If you’ve ever joined one of our Agora Talks, you’ve most probably experienced the work of Samm Anga in the ident music.

Nick Dunn  |  Ed YoungMi Lamine  |  29 August 2020 – additional info on 22 September 2020

Born in Nigeria, he spent most of his life in Kent. A graduate in English and Music Studies from Aberdeen University, he is now studying a Masters in Sound Arts at the University of Arts, London.

© Courtesy of the artist.

As with the journey of many creatives, it started young. Tracing an interest in music to his early childhood, he would be “turning kitchen pots upside down and drumming” and was singing and humming before he could even speak. This continued as he grew up, adding edits and sound effects to presentations at school until his brother commissioned him, aged 18, to do the soundtrack for his 2017 graduate film, Blindside.

In contrast to his previous compositions, all acoustic, this one was entirely digital. Samm himself notes that this was a formative experience and, above all, “it was a good challenge developing musical material that was sonically fluent and thematically tied to the material of the film.” Drawing on his eclectic musical tastes, ranging from Micachu to Bjork to Jon Hopkins, the soundtrack demonstrates an assured confidence and gives the film a pitch-perfect ambience.

© Courtesy of the artist.

Anga isn’t content to plough just one furrow though: his ever-growing portfolio boasts breathtaking photography and music videos as well as his compositions. What drives such restless creativity, you might ask? According to Anga, “I like the idea of not being tied down to one form of creativity.” And who can blame him for wanting to stretch his creative muscles to their fullest extent? At the time of writing, I’ve just completed an AS-level in Photography, and in what spare time I have, I’m also beavering away at a novel, my own musical studies, and practising calligraphy. Just for fun, you understand. But I agree wholeheartedly with Anga’s philosophy on maintaining a broad creative range: “it’s quite empowering to know that I can be competent technically in a range of mediums, and deliver a spectrum of creative ideas.” The ability to create art in any medium is truly empowering, so why sit still on just one when the whole art world is there to explore? 

© Courtesy of the artist.

What first got you into music?

I have been into music for as long as I can remember. Sounds have always fascinated me. Living in Nigeria, we always went to church as a family and singing was a huge part of the culture there. As I grew older I knew I wanted to learn instruments and continue to express myself in that way. It always came naturally to me. I think the biggest artist that made me want to perform music as a kid was Michael Jackson, though I don’t think my aspiration lies in becoming the new King of Pop anymore; I think I would look a little ridiculous. I have definitely found my niche now.

 

Who inspired you to make music?

Similarly, I have had a huge scope of inspiration. Depending on which aspect of my developing musicality we are discussing I will have a different answer. I think learning the piano as a kid defined the way I make and write music, even though I’d always wanted to play the drums. So I think I was inspired by really percussive jazz pianists like Mccoy Tyner and Thelonious Monk. I always love collaboration and surrounding myself with creative individuals too, so ultimately they are the ones that inspire me to make music because there’s nothing quite like hearing what your colleague has been working on and thinking “Damn, I need to get my act together!”

How would you describe the music that you typically create?

I think the best and most consistent way to describe it is “experimental” and “electronic,” which seems lazy but is quite accurate. I don’t think I can safely claim I operate within any genre because when I write, I never know what is expected of me, or have a list of a generic convention to adhere to. Producing all my compositions has become my dominant mode of creation, however, so I feel adopted into the electronic mode of thinking. Experimental music can also combine elements of different genres, which is certainly something I try to do. I think my music is a sum of my influences: jazz music, hip-hop, classical music, art pop, techno.

What is your creative process like?

I wish I knew! I ask myself that question all the time. My creative patterns tend to be sporadic. I can spend months devoid of creative work, then suddenly get inspired by something and go on a 14 hour a day 3-day bender with only breaks for eating and sleeping. I like to get whatever idea that is in my head, whether it is a lyric, motif, beat, melody- whatever it is- out as quickly as possible no matter how rough, even if it is just a recording on my phone. Then I spend time thinking about the different ways that I can develop the idea or different things I want to say with the piece; sometimes combining ideas. When I feel like it has a good structure, I start polishing and finalising sounds, which can be the most intense part of the process. How do you know when a project is finished? I guess you just know. Or maybe it’s just when you’ve had enough of staring at the same project file! However, I have been trying recently to make myself do something little every day, even if I don’t feel mentally in a space to, and even if it’s just for 15 minutes. That can help. There are also really cool apps that can hold you accountable for productivity if your brain isn’t up for it.

Who would you most like to collaborate with?

I always say Björk because I love some of the work she has released recently. I think It would be amazing to share her library of sounds, and cross minds. I think some of her best collaborative work recently has been with “Arca” and “serpentwithfeet,” who I love as well. I think there are a lot of artists that it would be fun to collaborate with though. It is strange to think of working with such talented people, while I am still in the fledgeling stages of fine-tuning my sound, but I guess I would bring a certain level of naiveté, which can lead to some cool experiments.

If you could go open a show for any artist who would it be?

Oh, this is an interesting question. Off the top of my head, I think Nils Frahm. He always has an interesting crowd at his shows, and I know that the stage setup would be pretty epic. I’d maybe ask to borrow some of his gear too, which he might laugh at me for. FKJ would also be a cool artist to open for too. Saul Williams is a legend to me, but I think I would be too intimidated.

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What is one message you would give to your fans?

Interact! Communicate with one another! Collaboration and organic connection are the only way we can combat feelings of disillusionment and apathy. It is also the best way for artists to develop into their strongest self. I would also say don’t just believe something because some random dude on the internet said it with conviction. Find your truth.

 

What is the most useless talent you have?

