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Tiffany Chung

04 Feb 2021

Text by Tiffany Chung

ØLÅF CITIZENS: SANGO

04 Feb 2021

If you’re not familiar with the name Kai Wright, you might know him better as the renowned hip hop/electronic artist, Sango. He’s the talented DJ and record producer behind genre-melting sounds and albums like ‘Moments spent loving you’, ‘In the comfort of’, ‘Da Rocinha’ and ‘North’. In this edition of Citizens, Kai talks to us about how fatherhood, family, and the ‘Pacific Midwest’ have shaped who he is and influenced his career.

 

Hi Kai, phrases like ‘future of music’ and ‘visionary’ have been used to describe you. Yet you refer to your work as ‘regular, real beats’. Why’s that?

“Yeah, regular means understandable, relatable. A lot of people think that regular means basic and the word normal is bad. In my opinion, you can get too creative where you're not taming the art for it to have a message. That’s the beauty of creation because you have artists that are pushing boundaries and doing stuff that just does not make sense to anyone but them. But you also have creatives, like me, that are willing to reach out to people and understand culture and patterns in how we think and tie it into music and art. When it comes to creating things, I think we have to take what exists already, learn from our past, and repurpose it. You got to take things from the 70s, 60s, 1800s and kind of update the idea, you know. So regular music, regular beats are just ideas and sounds that you are familiar with but in a new way. That’s how I would put it. We’re already so complex as human beings, why add on to that?"

 

Were you raised in a musical household?

“Yeah, my mom still plays piano. She’s amazing. She actually started out making beats on a Casio controller. She was doing that while she was in the Navy. My father was more of a fan of music. He was definitely responsible for my influences, more so than my mom. He was like, ‘whatever you like, enjoy it.’ He wasn’t showing us death metal and stuff like that, but it was stuff that he felt we should hear. The trade off is that my mom was more technical with it. She taught us how music works. She sat me down, explained how to download programs that could help me and explained music theory to me. She was a really great mother because she allowed her children to have their own playground with constraints. She wasn't really controlling as a mom. She was like, ‘Oh I see something in you, and you should go for that. Embrace it.’ Musically that did really help a lot. I found myself knowing myself early on."

 

 

So, did you always know you were going to have a career in music?

“I knew I was going to be a creator. My mom was always telling me this story, I was maybe 3 or 4. We were at this computer store, I think it’s called Circuit City or something like that, and there was this computer that I was using really well. I was drawing on Microsoft Paint and people in the store were watching me like I was demoing how to use the stuff. It was the early 90s, so this stuff is really kind of new and they were like, ‘how did this kid learn this so fast?’ It was because we had computers at school, but I was just geared toward it."

 

Is that why you chose to study graphic design over music?

“It was kind of like a confidence thing. I knew I would be able to teach myself the things that I needed to know in music but not with graphic design and I was really into it at the time. I’m still into graphic design now, but I use it as a tool for my music. I really save a lot of money doing it, ha. Although I’m not opposed to working with other graphic designers, I feel like I have a sense of what I want to create, so why shut that off? But yeah, I chose graphic design because it was out of fear that I wasn’t going to make it in music. I mean I loved music, but I thought I needed to get a degree in graphic design so I can get a job at Sony, RCA, or Universal. I wanted to design album covers and help an artist brand themselves or maybe work at a company that makes clothing. But I ended up blowing up in college and going on tour multiple times. If I had studied music, I maybe would've fallen out of love with it. I know a lot of people who have gone to school for music and found it a waste of time."

 

Sango with Rick Rubin.

 

Out of all your projects, which has made the biggest impact on you?

“I would say my album called North. It was the first album that I ever fully thought out, worked on and saw from start to finish. The times before, I was just experimenting a lot and didn't have any solid ideas. But when I was making North it was a firm idea that I had created and filled it up until I saw the body of work that I was seeing in my head. Then I got together with this record label called Soulection. They put it out and it did pretty well in my opinion. I still had a day job, and I was hoping to quit, but it was a long time until I actually could."

