Sevana - The 'Be Somebody' Interview
07/31/2020 by Munchy
Four years after her self-titled debut EP the stunning songstress that is Sevana is about to release her second EP Be Somebody. Six tracks a little less rootsy musically, yet even more personal than the first set of songs put together by the Jamaican vocalists depict once more her talent and creativity that even the restrictions due to a pandemic couldn’t impair. Munchy linked with Sevana online to find out more about the creation and production process, the stories behind the songs, and the participants of a record, you are going to ‘love like mango’.
You are just about to release your second EP Be Somebody on Friday, July 31. Congrats on yet another wonderful and enchanting record. You named the project after the first track of it. Why did you choose the title of this particular song for the EP? What does this song mean to you?
Thank you for the question, Munchy. Actually, I named it off of the messaging that Be Somebody is about. Over ten years ago I wrote a poem on my Facebook page. I actually looked for it there and found it the other day, that was called Be Somebody. When I wrote Be Somebody (the song) it didn’t connect immediately back to the first piece of writing I wrote about being somebody. I wrote the song, I was like ‘Wait, hold on, I feel like I talked about this already in some form.’ It was kind of a continuation of the messaging that I started over ten years ago in this song. I was like ‘Wow, I have that! I wrote something!’. So, I looked for it and found it like ‘Oh my goodness, this is the ending of this story, this is the ending of this messaging.’ I took this as a sign that I should name the EP Be Somebody. At first the messaging when I wrote it ten years ago, was about being somebody inspite of not having money, not having a certain level of access or support, and kind of just daring to dream and daring to do everything that I want to do. Then the messaging in this song now, which begins the EP, is about how everything is being just levied against me but me still being somebody, me still pressing forward, me wanting to level up, me just doing my best. When it clicked in my mind, I realized that this is the ending of my messaging and that’s why I called it Be Somebody. Because I am being all of me on this project and I’m very proud of it. I think that captures the essence of the whole EP honestly.
Apart from the title of the EP there is the very beautiful but also special and interesting cover artwork, which shows you drawn or pulled by your hair wearing stockings and straps. What do you want to say with this photo?
I just want to say that it’s artful, it’s me. If you understand who I am and you heard me speak or you hear what I am passionate about then that artwork will make sense to you. I am being myself. I am being my most expressive self and I am doing that inspite of the expectations, the ridiculous expectations actually, that people hold against me as far as like ‘Oh, this is what you need to be. This is what you need to look like. This is what you need to sound like. Oh, don’t do this because you are this. Oh, maybe that’s not such a good idea…’ So, the hands are actually my brother’s hands. I asked him to hold my hair. He is holding me and that’s just to signify the people, the voices, the mouths that are shouting ‘No this, no that, no don’t do this, don’t sound like that…’ and me just sitting pretty, embracing all of myself, doing all that I want to do regardless. That’s what that imagery means for me. It’s an artform called classicism and generally too, I don’t know if you heard the caption but that’s a space that has a lot of light skin, white people in that space as well, so I kind of just wanted to have a depiction of a black woman in that space, just being herself, daring to dare, doing the most.
You produced the EP as an executive producer together with Protoje. Is that also what you appreciate about him? That he let’s you do your thing?
Yeah, yeah, of course, absolutely. He’ll tell you. He is just like ‘When Sev has an idea, I just get out of the way.’ When I say ‘This is what I have to do’, he is like ‘Alright, cool, let me know when you’re done.’ I really, really appreciate that. He embraces that and he doesn’t have a choice (laughs)… No, I really appreciate him, I love him and I value him. Big up yourself Protoje, anywhere you deh. Yeah, I executively produced this project as well as helped to produce three of the tracks on the EP.
Co-producing three songs, what influence did you have apart from that, to be listed as one of the executive producers?
I was instrumental in all parts of this project as far as like the mixing, the mastering, what sounds were used for every song, how the songs ended up turning out as well as the visuals, the artwork. I styled myself in all of the imagery that you’ll see coming forward. I directed, I have been speaking directly to everybody as far as like the RCA team and In.Digg letting them know exactly what I want to do and what I want to sound like, and even how I would want the narrative to be around this project that’s coming out. That’s how I ended up being that, as well as just spending all of my money to get it done.
When I spoke to Lila Iké about her latest EP she couldn’t miss out to also speak about your project and what she said was that it is ‘extremely, extremely, extremely amazing’. How do you feel about Be Yourself and the release?
Listen, it’s the best music I ever made. That’s how I feel about it. Every time I talk about it, I get more excited. The more questions I get I am just like ‘Oooooh, I love this EP!’. I am obsessed with it, genuinely, I listen to it all the time now, I think every night. I listen to If You Only Knew, which is out, on repeat, which is not something I have ever done before. I don’t think I have ever been so in love with the music that I am making. I think, that’s because I was so involved in it and it’s me. It’s not trying to do anything else other than just me talking about my feelings and being honest. I am excited and I just hope that when it is released, people can appreciate it. But even if they don’t, I’ll still love it just the same.
