Q&A: 19-Year-Old Songwriter Sundé Finds Power in Vulnerability

Music has been a constant force throughout 19-year-old songwriter Sundé’s life. On her latest project, Eureka, the young artist draws from her musical influences and her personal life to turn “memory moments” into universally enjoyable, rhythmic compositions. Sundé sat down to tell us about her experiences living as a refugee, moving to Chicago and discovering her musical influences. Read the full interview below:


Sundé at Fort Knox Studios.

Q: What do you remember about living in the Congo?

A: I was born during the war times, so it was a lot of chaos for the family when I was growing up; a lot of family members passed away. Long story short, we ended up coming to America and starting over from there. I was really young, like elementary school age so I don’t remember that many details, but nostalgia is very prevalent for me because of how drastic shit was.


Q: How long have you been making music?

A: Ever since I can remember. I don’t think there was a time when I was not into making music. I was always around music, so I think the priority of it just kept evolving throughout my lifetime. Obviously, interests come and go, but music has always been consistent in my pursuits.


Q: What music did you grow up listening to?

A: All types. I’m African, so my mom played home music throughout the crib. A lot of gospel, a lot of hip-hop from my sisters. When we moved from the refugee camp, we had other families that we moved with that also got placed in Chicago. Everybody that we moved to Chicago with we considered to be family because we went through this together. So everyone’s influences became one big melting pot.


Q: Who are some of your own favorite artists?

A: I fuckin’ love Snoop Dogg. Andre [3000.] Missy Elliot. Amy Winehouse. Frank… Ocean. I mean, Sinatra too. Kanye, definitely Kanye. 2 Chainz. Gucci. Corinne Bailey Rae. Stevie Wonder’s a big influence as well.


Q: How did some of these artists influence you?

A: Amy Winehouse was one of my first influences that made me realize ‘ok, I’m gonna do music.’ That really started my making music stage. And then it evolved with Snoop Dogg, just watching his interviews and dissecting his music. Music, in my eyes from the writing side, is just depicting the human experience and the human life. Seeing how these people carry themselves in their ultra forcefield towards the world and also listening to their music, it helps you morph into them as a person.


Q: How would you describe your own sound?

A: It really depends on what kind of beat or vibe it is. All in all, it has hip-hop roots with spices of music from home. I always try to keep a bounce going.


Q: When it comes to songwriting, what subject matter do you like to write about?

A: When I write, I’m trying to be vulnerable and express my human experiences. That’s what we listen to music for and that’s why we like shit—because we relate to it. When I write, it’s me evolving as a person. I can get into a specific subject matter, but more so, it’s just experiences and turning them into intricate stanzas and words.


Q: How has your experience as a refugee and moving here at a young age shaped the way that you make your art?

A: I definitely try to incorporate that when it’s necessary. Every song is different, but overall as an entity, where I’m from is of big pride to me and I’m trying to have a microphone for my country. There are people growing all over the world that don’t know their abilities. There’s so much unfortunate shit going on to hinder these next generations of people. I just want to be a voice for that and stand for the underdogs.


Q: When did you start working on your latest project, Eureka?

A: We started on Eureka in February or March of 2017, and then we dropped it in July.


Q: So it sounds like you worked pretty quickly. What’s your process like?

A: I get the beat first and I just try to find a rhythm. Once I find the rhythm I start putting words to it, and then I just poetically sing everything that I’ve been feeling. … I write down a template, and I change it as I go when I’m in the booth.



Q: Could you break down what went into writing the song “Chicongo?”

A: It’s a morph of Chicago and Congo. It’s a very visual song, so sometimes when I’m rapping it’s not in first-person but more like scene setters–it’s storytelling. There’s a lot of replies to myself. The first part of the song is like 18-year-old me, and the last verse is like what 5-year-old me would be rapping.


Q: What inspired you to incorporate both Chicago and the Congo into this song?

A: Both [places] embraced me, and it’s like a shoutout piece. … For me personally, this was a milestone of being able to bring back what I’ve been instilled in and also continue to move forward.


Q: How has the Chicago hip-hop scene embraced you and your sound?

A: So far everybody’s just been showing so much love. Who I am isn’t compromised and who everybody else is isn’t compromised either. The music scene is just fucking brilliant and full of gems. It’s like a big ass melting pot of intricate entities. I’m really glad that I’m here.


Q: What do you think makes the Chicago hip-hop scene unique?

A: Chicago just likes to feel good. If you’re vibing, they’ll vibe with you. For this to be where I’m laying my foundation at, everything that’s been thrown at me has just been really genuine. People just recognize raw shit and vulnerability and appreciate it.


Q: What’s next for you in music?

A: I’ve been doing a lot of singles and working with different sounds. Get as much shows as possible, meet as much people as possible, express the movement as much as possible.


*This interview has been edited and condensed.

Assisted by Stefani Zeiger

Writing & photos by Mike del Ro


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