Music

Annahstasia Can't Wait for the Return of the Black Cowboy

We chat with the Nigerian-American singer about the appropriation of Western culture, and how she's taking it back.
Reading time 7 minutes
Photos by Parker Woods

Annahstasia wears a Vivienne Westwood necklace, Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons dress, Vintage suit and, Vintage Barney's New York boots.

If you don’t know who Annahstasia is yet, get ready to hear a lot more of her this summer. The LA-based Nigerian-American singer-songwriter and visual artist released her debut EP, Sacred Bull, earlier this year, and is preparing to embark on a European tour with Lenny Kravitz.

The singer’s work oscillates between themes of home, identity, nature and femininity. As a visual artists, she wants to experiment both music and performance through her projects. Sacred Bull explores falling in and out of love, moving back to LA and feeling more comfortable with her queerness, self-control and self-satisfaction. She hopes it’ll soothe listeners while encouraging them to follow her on her musical journey.

L’Officiel USA has the exclusive first look at her new music video “Sacred Bull / HIDE,” directed Ganna Bogdan, which you can check out below, interlaced with Annahstasia’s fascinating views on her upbringing, songwriting, reclaiming western visual culture as a black woman and the common points between music and performance art.

Did you grow up in a musical household?

It was more of a creative household. Both my parents are fashion designers and talented visual artists but I was the first in my household to take to music. They were always big music supporters though, they had a dope CD and tape collection that spanned genres. Music wasn’t always present growing up but it was always there for me to tap into.

 

What artists did you listen to as a teenager?

Up to a point I only listened to NPR and High School Musical, as cringey as that sounds, but my life changed when my uncle gave me an iPod with the full lexicon of soul, rock and blues. I was 14 when I got that iPod, and that formed my voice and the way my ear hears melodies. I listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Bill Withers, Son House, Muddy Waters, Velvet Underground, The Smiths, David Bowie, Prince, Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding. Then I had a really long folk phase, as hopping from blues to folk just made sense. I listened to Fleet Foxes, Civil Wars, Father John Misty, First Aid Kit, Marianne Faithfull and The Mamas and the Papas until I hit my twenties.

What challenges do you sometimes face while songwriting? Do you ever get writer’s block?

Of course, but I welcome it. Sometimes songs just flow out of me, like I’m channeling something. I don't even write down the lyrics, I just start singing and all that needs to be said is said. Other times I really struggle with what I’m trying to say because I need to believe myself when I sing things, so it can't just be anything. Those songs are the ones that end up being the most rewarding, so I’m happy to work through it. Sitting down and properly writing something is a test of patience but the words always come eventually. And you can always do something fulfilling while you wait for that “why” to hit.

 

There’s a lot of western visual cues in the “Sacred bull/hide” video. How do you feel about country culture as a Black woman?

When I was in college I did a research paper on how country music is actually a long-winded appropriation of Indigenous people’s music. I learned how black the origins of country music and country culture are and how white-washed they became with the advent of white-flight, which was masses of white people moving out of big cities into suburbs. It was supported by redlining minorities. Today, very few people know that country music owes a lot of its sound to early Black country, blues and folk musicians. I’m excited to see the black cowboy re-emerge in the cultural aesthetic because its always been there, just unseen.

It’s crazy how these things come in waves, like everyone had this same realization at once that the “western” aesthetic and the country culture isn’t as white as that section of the music industry likes to project. What Solange and other artists have done recently in building this picture of the black cowboy is so healing. I love when artists use their platform to reclaim history.

When I wrote “Sacred Bull / HIDE” I immediately recognized its western feel. My production notes for “HIDE” were “a plantation song but make it country with a dash of trap flow” I was so intrigued by that combination of histories and putting that across in the video just felt natural in my body performance and production-wise.

 

 

 

 

Do you think your work addresses identity and the feelings of growing up with mixed-heritage?

Yes, just by the virtue of me making it and being an alternative and genre-blurring artist, I’m creating within a mixed race/heritage dialogue. Being half Nigerian, half-white American and then growing up black in the United-States has caused a plethora of identity crises. In my art especially, it’s easy to feel like I’m not Nigerian enough or not black enough for what is expected of me by an imaginary audience in my head. Sacred Bull was this space where I was cleansing myself of all that pressure.

I am what I am, a mixed kid in the United-States and all I can do is make art from the cultural background and context I was given, which happens to be a very niche intersection of influences. I think that’s why I tend to stick to larger philosophical themes, because that’s where I can relate to the most people when I don't have these distinct cultural experiences everyone else in my demographics had, or I have a few but not all of them so I’m at risk of drawing an ill-informed picture of that group and thus spreading the wrong stereotype.

What’s the creative scene like in LA?

It’s so underground just by the virtue of the city being so huge. You have to latch onto a community and ride the wave deeper and deeper into the scene. It’s slow out here, but when you meet the right people the world is your oyster, the resources are endless here and the quality of life and the weather just let you hustle with the bare minimum for a long time without feeling like you’ve reached your end.

 

Your work encapsulates aspects of music and performance art. What do you think the difference is between both? What do they have/not have in common?

I think the biggest difference between the two is that music cannot succeed in silence whilst performance art often does, if not excels. The commonality between them is their interpretive nature separate from each other, but when combined, both become less interpretive and more political.

 

Do you think that all music has an aspect of performance?

No, for me Sacred Bull was an exercise in non-performance. How do I make a record where I never put on a character or hide myself behind an act. I think that when it comes to live music, yes there is always an aspect of performance, because you’re there to entertain or preach or heal.

You can follow Annahstasia on Instagram and Spotify, and check out her tour dates with Lenny Kravitz here.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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