It is difficult not to be struck by the pure ingenuity of Yaba Angelosi’s work: soulful, original afro pop songs in hauntingly catchy tunes. Yaba Angelosi – South Sudanese artist based in Tennessee – is a songwriter, singer and a record producer, whose inescapable masterfulness at his art caught my attention during our annual 2014 3K Run/Walk honoring the women of South Sudan. His connection with the crowd, especially with South Sudanese women present, was electric, and it did not take long before he had everyone on their feet.
I find his music to be a blend of the traditional African sound, mixed with today’s eclectic contemporary beat – the best of both worlds of sorts. “Black is Beautiful“, “Time to Vote” and “Kaylay Kaylay” have become personal favorites of mine in the quiet of long office hours and even when driving kids to their games.
In this DUNIA Magazine exclusive interview, Yaba Angelosi (also founder of Assida Records), takes us into his creative world as a singer, songwriter and producer. It becomes abundantly clear that hope reigns eternal for him, even as skirmishes persist in parts of his native South Sudan as the country inches toward recovery after many years of war and finally gaining independence from Sudan in 2011.
DUNIA Magazine: How and when did your career in music begin? Since then how have you evolved as an artist?
Yaba A: My passion for music started from an early age in Khartoum, Sudan. I started off as a singer in the local children’s choir. It continued throughout my teenage years until my early adult hood. Year after year, my passion for music grew deeper. That’s when I began to write and compose my own music. After gaining support from my parents and close friends, I began taking the steps towards my musical journey. So, I moved to Nashville, TN in 2006 and joined a South Sudanese afrobeat band called “Sosa Musica”. From the two years’ experience with the band, I’ve learned and gained much knowledge about the music industry. In 2008, I decided to part ways with the band and pursue my career as a solo artist. Since then, I’ve worked hard to sharpen my craft and evolve as a professional song writer, producer, director, and recording artist.
Being the prolific singer, songwriter, record producer that you are, what is the creative process like for you?
Yaba A: My creative process comes from many life inspirations. Whether from my personal experience or from other’s around me. I view music as a vital tool to help shape life. Therefore I always find a way to write and compose a unique piece. In the still of the late night. When the world pauses and all the storms calm down, that’s the best time my creative writing comes to life. In my quiet room, laying on my bed with my head phones one. While gazing out the window at the bright moon light. Something about that atmosphere that uplifts me to bring the best art out myself.
Your family immigrated to the United States in 2000, how do you stay connected with your South Sudanese roots?
Yaba A: My parents being as strong as they are, they constantly remind us about our heritage. Whether speaking to us in local South Sudanese Arabic or our tribal tongue. Cooking our favorite traditional dishes [Fufu or Ugali]. Over the years, that helped shape me to be the man I am today. And it also kept me disciplined and on the right track. I have brothers and sisters throughout Africa that I still keep in touch with via Phone, Facebook, Whatsapp, or Skype. We have a strong bond and I plan to visit them all in the near future.
What are some challenges you have faced as an artist and how did you overcome them?
Yaba A: There are many challenges and obstacles that many professional artists face in this career. For me, lack of financial support has been the biggest challenge. Whether money for a new album, studio sessions, music video shoots, photo shoots, buying recording equipment, video equipment, promotions, marketing, and the list goes on. Throughout my career, I’ve always prayed hard and somehow God always finds a way to help me survive every storm I face. I worked an extra job on the side just to earn few dollars to invest into my music. It’s definitely a very difficult and tiring process. But overall, I don’t let it stress me out. I always recall the wonderful advice my sweet mother taught me: “always keep on a positive mindset and trust that one day God will shower His blessings upon you and open up bigger doors.” For now, the struggle still continues until the sun shines on my kingdom…
What kinds of audiences do you like performing for and why?
Yaba A: Music is a universal language. So I think it is very important for an artist not to limit their musical capabilities or the audience they want to reach with their voice. In the beginning of my career, most of my songs were in Arabic and most of my supporters were South Sudanese. Also many of my early concerts were in front of majority South Sudanese communities in different cities across the globe. But as my music continued to progress, I began to revitalize and utilize my craft in many more different ways. I’ve produced, composed, and incorporated different styles of genres in my music, and also sang in different languages such as English, Swahili, Lingala, and little bit of French. In hopes, to reach out to different audiences across the globe.
What are your hopes and aspirations for South Sudan?
Yaba A: South Sudan is a beautiful toddler who was just given birth to recently. Currently we are going through many phases of learning. Some of which are helping us grow, and others which are steering us in the wrong path if we don’t find a way to fix things now before it becomes too late. A parent could sometimes wish that their toddler would just stand up on their feet and start running. But in reality, the toddler must first learn how to crawl before learning the first steps. Nothing is perfect, but I believe we are progressing as a nation one step at a time. It won’t be an easy journey, but eventually someday we’ll make it to the mountain top. Peace, Unity, and Prosperity is what we strive and hope for.
Which of your songs make your list of favorites (and why)?
Yaba A: This is definitely a difficult question to answer. Because for me as a songwriter, I pour my heart and soul in every single song I write. Each lyric, each production I hold it very dear to my heart. Behind every single song, there is a message or story. There is always that one special thing that inspired me to write that piece. So in all honesty, I don’t have one specific favorite. They are all very special and unique to me.
What can we expect from Yaba Angelosi in the nearest future?
Yaba A: So far this journey has been an absolutely amazing ride. I laughed, I cried, I stumbled, and I got up. From the long restless nights to the stressful days where I had to walk to my side job just to earn extra money in order to make music. Through it all, I found great joy in making people happy.
I find peace in my heart knowing that my music has impacted and touched lives, inspired a child somewhere across the globe to be proud of their nationality, race, or gender. Even though the journey is still long, and there are many obstacles that I may face, I trust everything will be alright. I still have a lot to put on the table. New singles, music videos, albums, tours, film making, and many more. Only time will tell when will that next door open. Which is all possible through your sincere and kind support.
SOCIAL NETWORK CONNECTORS: