One of the guiding principles of Next Level is that cultural education is never a one-way process. Another is that you shouldn’t underestimate the ripple effect than can be set off by even brief artistic collaborations. Previously, we have spoken to MC Dumi Right and B-boy Ken Fury about how these principles influenced their lives and art through Next Level. This month, we feature Next Level Team Uganda’s beatmaker, Suzi Analogue.
Suzi Analogue is an innovator in many areas, including performance, composition, business, fashion, and social activism. As CEO of Never Normal Records, she has developed innovative opportunities and spaces for women of color, with a particular emphasis on the creative use of digital media to serve a variety of goals, from artistic expression to publicity and distribution.
This 360-degree approach to technology is reflected in her own work as a composer, producer, beatmaker and singer. She draws no boundaries between music, theater, fashion, publicity and distribution – all are part of the art itself.
Most recently, for example, she has been recognized for her work as musical director for Chromat’s groundbreaking runway show at New York City’s Fall 2017 fashion week. The work she composed and performed for the show was described by Vogue magazine as “as an extended metaphor that links a woman’s emerging confidence to the cycle of a volcano: One’s knowledge of oneself builds until it erupts, just as lava pours from the mouth of a volcano, and this newly empowered self solidifies in the same manner as lava hardens into a new form.”
On the surface, these qualifications may not immediately seem to lend themselves to traditional cultural diplomacy, but if anything they actually place Suzi several steps ahead. When people consider technology in the context of a program like Next Level, they usually think of Americans bringing technology to other cultures. But increasingly, cultural diplomacy is not about the tech itself, but about understanding and integrating different cultural approaches to technology.
This lesson was not lost on Suzi Analogue. By the time she arrived in Uganda, she remembers, “my students were already actively using technology and the Internet. Even down to building their own computers and having their own hardware and software preferences. So I was finding out about technology that they were using to further their pursuits.”
This learning process was not just preparation for cultural exchange. In many ways, it actually was the cultural exchange. “I was learning about how technology can be democratized,” she reflects. “So it was good that I was already into it, but I got a deeper sense of how we can communicate with each other using different technologies and social media programs. It deepened my understanding of how we can use technology to connect… and what some of the challenges of using that technology are.”
One of these challenges was how to use technological limitations as a creative force, rather than a restrictive one: “In the U.S., if we don’t have a cable or a cord, we can just go to Radio Shack or Best Buy. There’s unlimited access to different technologies on the fly and it’s affordable. But it wasn’t like that there. So I learned that, when I make musical technology decisions, to simplify those decisions and to make my set up essential. And also, when I’m teaching, to ask myself how I can create a setup concept that is accessible for students that come from all different economic backgrounds. Because I don’t want to teach you to use this $500 MIDI controller if you can’t access that. So there is just a certain level of access margins that I had to consider.”
Creatively considering these limitations ultimately influenced the way she approached her own musical experiments as well. “That has definitely informed my creative process. Not just the setup, but how I want to play music and how people understand it. I just learned how to create something impactful musically that is also simple. That was a huge takeaway. It really inspired my process when I came back home. To connect again on a simple level with drumming as communication…It just opened up a lot of pathways to understand music on a deeper level.”
But even while she was still in Uganda, the opportunity for students to collaborate with Analogue around these issues enabled them to develop workable plans to accomplish their technological and artistic goals. And, two years later, those plans continue to bear fruit.
“I have students who have gone on to do amazing things,” she says proudly. “I have one who’s an amazing muralist and graffiti writer…And I just gave him simple advice. And now he’s starting his own brand of street art in Uganda called AFRI-CANS. And it’s awesome. He’s travelling. He’s doing it for the community. He’s finding the walls. It’s like peace and positivity associated with it. I’ve also had other students who put out beat tapes and made it onto different websites now. And they’re just starting to really push hard and become creative entrepreneurs as much as they can.”
Those relationships allowed Suzi herself to maintain ongoing interactions – and some fame – in Uganda, even after her return to the U.S. “There was just a natural exchange where we wanted to keep in touch with each other and keep each other updated on what one another was doing. Because, for the youth in Uganda, it means so much for them to see positive images of people having careers in the creative arts.”
“They played one of my videos on the Uganda national music program NTV The Beat when it premiered and that was a great feeling. We did an interview and that was a great feeling. One thing I also do is that I have sponsored posts on Facebook and I always include Kampala in the locations because I want to stay connected with them. I wish I could help all of the people that message me, ‘cause it’s a lot…and they weren’t even my students!”
“So I definitely check in with them. Because no matter where you are, it’s hard to be an artist.”
For more information on Suzi Analogue’s projects and performances, visit her website at https://www.suzianalogue.com