 

 

What was your day job?

“I made baby oil. It was a night job. I would go clock in and fill the tubes up with baby oil. I did quit that job eventually, but I still needed to work so I did catering. That actually made me fall in love with cooking. Cooking is my hobby."

 

What can you cook?

“Oh easily, jambalaya. Louisiana-style jambalaya. My great grandma’s sister, who’s still alive, she’s from Louisiana and I get all her recipes. I love southern cooking. I love Louisiana because my family is from there. Also, my wife is from Mexico, so I make a mix of Louisiana and Mexican style food. I love cooking."

 

Sango with Xavier Omär.

Jambalaya is a Creole rice dish of West African, French, and Spanish influence, consisting mainly of meat and vegetables mixed with rice.

 

 

What else do you do on your off time?

“Play video games — NBA, FIFA, Spiderman (my favorite superhero). But I’m getting older now, so I like watching my nephew play. It’s fun hanging out with him. I do a lot of working out as well. I was an athlete in high school and parts of college but gave that up for music. I ran track and cross country. I was a runner runner. I was running the 800m dash, doing marathons, 5ks and competing."

 

Do you prefer live performances or studio recordings?

“Live. For sure."

 

 

Big crowds or small groups?

“Big crowds."

 

Are you an early bird or night owl?

“Night owl."

 

When you work on a project, how do you know when you're done?

“You know it’s funny, the first project I ever put out ever on the internet was called ‘Unfinished and Satisfied’. So that’s been me, I’ve never known when I’m done, but I’ve always been finished and been like, ‘I'm definitely putting this out.’ I’ll feel confident though, knowing that it might not be finished. If a project is finished, I’ll maybe feel like I’m not thinking enough because there’s always room for improvement or ideas. But my process starts as an idea from a conversation or maybe something that I saw on TV or the Internet that was dealing with a style of music. Or like something historical that I find and I dive deep into figuring out how they did that and why they did that at the time. Or just a mindset, right now my mindset has been about pacing yourself. At first, I liked to go fast, like jump from one thing to the next. Since COVID hit I've been embracing pacing myself again. I would go fast because I was worried that I needed to make as much money as I can or get opportunities while I can because I don't know if it's going to last. I’m literally traumatized by that feeling. I’m never going to be able to rest. Like I went on my first vacation maybe last year. Yeah, I was always thinking I can't afford to go on vacation, I have to pay rent. But yeah, my music is created by starting with an idea. Then it morphs into these little bubbles. I take whatever makes sense and use it on the album or project that I’m making. Whatever doesn’t make sense, I’ll put those ideas aside and save those for later."

 

 

Who do you go to for feedback?

“I would say my peers, definitely. A few people that I work with. These guys that I work with in Michigan. If your stuff is not good, they’ll let you know. They’re hardcore. Also, my wife and I’ll put stuff on Instagram or Twitter and let people respond to it. It might not be something I’m actually working on, but similar, so I’m going to keep trying it out. I have three types of music making: I have music where I’m helping someone else out and it’s not my stuff. I have music where I’m totally locked in and this is an idea that I’m working on. Then, I have stuff that’s like practice and trying out. The stuff I try out I post. "

 

You’ve said that you love change. What has been the most notable change you’ve experienced in your career?

“I think it was when I first started traveling. I remember the first places I went to were Toronto and Montreal. It was with Kaytranada, a really popular DJ from Montreal. They were literally the first places I’ve been to for music outside of the country. What changed is I started realizing that people really want to see me in person opposed to having music being played in the room, or on the Internet, or in the car. It’s cool that they want to hear me play it. Traveling made me more confident and it made me interested in seeing more people and how they lived. It opened my mind to other people who grew up in a totally different way. When we travel, we should always try to learn. I feel like a lot of people just travel to show that they went somewhere and use it as a backdrop, rather than learning and experiencing someone’s culture or someone’s place of origin."

