In acknowledgement of Black Music Month and #BlackLivesMatter, Pandora Presents Pass the Mic is highlighting the incredible contributions of black women in the audio industry whose work empowers the voices of individuals throughout the black community.
Meet Suzi Analogue, the black femme singer, songwriter, and beatmaker who founded Never Normal Records. Never Normal Records is a multi-faceted record label, founded in 2014, that specializes in promoting and cultivating the original works of diverse artists. Never Normal Records is committed to further creating avenues of empowerment through Never Normal Soundsystems, a worldwide collective of diasporic songwriters & composers. Similarly, Analogue is an ongoing activist for female-identifying artists and continuously utilizes her platform at Never Normal to promote interconnectivity and inclusion, specifically through her music project series ZONEZ, which highlights the work of individuals within the African diaspora.
You run your own record label, Never Normal. What motivated you to start your own label instead of signing with someone else?
When I started Never Normal, I was at a point where I had experienced many global instances of releasing music with international and USA music platforms but I still felt deep inside that there was no one platform was sharing the narratives I that witnessed firsthand. I did not see many labels championing originality or innovation, non-gender conformity, stories of black music legacies outside of hip-hop and jazz…I just did not see it, and it was something I believed and still believe in. I had some interest to sign with others at that time, but I felt that my journey would be more meaningful as a black woman following her vision to start a label and cultural archive to champion the unseen. I made Never Normal to champion the originators and for the artists who see value against conforming to industry templates. I know deep down that it is the innovators that impact culture the most, and that is powerful!
What cultural inspirations have been the foundation for your music?
Well my first big foundation culturally was Nina Simone musically. My mother named me after her (middle name Simone), and her messages and sound sparked my interest in non-conformity. Blues, jazz, funk and gospel was in heavy rotation in my home daily, but I found hip-hop, rock, B-more club music, go go and other regional black dance music spoke to my own youthful energy as a kid. One of the most influential records I found as a kid was Percolator by Cajmere , and I didn’t realize it was techno or it’s origin as a kid but today when I make my own music I try to reconnect to the feeling I had the very first time I heard that track. It’s not just music but style, design, and instances of self-expression by any means necessary all inspire my music.
You make a point to distribute your music on vinyl and tape, which is also an ode to your name Suzi Analogue. Why are these formats important to you?
To me, it is important to create archives of music and culture beyond just the digital landscape. Not only is it great to have a human connection to a piece of musical work, but physical copies can be collected and passed on to future generations and that is important to me to have these narratives that are shared now on Never Normal Records make it into the future. Releasing physicals is a way to declare “we were here.”
How has the gender-inequality within the music industry shaped the way you create, produce and distribute music?
In a productive way the gender imbalance in music business propels me to continue taking space and intentionally connect the dots for more femme-identified people to be able to thrive based on their musical talents. Whenever I can, I intentionally work with femme-identified people, or sometimes we are just soundboards for one another. I make sure to send music, and ask for their new music to include in my mixes. I make sure to just connect and let one another know it is possible. On Never Normal releases, I make it a point to highlight that the femme-identified musicians are fully composing, producing and songwriting their tracks. I am always looking out for femme-identified composers.
You’ve spoken before about being labeled as the “token woman” or “token black girl”, how did those labels affect the trajectory of your career?
Well, I do not feel the need to combat tokenism because I do not act as a token. My authentic combined experiences and opportunities are rare, only because of how the music business oftentimes limits artists and listeners by only allowing them to have certain ‘approved’ experiences. But, whatever I share artistically comes from my true experiences, my real walks of life, and I share it to bring joy to my life and others, never to combat tokenism.
What does it mean to you, to be a black female entrepreneur?
To me, being a black femme entrepreneur is… Madame CJ Walker, Serena Williams, it is Oprah, it is Beyonce, it is every black woman in entertainment…it is risky and beautiful, uncharted and empowering. In the USA alone, black women have always had a hand in business affairs, whether they were recognized as doing so or not, and I feel like I am continuing a legacy of black women who stand strong in creating new opportunities for themselves and their communities.
At Never Normal Record, your collective ZONEZ champions the work of artists within the African diaspora. What is the messaging behind ZONEZ?
ZONEZ is a place, an intersection between what you feel deep inside and what you do in your real life. The global African diaspora has brought so much beauty and innovation to this world - not just in culture and music but in technology and other fields that have majorly impacted the world. I utilize my ZONEZ project series to highlight how vast the African diaspora is in sound, but somehow we are connected through the Z(ONE)Z beat.
Many artists are encouraged not to speak out sociological or political topics, when it comes to ethnicity or gender disparity. What motivates you to use your platform and music to amplify those messages?
I truly do think that through my consistent global experiences, such as my very recent ZONEZ WORLD TOUR, in which I visited 7 countries (Canada, Uganda East Africa, Germany, UK, Dubai, South Korea, Taiwan & China) in 30 days I have the honor to see the world in such an honest lens at a fast rate. I experience many cultures very intensely, and they are always shared with me by insiders of the culture itself, so I do often see and hear of the issues arising globally first hand - sometimes even before news reports it. Because I have that honor I use my public space to connect dots for people who do not have that same experience of being black, or a person of color, or traveling the world and understanding the many challenges firsthand. The access I have created motivates me to freely share info with my global network in hopes that we can all find solidarity and unify against what tries to tear us apart.
How has founding Never Normal Records, along with the artist collective, allowed you to pass the mic?
Founding Never Normal Records and launching Never Normal Soundsystem has allowed me to pass the mic by creating and demanding more space in the music industry for black music innovation and it’s innovators to receive highlights on a better playing field than ever before. Innovation in music and culture does not have to be synonymous with obscurity and lack of resources, and every day at Never Normal I pass the mic by raising the vibration and visibility of our talents!