That’s wonderful! YOU have to be happy with it because it is your project. Listening to your answers in the interview, I feel like this is a very personal project.
Absolutely! All of the songs are incredibly personal. Be Somebody that’s me talking about striving to be myself even with all the hardships that I face. Phone A Friend is letting go of a friend that is toxic for me. Mango is me celebrating love in a Dancehall style. Blessed is me just kind of celebrating and declaring that I am blessed and God has His hand on me, which is something that is deeply personal for me because I never talked about my beliefs in my music. And also If You Only Knew again, it’s literally my heart and how I felt about the person that I wrote it about. Set Me On Fire is the song I wrote at the end of being in an abusive relationship. So, all of the songs on there are me and the hardships and difficult times I managed to overcome. I would say that it is even more personal than the first EP.
Speaking of If You Only Knew… this single was already released on July 8. It came with an atmospheric and colorful video you shot in Jamaica and in Senegal’s capital Dakar. Please tell me a bit about your time in Senegal and your experiences there.
The experience of going to Senegal and shooting the visuals evolved the meaning of that song from not just being a love song but to representing the reach of black love. Because when I was there I went to Gorée island and I understood how it connected to me as a black woman being from the Caribbean, being from Jamaica, and what that meant for our people being stolen from the Motherland. I was talking about how far I’ll go for you and I go to these lengths to prove. For us literally to not lose that grace and ability to give love and show it for each other – and when I say we, I mean black people. It deepened the meaning of everything. It was a beautiful experience. It wasn’t any kind of an atmosphere or climate I was used to before because it is kind of like you’re in the desert. The spirit of the people is really gentle. I was surprised by that because I was always told that they are more like Jamaicans and Jamaicans are very passionate people. Not that they are not passionate but one example of what I am talking about… you’d be in the town and it would be congested with traffic but you would not hear people blowing the horn. If you were in a congested traffic scenario in Kingston you would hear blaring, people trying to overtake, just energetic Jamaicans. I feel for Senegalese people, at least for where I was in Dakar and as far as Gorée island, that they are very gentle and I think maybe it’s because it’s a Muslim country, too. The call for prayer is a thing that interrupts their daily life and I think it prompts for them like a ‘Oh, well, what’s my best way to approach things’, a thing that we don’t have here. I found the people very gentle and it definitely impacted me being there, seeing how they process things. Their living, too, was very subsistent. You’d have a cow right there and a child playing right beside the cow, but it wasn’t anything to frown upon. The beauty of Senegal is unfiltered, it is what it is, not pretending to be anything else. Yeah, I was impacted strongly by being there and having shot the music video there. And I am grateful that I got to do that.
Do you have any specific plans that once let’s say the pandemic is over, you would want to return to Africa, maybe to another country? Do you have any specific country or region in mind you would want to go?
Yeah, yeah for sure. I think I want to check out Nigeria. I want to see all of Africa, honestly. I do want to see all of Africa. I kind of just want to see what life looks like across the African countries. Immediately though I feel like after the pandemic I’m going to go to London. I feel like that’s where I am going to end up first but hopefully, I can return to Africa this year or next year at some point. It’s a goal of mine to go to as many of the African countries as I can.
How was the production process of the EP during the pandemic like? Did the restrictions hinder you in any way or did isolation maybe even foster your work in the studio?
It really did foster my work creatively. I think for ‘creatives’ it’s the most creative we’ve ever been just because of the restrictions. Shows don’t look the same anymore. Things are virtual and you have these beautiful sets that people are constructing to do a performance. I think it’s very cool, like BET did their whole awards thing. It looked really, really dope to me. Yeah, I didn’t feel like they restricted any artist from In.Digg or any artist that works with In.Digg. Thankfully Protoje does have The Habitat camp and we do have a studio up there. When I was putting on the violins for the last song Set Me On Fire for example, I was there for two nights overnight, working on it. So, I kind of had unlimited time at the studio. Yes, there is a curfew but once I get up there before curfew I can just bring clothes to change and stay over with the musicians. J.L.L. and me, we spent all night in the studio working on the beat for Mango. I didn’t feel restricted per se. I feel restricted in a sense that some of the choices are taken away from you, especially in the beginning of the pandemic where you couldn’t go anywhere unless it was for buying food. That was really tough on my side. But other than that I kind of just put all of my frustrations or feelings into writing and made it a creative expression.
You just mentioned J.L.L. and the song Mango, which made me smile because I remembered your song Rawle from your first EP and the story of stealing mango from your neighbor’s tree… coincidence or is mango indeed something special to you? You grow them in your yard, too?
Mango, Julie mango specifically is the best fruit, hands down. There is no competition to that fruit. I don’t care what anybody says. If they say anything otherwise, they’re wrong. I always loved mangos and the way how Jamaicans love mango, me writing this song saying ‘I love you like mango’ that’s like a deep, entrenched, unrelenting kind of love. Even though it comes on a very fun beat, playful almost, it’s celebrating a deep cultural thing. Because who loves mango like Jamaicans?