What else inspires you? Name a person, place, and thing.

“I would say a person that inspires me is definitely my grandfather, Alandus. He’s the epitome of raw self-expression and I always struggled with that. I was really kind of shy growing up and I always had a lot of people around me that helped me be more out in the open and more upfront with who I am. It really helped with my music career because a lot of times when you’re on stage DJing or producing in a room with people, you have to be a vocal person. My grandfather is like the absolute most vocal person I can think of. He had a rough life. He’s from Chicago and he spent most of his early years in a gang and he changed his life around. Every time I have a conversation with him it’s always so robust. He’ll say the most outlandish things and you just have to accept what he's saying. He’s really passionate.

 

A place...ah man...okay, I was born in Seattle and I moved to Michigan when I was 10. I spent a lot of time going back and forth. So, because I’m from the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, I have this thing where I call it the ‘Pacific Midwest’. I would say that’s the place that inspires me. They inspire because of the working class feel I get from Michigan and the mix of the futuristic forward thinking I get from Seattle. That’s me. I’m very forward thinking as a person and how I treat my art, but I’m very grounded in tradition.

 

 

Fatherhood is the thing that inspires me. It’s very important to me. I have two kids. It challenges me every day. That stuff just brings the best out of you because you're not living for yourself. It’s a blessing for me because I get to see myself in them. I think kids are put on the planet to teach you how to be grateful for people who are able to have kids and be grateful for family and the community you have."

Tiffany Chung

23 May 2022

Text by Tiffany Chung

ØLÅF CITIZENS : Virgil nicholas

23 May 2022

With honesty, well-being, and respect for oneself and each other as the foundation of Danish shoe brand, Vinny’s shoes, Virgil Nicholas has founded a shoe company with real soul. In this edition of Citizens, we step into the creative director’s classic leather loafers and discover more about his work, style, and way of life.

 

Hi Virgil, why loafers?

“Good question. I've always worn loafers and compared to all the other types of footwear in my wardrobe, they‘re the one pair of shoes that I wear to death. A couple of years ago, just before starting Vinny’s, I was looking at my rotation of the same four to five shoes I wore over and over and noticed I was missing that perfect loafer. I realized that's where I have a genuine heritage and story to tell, so it made sense that I bring that to the table myself."

 

How should one feel when wearing a pair of Vinny’s?

“I think the loafer, for me, is like when you put on a blazer jacket. It shapes you as a person, your back gets a little bit more upright and you carry yourself a bit more elegantly. Loafers do the same thing. I want both men and women to feel comfortable, relaxed, well-dressed, and feeling confident. I think when we feel our very best, we're better humans to ourselves and to our neighbors and next of kin. So, it's really about building self-respect."

Still from podcast.

From interview with Illum.

 

Is that what makes you feel confident?

“A good pair of loafers, yeah. I think one of my confidence boosters is definitely always a good outfit."

 

Do you think good taste is something you’re born with, or can it be developed?

“I think style and taste is definitely something that you can learn. It’s about what you're interested in, what you’re exposed to and influenced by. It's definitely something that you can adapt and grow into and out of. Personally, the influences from my mom and my dad and their post-colonial heritage, my African heritage, but also the urban references from when I was a kid, shaped my wardrobe. I always go to the same things. I have pieces in my wardrobe that go ten years back and it's the stuff that I love to wear the most. Then, occasionally you add new things."

 

With Silas Oda Adler.

 

What are your tips for someone who is developing their own style?

“It starts with knowing who you are. A fashionable look or outfit can sometimes become a way to dress yourself up or to hide who you are, whereas style is about what we actually like and what you can see yourself wearing over and over again that resembles you. Also, read about pieces, find out how the penny loafer came about, the history of the slip dress, or research style icons. What makes hairstyles iconic today? Why do we like 90s fashion so much right now? Why's airport style interesting? I know a lot of men that research trends and decades and fashion and it's really been a way of shaping who they are. I've done the same, more from a research and creative perspective but it definitely helps me to also keep my own style universe sharp."

