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The Super-Sonic Family: Hatoon

After the successful 'Super-Sonic Jazz Family Vol. 1', compilation in 2019 by the Amsterdam-based festival and platform Super-Sonic Jazz - the label is back with a follow-up. More than 150 artists responded to the open call, which resulted in a compilation album with 31 songs. In the coming weeks, small digital batches will be released, building up to the official vinyl release in Rush Hour during the festival in November. In this series of articles, we will highlight multiple tracks and tell you all you need to know about some of the members of the Super-Sonic Family. After introducing Misto Kay, Y.O.P.E. and Mo Wrights, it's time to pass the mic to Hatoon!

Picture by Nas Hosen (@nashosen)

First of all, congratulations on your release! Would you like to introduce yourself?

Thanks, and of course! My name is Hatoon. I am a singer-songwriter who makes alternative R&B with some jazz influences. In the past two years, I’ve been working on an EP in which I’ve been discovering who I am as an artist. I found out that I’m rather afrofuturistic, so I try to take elements of my own ethnic culture and the African diaspora and infuse them in a futuristic way. We don’t have a definite date yet, but we will start releasing singles starting in January. I’m always a bit shy about saying a specific month because we are still unsure, but that is the plan for now.

That’s exciting! I’m curious to hear the sound you describe. What inspirations and musical influences might we hear in your music?

I think my number one artist is Nai Palm. I would say that my music is a bit different, but she taught me a lot about what is possible with music. She seems so free in the way she writes and sings. I love Nai Palm! Also, my grandfather, who was a singer in Sudan. He was known as Mohammed Wardi, but he passed away unfortunately. Knowing that he was a pretty established singer in East Africa, always made me feel like I could do anything. He made beautiful Arabic and Nubian compositions; Nubia is my tribe. He inspires me a lot as well.

What is the message that you want to convey with your music?

Afrofuturism! You have Afro-pessimism, which is a very important cultural movement which describes the way people of the African diaspora have been oppressed. I think this is extremely valid, but from what I picked up during research for my music, Afrofuturism is the countermovement that looks beyond the oppression that we experience. I see it as a lens and a way to look at things and get inspired. You’ll hear it even more on my own EP than on this track. The African diaspora is incredibly rich in culture and philosophy and I try to use that. I take the things from my travels to Sudan or the music that my parents listened to. It’s futuristic as well because you take the old and you make something new. I don’t make Sudanese music. It doesn’t sound like it at all, but it is deeply rooted in my approach to music.

It’s not just Afrofuturism that I sing about. The track ‘You’ is a song about a breakup. I think that, as somebody who has been a refugee, I take my message with me in whatever I do or write about. Growing up for me was very ordinary. I was just a teenager when I wrote this song about a breakup, but I also take the oppression that I face every day with me into everything, also in my relationships. I love to share my process and maybe help other people of colour who are in the same situation or who can relate.

How did you develop and get to this point in your career as an artist?

I always really, really loved R&B. As a kid, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of Western music or pop culture in general. I remember seeing Shark Tale with that Christina Aguilera track and I’ve been singing ever since. I took every chance I could to sing in front of a crowd. For instance, at school, we had moments for performances at the end of the week where I would sing. Eventually, in high school, I started making music with someone. We started getting booked in the town I grew up in, Culemborg. Eventually, he and his parents wondered if I considered going to a conservatory. I didn’t really know what that was. I did end up doing a preparatory year, while not even knowing what jazz was at this point. During that year I learned a lot, which I still take with me. I didn’t do my bachelor's there, because the way they taught didn’t appeal to me. I went to the Herman Brood Academy instead. In the meantime, already starting during my preparatory year, I was filming myself singing and posting it on my Instagram. People noticed and started asking me to do vocals for them. Since then, I’ve been doing gigs and getting booked through Instagram. It already feels like I’ve been settled in the scene for a while, without releasing anything yet. This song is the first release that I did, but it feels like one of many because I’ve been making music for a while now.

How did you end up releasing your first song on the Super-Sonic Jazz compilation?

I had some good tracks lying around that weren’t a good fit for my EP and its message. I got asked if I wanted to be a part of the compilation and after I sent some tracks they chose ‘You’. It was great because this song wasn’t going to be on my EP because of the style difference. It's a bit more poppy. I can’t say much more because the set list is not set in stone yet. I think Afrofuturism is going to be a more prominent theme, musically and lyrically, than in this song.

You already said that you already feel part of a scene, right? This Super-Sonic Jazz project strives to present and support the Dutch music scene and all its talents. How do you feel about the Dutch scene and do you see any changes?

