Sudan Archives conjures a distinct magic: a base of sultry smooth vocals with a heavy helping of north-African-folk-influenced fiddle beats, a sprinkle of dope fashion sense, and a pinch of snakiness. The resulting potion has been slowly simmering over the last few years with two EP releases, and it has now reached a rolling boil with her full length debut, Athena. Those in attendance at the Moroccan Lounge on Tuesday night happily chugged all she offered from the cauldron.
The air grew thick as the sold-out crowd waited for Sudan Archives (aka Brittney Parks) to take the stage in the packed showroom. Her late entrance was quickly forgiven as she began plucking and bowing “Oatmeal,” a minimal and soulful standout from her self-titled 2017 EP. The importance of aesthetic is never lost on this artist: she rocked heavy asymmetrical eyeliner and dark lipstick, and her long braids were twisted half-up and secured in a geisha-inspired style with chopsticks. A circle of blue lights surrounded her as the fog machine kicked in, simulating a sort of visual cage on stage with Parks and her signature snake mic stand in the middle.
She went on to perform “Nont for Sale” and “Goldencity,” older songs that tapped into the diehard fans in the crowd. (There were plenty.) From there, the focus shifted to Athena. The album is an autobiography named after a goddess, two factors that lend themselves to an intensely personal and powerful performance. Pianist Rashon Murph joined Sudan on stage for the fourth song, “Did You Know,” and remained for the rest of the set. It added a welcome analog element to a largely electro performance from backing tracks and Sudan’s electric fiddle.
The audience was fully on board from the beginning, but things kicked into high gear when Sudan performed “Confessions,” one of Athena’s most powerful tracks. People swayed along with their eyes closed, hanging on every word as she sang, “There is a place that I call home / But it’s not where I am welcome.” The combination of deeply personal lyrics and catchy strings dared the crowd not to feel at least a small twinge of something.
This energy carried on throughout the set. Intense lighting and heavy smoke enhanced the already ethereal mood of Sudan’s music. During “Iceland Moss,” she completely enraptured the room with barely a whisper. Sudan cycled through several more Athena tracks before busting into a stellar mini spoken word performance, followed by a heart wrenching rendition of “Green Eyes.”
As the set wound down, Sudan took a moment to shout out her pianist and bring out another collaborator, D-Eight, to rap alongside her for “Glorious,” Athena’s biggest banger. The duo’s chemistry brought the room down and closed the show, but only for a moment before Sudan came back out for a lovely encore performance of “Down On Me.”
Even though many of her lyrics grapple with deep feelings of heartache, womanhood, and belonging, Sudan balanced things out with a light stage presence throughout. She was clearly having a blast. And how could she not? Athena just dropped on November 1st to glowing reviews, and Sudan was playing to a room full of people from the city she’s called home since leaving Cincinnati six years ago.
Though the audience banter was minimal, her appreciation and gratitude were clear. She even handed out roses to the crowd after the set was over. Sudan Archives is poised to take the R&B world by storm as Athena gains traction. Those of us who didn’t receive a flower still left with that special feeling of seeing a star at the beginning of her astral ascent.