Yeah, I don’t know, I couldn’t tell… We spoke about some of the lyrics already. The sound is a little less rootsy than your first EP. It is very dreamy, I felt more synthetic elements, a more melancholic vibe. How would you describe the sound and what producers and musicians created it?
Thank you for the question! Yes, for this EP it’s definitely way less Reggae than the first EP. That’s what makes it more me, actually. With all six songs that you’ll hear on the EP, I didn’t try to contextualize it through the sonics of ‘this is a Reggae song’ or ‘this is a Dancehall song’. I kind of just wrote music and however it came out, once it was a strong song for me and the team agreed on the song, I decided for it to go on the EP. I didn’t bother to fit things into the Reggae category, even though I love Reggae and I am obsessed with Reggae. However, it is not my only way to express in music. If it didn’t already come out of me sounding like it, I didn’t try to make it sound like it. Just because that’s a part of me being myself and the essence of being somebody, choosing to do the thing despite what people would have to say. I think if you are not going to do the art and if you don’t do it as honestly as you can, then for me personally it doesn’t make sense. I’d feel like I’d be hiding a part of myself and I don’t want to do that. I just wanted to be exactly who I was in every way, and if people rejected it, they did, and if they loved it, they did.
As far as for the sounds on this EP Monty was one of the musicians that played on it. Free Nationals’ Kelsey Gonzalez was one of the musicians that played on it. He got live drums and live bass inputed. A lot of the songs have live music on it. Be Somebody was probably the most synthetic of them all. That was done by Charlie and Benjy out of the UK, who have worked with the likes of Ed Sheeran. I was always just very grateful to be in studio with them. Very, very cool people. For Phone A Friend I sat with J Vibe and I created one of the sounds that was in it. I told him exactly where I wanted to go sonically, what I was feeling. It came out beautiful to me. It’s a haunting track in my opinion. For Mango I sat with J.L.L. and I was just like ‘Here is what I want to have done for it’ and we, as I said, spent the whole night just working on the beat for Mango. So, big up J.L.L., an incredibly brilliant, brilliant mind. I really, really adore him. For Blessed produced by IzyBeats, what happened is that I wrote the song for Blessed and finished it, put on all the adlibs, all the harmonies on his demo track of that beat. After I finished the song, I ended up sending the song to Izy saying ‘Izy, see what other kind of production you can do on this’ because he wasn’t in Jamaica because of the Covid. When he sent it back, my God, with the guitars he had, the trumpet… I was blown away! For If You Only Knew, I already said that, it was Kelsey Gonzalez of Free Nationals that worked on that. The same group that worked on Eternal Light for Chronixx. Set Me On Fire was produced by myself, Protoje, J.L.L. and Paris. The reason you have so many people on this song is because I tried to finish this song a couple of times. I wrote it four years ago. Paris did his own production on it but I still wanted something else for it. I think this final version that you are hearing is where it needed to go. It was originally Protoje’s beat, so the drum and bass pattern that you hear was done by Protoje himself on the MPC. So, that’s how he ended up being a producer on it, besides me and J.L.L. that finished the track as far as like violins, adding in the other instruments on it and kind of just figuring out what sounds, what phrases, what notes to include. Yeah, so those are the producers on the project and really what it’s about and why it sounds the way it sounds.
There are no other artists featured on Be Somebody. Was that deliberate decision or it just happened?
It happened like that. I wanted to have Masicka on Blessed but it didn’t work out. Hopefully, I can collaborate with him in the future. Another collaboration didn’t work out, also. But other than that, all the other songs were intentionally me by myself.
These are odd times to release an EP because everything including promotional appearances in public are somewhat restricted. You can’t keep a release party or tour the project live. What plans do you still have for the release day and beyond to push Be Somebody?
Actually, we might have a release party for it because in Jamaica we are handling the virus so well, Munchy. The actual death toll is at ten people, literally ten. We did a really good job getting ahead of the virus before it could even have a chance to spread. We have closed our boarders, had implemented the curfews. It was incredibly regimented and strict. I think we are reaping the rewards of that and now up to 250 people can gather in a space provided that they follow the social distancing rules, there is sanitation, you are wearing a mask. So, I might still have a release party. But other than that we are making use of the virtual space. Things like Instagram Live, Zoom, Skype… we are also pre-recording performances like Chronixx did with his performance for Jimmy Fallon. I am seeing artists all over the world literally recording a performance in their backyard and sending it to be broadcasted. Yes, the physical appearances have been restricted but now more than ever the virtual space is being used up to still get the message out there, the feeling, the mood, the music out there and I am grateful for it because it really could have looked completely different. It could have been completely shot off. Music in a time where we are experiencing a pandemic – and I have never been through a pandemic in my life – I think, it’s necessary to have all these different artists and different kinds of music to help us in a way escape but also to deal with it and process what’s happening. Using the virtual space has been very important for artists around the world.
Either way, I wish you all the very best for this wonderful project coming up!
PHOTOS BY Destinee Condison & Yoram Savion