I don’t know if any talent can be useless, but I can do a lot of weird thing with my thumbs. It’s as if they are a limb of their own. Always fun at parties. I can also do a mean sketch of Spongebob Squarepants, and that has never come in handy, so maybe that takes the prize.

 

Do you sing in the shower? What songs?

I think my family and partners would find this question quite funny. I ALWAYS sing in the shower. Sometimes I don’t even realise I’m doing it, or, even weirder, I think I’m just humming under my breath but someone can hear the singing from the other side of the flat. I’ve had some wall-banging from neighbours. I blame it on the little classical training I had at school. My go-to is Jackie Wilson. He has such a great rich operatic voice that is fun to imitate and his songs sound good with that special “bathroom reverb.” Not great when it’s a late-night shower though. Many nights of sleep have been ruined.

What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for a career in music?

Well, to give an idea, the last offer I had before my joint music degree was to study Philosophy and Linguistics at Oxford, which I think would have led me down a very different, but interesting path. I also seriously considered law for a while, even planning a conversion course after I graduated, but somehow I always keep coming back to music in some form. I do love academia though so I think I will continue to try and to intersect that with performance, so that I don’t get too single-track minded.

Where have you performed? What are your favourite and least favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?

I have performed at a fair amount of venues, starting by doing gigs in pubs as a teenager, and eventually was able to do a local festival in Kent, which was quite daunting because it was a huge jump in how professional-standard the equipment was, and the size of the stage and audience. While studying in Scotland, I always performed frequently at student events and was able to organise my multi-disciplinary festival for local creatives. This gave us control over the stage set up and led to some really beautiful shows. I love spaces like art galleries, abandoned buildings, old churches… Places with personalities. I’m not a fan of performing in pubs. It’s not that they don’t have personality, it’s just perhaps not the ideal energy for me. Upcoming shows? If only. Sadly I, like many other performers, do not know when the next performance will be. I’m hoping that by early next year, we will be able to put on shows again after the pandemic slows, but it is a very confusing time.

How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?

The Internet is probably the single most important factor that changed the music business into what it is today. Illegal file-sharing and eventually streaming have made music a non-depletable and non-excludable good so that it’s not as easy to monitor or guarantee sales as music is so easy to access. I think in the early 2000s this was seen as a tragic thing because it meant the music business would crumble and the quality of music would drop, which has happened to some extent, but there have also been some amazing developments. There is a lot more democracy now in music-making so people can choose to create in the comforts of their own homes and build their studios without giving mountains of cash to major labels. People can also promote themselves in lots of creative ways. I think creatives today probably think a lot less like the old model of the music business and we should approach it in more innovative ways moving forward.

© Courtesy of the artist.

What is your favourite song to perform?

 There is a song I’m working on now, which I think will be my favourite to perform. The working title is “crumbling empires” and it will mark my first venture into using electronic drum pads to trigger midi and improvise my percussion. I think that will add a lot of energy and excitement to my shows. 

Which famous musicians do you admire?

I admire- and this mind seems like the two most unlikely choices- but the first people that come to mind are Frank Ocean and Joanna Newsom. I love how Frank carved his way into the industry on his terms, making music that wasn’t even necessarily what was “hot” at the time but has managed to become one of the best-selling artists today. He is also a really good writer and paints very striking imagery with his words- always good to listen to after a break-up or ghosting. I also love how reclusive he is and how long it takes him to finish projects- reminds me a lot of myself. Joanna Newsom is just…an incredibly talented and unique artist. Between her unconventional voice and dense lyrics, I think it is very cool how she was able to forge a space for herself in the industry with such a strong fanbase, and without ever sacrificing her individuality.

   

What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?

I think getting kicked out of venues for either staying or playing too long, or sneaking in our drinks and not being very subtle at hiding them from the bar. I think that’s pretty standard though.

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What is the best advice you’ve been given?

Funnily enough, the “best” advice I was giving was to stop thinking of becoming a musician because it would be impossible to make it and I would never be good enough. It forced me to be simultaneously practical and passionate about my approach to music and to be humble in admitting how I fare against artists that do well within the industry. However, some even better advice is not to compare yourself to anyone else, because the only path you will ever take is your own. Everything always looks so much faster and immediate when you watch from the outside, but real talent takes hours and hours and hours of hard work and failure, so I don’t expect anything but slow, incremental improvement and growth. You also have to learn to do the same things you aspire to do in a few years today, albeit on a smaller scale and act like you are already the person you want to become. Once I put that into practice I realised how great that piece of advice was. Borrow some abundance from your future.

If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

I think this is such a loaded question it is difficult to answer…I think I would change the messaging. A lot of music that sells today tends to perpetuate negative or low-vibration messages, eg. violence, competition, excess capitalism etc. Some of the music still sounds good, but it gets quite tiring hearing the artists saying these things again and again. I think originality is key. The industry holds responsibility for forcing artists into those boxes and it only seems like they take a chance on unconventional artists once they attract unexpected attention, but have no issue backing a less interesting artist with charisma, problematic lyrics, and a questionable fan base. I understand that in business what sells will get the most attention, but even artists that are already selling should be allowed a certain degree of experimentation, especially when there are really cool artists out there that they can collaborate with. Some artists have tried and received some initial backlash, but eventually gained respect for what they did. Ultimately there is a lot of importance on what is released into global consciousness, especially bearing children in mind and the growing spiritual and mental health crisis. 

© Courtesy of the artist.

What’s next for you?

I’m about to start a master at UAL doing Sound Arts at London College of Communication. It will be cool to tailor my work more for galleries and exhibitions and see how I feel about that environment. I feel quite optimistic and pumped for its despite the current global situation. I think artists can overcome adversity with innovation, so it will be cool to see how we will deal with the current shift in cultural dynamics. 

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