Name: Sueuga Kamau aka Manolis Sueuga
Current Release: Sueuga Kamau's Come el viento, vuelve is out via Salviatek.
Recommendations: The sculptural work of Guadalupe Maravilla feels very important right now.
I think everyone should also read the work of Saidiya Hartman, particularly her book Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval.
If you enjoyed this interview with Sueuga Kamau and would like to know more, visit them on Instagram, twitter, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started composing music in high school, but at that point I was already proficient at guitar and piano.
There was this community center in Oakland I’d go to where all of the computers had Reason, which is where I learned production. I was listening to a lot of ambient music at the time, and I really wanted to figure out how to generate crazy soundscapes like the ones I’d hear in experimental films and horror movies.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I learned through trying to replicate sounds I heard in the movies I liked. I think for me film, image and music have always been very connected, so when I’m making music I often try to imagine the kind of visuals that would go with the stuff I’m producing.
Artistic voice is something that is always changing for me.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity? What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My own visual aesthetic is influential in what I produce. I used to work on scores for films, and this comes out in the music also, I think. Identity is important of course, and should be for any artist.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I’ve always done music with a laptop. I think a field recorder was the biggest musical investment I ever made, besides the VST software itself.
I never had the money to afford fancy gear, but I loved going to Guitar Center and messing with the analog synths they had around.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
In 2016, I purchased a handheld zoom h1 field recorder, which I was mostly using for video / sound production work at the time. I eventually started using it to capture interesting sounds I would hear in Oakland, and other places I visited--for a while I’d keep it in my pocket at all times so I wouldn’t miss anything. My friends would make fun of me because I’d pull it out at random moments that were sometimes inappropriate, and I’d just start recording.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love talking about music with people I trust, and discussing new releases, especially the ones that I have mixed feelings about. This can be very generative for me.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Right now my schedule is crazy. I’m working at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art with the senior curator, and I’m also in an Art History graduate program at the Clark Art Institute.
An average day usually involves lots of reading and writing, mostly about artworks or art world related things.
Music kind of happens whenever I have a bit of free time in between a meeting or a big writing task. It’s very chaotic.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I’m not too attached to any of my work. But I am very excited about this project that's coming out on Salviatek. This label was enormously inspirational to me, especially as I first started getting into the kind of music I make now. I think this project also captured a bit of what I was going through last year in a way that feels authentic.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I find that my musical creativity comes out more when I’m stressed.
Oftentimes, I’ll have a ton of work to do for something totally non-music related, and then I’ll suddenly get an idea for a track, and I’ll have to lay it down in Logic right then. And if I don’t, it disappears.
I don’t think there are distractions, there is just life. I try not to let it get in the way of creative moments.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music has always been something I’ve leaned into during difficult moments. When I’m in a serious bout of depression, I listen to music to get deeper into the feeling, and allow it to be all encompassing. In this way it makes my own feelings more present, but it’s also a means of escape, a short respite from reality’s demands. Music does this like nothing else.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think artists should be true to their identities.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
As I mentioned, I feel a strong overlap between image and sound. Film can be incredibly powerful when it successfully brings the two together.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art is always social and political. If you call what you’re doing art, you’re assuming an audience, and consequences should be considered.
In 2020, I had a professor I respected tell me that he was tired of graduate students focusing on art through a “political” lens. This was a disturbing comment. If you’re taking up space and resources right now, your existence is political.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Sound has an immediacy that literature lacks.