Interview - Saba Abraha
We had the chance to talk to local songstress Saba Abraha about her inspirations, the role her Ethiopian heritage plays in her music, her trip to LA, and what she has in store for this year. Read below for more from Saba.
CSDC: The first time I heard your music, I had randomly found, "I'd Wait" on SoundCloud.
Saba: Off of the Millennial project.
CSDC: Yes, and I loved it, I love your voice. And at first, I thought you were Saba from Chicago.
Saba: The rapper?
CSDC: Yes, the rapper! And I was like, "This is weird, this isn't the same?" Then I realized you weren't. So, I kinda just want to get a bit of a background. I wanted to know specifically your inspirations because your voice reminds me a lot of Alina Baraz in terms of the smoothness and the airiness. It's very beautiful. The skits on your project, "How Things Fly," they remind me a lot of the skits on "Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," specifically the skit "Do You Know Who You Are?" I love that, so I just wanted to know a couple of your inspirations.
Saba: A few of my musical inspirations. Growing up, I didn't really listen to a lot of music. I wasn't one of those kids who full-heartedly went into an artist. Like, "Oh, I love this artist!" Up until I actually moved to Maryland and I heard Corinne Bailey Rae for the first time. It was hard because I moved from Senegal to the States and it was so different in terms of just the culture, the behavior, you know, the way society is around here compared to there.
Saba: People of color weren't portrayed that much or maybe I just wasn't allowed to watch too much tv. So Corinne Bailey Rae was the first person of color that I saw on TV. I remember I was just sitting there and "Put Your Records On" came on and I fell in love with her voice and I fell in love with how sweet and innocent she was.
CSDC: Her first album, that album is crazy.
Saba: Phenomenal! And not only was she sweet and innocent, but she didn't really play on sexuality. She didn't feel the need to overly objectify herself. I'm not saying that it's not empowering to.
CSDC: Right. But you don't have to do that all the time.
Saba: She didn't do that, she just sang and she just rode bikes ... So Corinne Bailey Rae is one.
CSDC: Black Girl Magic!
Saba: Definitely! Gotta throw in Amy Winehouse as well as Missy Elliot
CSDC: Of course!
Saba: Also I would definitely say Florence and the Machine, she's someone I'd definitely want to work with. Yeah, those four.
CSDC: The skit "Do You Know Who You Are?" I want to know how you came up with that skit because again, it reminded me so much of the Lauryn Hill thing. I don't know if you've listened to her album, you probably did, of course. But in the part where the kids are in the classroom, the moderator is talking to them, he's like "Well, what do you feel about love?" And all this stuff.
Saba: Actually, Mikeyy was the one. One thing we were adamant about was that we wanted seven tracks, seven is the number of completion. You know, feels right. So, we had all the music done and we needed one more and so we didn't know what to add. We were just kinda thinking, "Well, what should we do?" And then he was like, "We should do this skit and we should incorporate questions that are vague but still very ..."
CSDC: Thought provoking. If you were listening to it ... I don't remember exactly what he said, but I remember listening to it and answering the questions to myself in my head. Which is kind of the point of what you're doing, I think you executed it perfectly. You don't even realize what's happening, you're listening to it, answering the questions in your head and you kinda get lost because the EP is so cohesive and it definitely is one of the best, I want to say, concept albums I've heard.
Saba: Thank you, that really means a lot! It was a great way to have people feel like they were part of the records.
CSDC: So, you mentioned earlier that you moved from Senegal but you are Ethiopian. I want to know how your Ethiopian heritage influenced your music.
Saba: I'd say that my Ethiopian heritage influenced my music in terms of, my subject matters. The center of our attention is always God and family. I don't curse a lot on my records, nor do I portray vulgarity in my visuals. I'm not aiming to portray perfection yet I'm still aware of my upbringing and beliefs. It's made such an impact on my records because I really want people not only our age or older, but I really want people, like young kids to be able to listen to "How Things Fly" or any music by us.