 

Who's your style icon?

“My dad. He always inspired me a lot."

With kiddo.

Vinny's.

 

Do you hope to be a style icon for your son?

“He already dresses way better than me. I think he already passed me. I just want to be a good role model, that's the most important thing for me."

 

Has becoming a father changed the way you work?

Only that I have to leave work a little bit early. I love to work, so that's why I hate having to leave work early. When he sleeps, I really love to work. Especially when I get to live out my dream. I'm so blessed and lucky that he loves coming into work with me. He's an open-minded kid and really at ease around my colleagues. I can bring him anywhere and that really makes my workflow a whole lot better.

 

At parelstudios.

On the road.

 

What’s your favorite place to work?

“We got our office four months ago and we have a red couch that I love sitting on. The most amazing thing is that our office is an old apartment, so we wanted to create a homey feeling. It's always hard to leave the office which is a good sign of a good workplace, at least for myself."

 

Where do you like to relax?

“Benches in my city. I love just sitting there and people watching. Not having any plans or any distractions, just a good pair of sunglasses to watch people. If you see me on a bench, you know what I'm doing. It’s the most relaxing thing ever."

 

As a successful creative, you’ve had a lot of great ideas. Tell us about your worst idea.

“My worst idea? Ha, that’s a good one. I don’t know, I’ve had a few. There was this one project, it was right after I started my first label, I wanted to create something that was more urban. So, we started making baseball t-shirts and the execution was good, but the name was horrible – it was a combination of three French words. I speak French with my parents, so it’s a big part of me and almost everything I do creatively starts with French. We actually got a lot of traction in France, but no one understood what we were trying to say. It was just the most horrible thing I've done. We had to shut it down quite quickly for numerous reasons but mostly the name was just a killer."

 

Name one thing you hope to get better at.

“I'm always on the go, always thinking about the next step, the next collection, the next campaign, am I picking up my son? I think what I need to be better at is enjoying the present. Enjoying the moment with people that are really dear to me. The thing I really value the most in my life are my relationships. It’s easy to make up an excuse not to meet up or make time for family and friends, but if it matters, then you need to remember to prioritize them. Time flies so fast."

 

Counting blessings.

 

Tell us something you hate to do but have to.

Every month, I have to go through all my expenses and find all my receipts. It’s a work thing that I hate to do. I try to be really good at it, but I hate it.

 

And something you love to do but rarely get to.

I love to read and listen to audiobooks. I hate that I don't have or take the time to do it enough.

 

Do you have a favorite book?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Love it. It was really a kickstarter for how I started to believe in myself and knowing that anything you set your mind to is possible.

 

What's one song you listen to on repeat?

Gold by Prince. I saw him perform it live at a festival here in Denmark. It was a crazy experience.

 

Young Virgil.

 

Lastly, name a person, place, and thing that inspires you.

One of the places that inspires me a lot is Marrakech. I like it because it's a place where I always calm down, but I also see so much culture and so much honesty and genuineness in the population. I think, in general, Africa is fun because it's very true to its roots.

 

For people, I've always been a huge fan of, it’s so cliché, but Denzel Washington. I love that guy mainly because he's really talented and he can wear a lot of hats, so to speak. His body of work combined with who he is as a person, from what he says, how he thinks, how he operates, and his composure is inspirational.

 

I'm really inspired by tech and how it creates communities. For example, who would have thought even just ten years ago that there would be a car service where you can drive awesome cars without taking anything but your mobile device, logging in, driving it, then leaving it to share with another human being? It’s stuff like that, the whole shared economy in tech, I think is fantastic. It's about being helpful to each other. If the shared economy in tech could be integrated with fashion in a mainstream way, not just in the niches where it is right now, it would definitely be game-changing for the whole world.