I think we are in a really exciting time. For R&B, jazz and neo-soul musicians, there haven’t been that many platforms. I was kind of frustrated that, for the past 20 years, jazz felt a bit white-washed in the Netherlands. The black culture of jazz has been changed into being elitist and Eurocentric. I feel like the black jazz tradition and its knowledge have been gatekept by predominantly white, (male) institutions in this country. For instance, in school, I couldn’t use vibrato. I was supposed to only sing the notes in the way that Chet Baker sang them. That was literally the assignment for half of the year. That was frustrating because I didn’t get to express myself. This education caters more to white-Western culture. That frustration is something that a lot of musicians share. With Super-Sonic Jazz and Vanguard, for example, there are more platforms and possibilities for R&B and jazz artists. There’s also a lot more talent in this genre than we realised. It is still hard, in school or the charts I notice that it is still a sub-genre, but I’m happy with the way that it is going. It is still more underground than it should be, but we are getting somewhere.

Picture by Rafael Stomp (@heytagmij)

In my last interview, Mo said that he felt that women were underrepresented in the compilation, which might be a sign of underrepresentation in the scene as a whole. What do you think about that?

Yes, that is definitely a thing! However, I think the dynamic as a woman in this industry has shifted from being a pretty singer, hoping to be discovered by some guy who will boost your career, to this moment where I’ve seen a lot of boss-ass ladies in this subgenre. Women who are creating this platform for themselves. Honestly, academic jazz education is still very masculine. Most women that are in the school are vocalists, for instance. It is less encouraged, in general, for girls to produce and make music. I feel that as well. I hope that this will change, but that is not something that I’ve been seeing too much, unfortunately.

Does being a woman have an impact on your career? When do you notice this?

Definitely! This is such a theme for me. I am a vocalist and do need the help of an instrumentalist or a producer, who are always men. I’ve never worked with a female producer, which I would love to do! (Reach out to her if you are or know someone!) When you are a girl and a singer, there are so many prejudices. You have to prove yourself to be taken seriously. I’ve also had moments in the studio with men where I realised that it was not about making music, which is such a waste of my time because of the consistency in which that happens. It is and has been a problem in my career (laughs). It’s a thing for sure. Eventually, I did find people that I liked working with. Sometimes I notice that, as a woman, my words have less value than those of a man. When I’m collaborating in a professional environment, I notice my input is not always taken as seriously. Being a woman in the industry is kind of tough, man (laughs)! It really is a man's world. And this is not just something of the older generation. Our generation has the same power dynamics. Misogyny is a cultural thing and it’s not only in music, but we happen to be in an industry that is maybe a bit more misogynistic than others. There are fewer boundaries, less things are set in stone. You are often not working with a contract or within regulations. You are freelancing and there’s more space for power dynamics.

The scene in London is known for the presence of many black and female musicians, not just vocalists. It seems that an educational platform like Tomorrow’s Warriors (which focuses on “black and female musicians whose financial or other circumstances might lock them out of opportunities to pursue a career in the music industry”) made a real difference in that scene. Hearing you discuss Dutch education in comparison to that in the UK is quite a big difference, with a completely different impact, don’t you agree?

Having a platform like that here would be an amazing contribution to the Dutch musical landscape! I notice that in conservatories, especially in jazz and classical music, it is almost impossible to get in if you haven’t been properly schooled, which is really pricey. I think this does hold back young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds from being a part of the jazz tradition. It would be so awesome if they could teach jazz to those young, black kids.

I agree! When we speak of the music in the UK we often refer to it as one scene. Do you feel part of a scene here in the Netherlands?

Yes and no. It’s not like we are all personal friends, but there has been an uprising of people who make alt-R&B or similar music. The way I got into the “scene” was around 2019 when I met Lee-Ann, who works for Paradiso right now. She has been doing stuff in the scene for years and she shows how important it is to have women of colour in those positions. Anyways, she was working at Melkweg when she organised a writer's camp. We were with a group of random people who all make English music, R&B or hip-hop, stuff like that. I was with Joshua J, Robyn Florence, T-Shawn, Lèlèman and Alken. That’s where we got to know each other and that group of people continues to support each other. We’ve seen each other grow a lot and this group made me feel like I was part of a scene and that it was possible to make English R&B in the Netherlands. But, I also think there’s a lot more to discover in the Dutch scene because there are also a lot of artists on the compilation that I didn’t know before. I think we can connect more!

On the compilation, there are many different genres and approaches to music in comparison to your music. Do you still see or feel a connection with that?

Yeah! It is all rooted in jazz. That’s the bottom line. Maybe some jazz musicians wouldn’t consider my music jazz, but for me, it is undeniably there. It’s all music that I would listen to as well. It resonates with me and it’s all influenced by the African diaspora.

Is there something you’d like to see or something you hope for in the coming years?

Yeah, what is happening in the UK jazz scene is amazing and I hope we can use the freedom that got them to that point to create something new here. How great would it be if people looked at us and commented on the ‘Dutch jazz or neo-soul scene'? How cool would it be if we had a worldwide known sound or style? I do think, especially after what we talked about, that those things can only be created when there is more equality in, for instance, music education. That kind of equality is needed to have the freedom to express yourself. I guess that is what happened in the UK. Maybe they got more equality or the right institutions? There are also more people of colour, so there are more possibilities to unite. That is something I would love to see because there is so much potential, for sure! And shout out to Super-Sonic for presenting that potential on this project!

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