CSDC: And not be like, "Oh, if my Mom hears me listening to this..."
Saba: Yeah, I want someone to listen to our records and be influenced in a positive way.
CSDC: Right. That's important.
Saba: I want parents to be able to share. I want an older sister to not be afraid to share one of our records with their younger sibling. Whereas now, I'm constantly fearing my nieces listening to music on the radio or artists that are blowing up right now, it's all trap and it's all about being a thug.
CSDC: It's not all positive! Especially for children.
Saba: It's not positive and it's really scary that's become the norm. Which is something that I guess growing up being in an Ethiopian home, I really value music that digs deeper than the average "I'm getting turnt all the time" music that's on the forefront.
CSDC: Mikeyy came with you today and I wanted to know how you guys linked because again, I heard you from the 94sGold.
Saba: Through the great powers of social media
CSDC:What was it like the first time you guys were working together?
Saba:We met up at this studio called Skylight Studio. It's in Glenmont, shoutout to Wes. We made our first record in like an hour tops, till this day it's still one of my favorite records we've made. It just felt right, been making music since.
CSDC: So, you do your own visuals. I saw the video for "HeartStrings," I wanted to know what the story was behind that video and how you come up with your treatments for all your videos. Because I don't think you're in any of your videos, are you?
Saba: No, I'm not. So, art is a big ... Aside from the music, I really take value in the presentation, so from cover art to visuals, however people get the music. With "HeartStrings," the song itself, it's about hurting people without the intention to and forgetting that the people around you won't last forever. It starts off as mean words spewed out turned into this regretful "I'm sorry," it was just a big hurricane of emotions. Of just realizing that you've actually hurt someone.
Saba:It's really hard, when you realize you've hurt someone, when you really take it in.
CSDC:It's hard to deal with it, especially when you initially don't realize it.
Saba: Exactly, so with "HeartStrings," we wanted it to be this innocent ... You know what I mean? If you see the visual.
CSDC: With the little girl.
Saba: Yes, actually Wes' daughter, the owner of Skylight Studios. That's his daughter!
CSDC: Oh, nice!
Saba: Skyla Ruiz, she's going to be a phenomenal actress one day. But Mikeyy and I both, we come up with the treatments for all the visuals. ... It was important to have the visual for 'HeartStrings' touch back to the times when you're genuinely in awe of the simplest things. So throughout the video she's seeing everything for the first time. We went and took her on a field trip. So, every shot that you see, we’d close her eyes on the way there and she'd have to open them when we arrived. Which was shot by Maximilian Images.
CSDC: That's so cool.
Saba:Which is kind of like the song. You know what I mean? This realization. But she's doing it in a sweet way, whereas the song is more complex and more on the sad side.
CSDC: Exactly! I love the contrast between the video and the song. Last question for you, what do you have in store for 2017?
Saba: 2017? All right. More music. 2016 was a great introduction in terms of dropping not only our first visuals, but our first project. It was a great way to be like, "Hey, I exist." 2017 is more about giving the audience, I guess, more of me? I think that the music speaks for itself, 2017 I'd really like to kind of portray who I am more. So I'll be in visuals.
CSDC: That's awesome! Yay, I'm happy we’ll be seeing you in videos soon.
Saba: Yeah, the first visual we're releasing 2017, I'm actually in it.
CSDC: Did you already shoot it?
Saba: Yeah, we did, we shot it in LA.
CSDC: Cool. I forgot you went to LA! How was that trip? I thought I remember seeing you at Beats’ or some office that was important to me.
Saba: Oh, we went to a couple places. We just worked with a lot of really talented people.
CSDC: So they were showing you love out there.
Saba: Definitely! We kicked off the first show this year at a private museum. 2017 we'll be coming to a city near you.
CSDC: Awesome, I hope so!
Saba: ore music!
All photos by Christina Nguyen for Capitol Sound DC.