homemaker’ and ‘Ciara’, it became immediately apparent that Parks lives for performing. She addressed the audience with wide, mischievous smiles, covering every inch of the stage and transitioning from vocals to violin so effortlessly that you didn’t even notice. “Y’all ready from some throwbacks?” She shouted, before playing the divine, life-affirming ‘Confessions’ from her debut album. This song sees Sudan Archives at perhaps her most tender and open, her violin crying out desperately as she appeals to an anonymous entity: “There is a place that I call home / But it’s not where I am welcome / And if I saw all the angels / Why is my presence so painful?” Experiencing this track live, it was impossible not to get goosebumps.
The mood then shifted as the set moved into more high-octane material. “I’m feeling freaky!” Parks exclaimed as she flirtatiously removed one of her gloves. “Where my freaks at?!” She launched into the riotous ‘Freakalizer’, whose tight drums and autotuned vocals are reminiscent of early-2000s RnB hits such as Fergie and will.i.am‘s ‘Fergalicious’ and Britney Spears‘ ‘Womanizer’. Sudan Archives came down to interact with the audience, fans pushing forwards to try to get a closer look at this goddess-like woman. Witnessing the way she captivated the crowd, you could almost mistake her for a world-renowned popstar playing the main stage at Coachella.
Parks returned to the stage and confessed that she’d actually lost her voice after playing Dublin three days prior. “Give it up for steroids!” she quipped, and slipped straight back into her set without a second thought. Only Sudan Archives could follow the harmonic, neo-soul ‘Loyal EDD’ with the African and Irish folk inspired ‘Glorious’ and the trap anthem ‘OMG BRITT’ – and do it in such a way that made the incongruous combination of genres feel completely natural to the listener.
Later in the set, Parks revealed how excited she was to visit Dublin earlier that week. “My violin inspiration is Irish fiddle music”, she explained. As if to prove it, she deftly performed a traditional Irish jig on her violin, the audience stamping and cheering in support as the tempo steadily ramped up. The energy in the room swelled with a palpable sense of togetherness: Parks had become one with her fans.
Playing off this newfound understanding between her and her fans, Sudan Archives took the show to daring new heights. “These next songs are about titties”, she said with a sly grin, before playing the provocative ‘Milk Me’ and fan favourite ‘NBPQ (Topless)’ (during which she had everyone singing along). Parks danced seductively, fixing her gaze on the crowd as she enunciated each lyric, like a siren luring unsuspecting sailors into the rocks. “I just wanna have my titties out!” she repeated – and she did just that, pulling down her leotard in a fearless display of body confidence that left everyone in a state of shocked admiration.
Sudan Archives ended her set with ‘Homesick (Gorgeous & Arrogant)’, a track that brings together both ends of her lyrical spectrum in its defiant and vulnerable refrain: “I just want the D-I-C-K / Problems is not what I’m seeking / I just miss my homie TK / I just miss my mama Shay Shay, yeah”. She disappeared offstage to rapturous applause, the crowd stamping wildly until she returned for the encore. ‘Come Meh Way’, the standout single from Parks’ eponymous 2017 EP, closed the show – but, from the volume of cheering, it was obvious that many fans would have happily watched the singer perform for several more hours.
Thursday night was a masterclass in artistry and performance, and it exemplified everything exciting about music right now. In an era in which genre lines are becoming increasingly blurred and artists are becoming more and more experimental, Parks proves that there is absolutely nothing to fear from this new frontier. Her art is diverse, eclectic, and utterly inimitable: the product of someone shaking off all restraints and simply doing whatever her heart desires. And, as the venue emptied out, you were left wondering: is there anything that Sudan Archives can’t do?
Natural Brown Prom Queen is out now, and you can stream it below: