In Conversation with Sophia Harari: ‘The communication between audience and performer is important to me’

Interview by Daisy Hayes

The Brighton musician Sophia Harari is originally from Manchester. She moved to Brighton to study Philosophy, Politics and Ethics at the University of Brighton, and while in the final year of her degree has found herself in the midst of the music scene. I met with Sophia to talk about how she came to explore this different direction and about the experience of her first live performance.

Daisy Hayes: As previously mentioned you’re currently studying a Philosophy, Politics and Ethics degree. How did you make the leap into music?

Sophia Harari: I used to always write poems when I was younger, but I was never ‘good’ at music. About a year and a half ago, I’d be singing in the shower or singing in my room and my housemates would comment on it. So, I started turning poems into songs and I started listening to instrumentals on YouTube and write and sing to them. I met my producer Ben (Blu Wiley) on a night out and we were talking about our music a bit – we were literally sat outside a bar chatting then swapped phones and were listening to each other’s music, trying to drown out the music in the background.

So what does music mean to you?

Music means everything and nothing. Everything in that I wouldn’t be who I am without music – it’s like the backing track of my life. Nothing in that partial existence still happens outside of music.

What do you think of the music industry currently?

I don’t really know anything about the music industry itself. I understand the music that’s coming out of it, but the actual industry… I don’t get it. The fact that music – something so pure, natural and creative – can be industrialised freaks me out a bit. It’s quite jarring how you can control something that shouldn’t be controlled. But it’s a product of capitalism. We’re made to think the music industry is useful; we’re told we need genres, artists, icons and a certain aesthetic or a certain sound. But, in reality, the point of music is expression, and I think to police expression is dangerous, even though we’re told it’s for our own good.

What are your influences when writing music?

Lauryn Hill is the main influence in my life, she is the queen of my world – she’s so iconic. Listening to her music, interviews and talks got me into philosophy, politics and thinking about society, and the fact she was able to teach through music was eye opening for me. When I was younger, I sort of understood music could be political from listening to my dad’s Reggae, Motown and Soul CDs. I knew music could be more than just a nice sound. But once I discovered an artist on my own who was doing all those things and being at an age where I was able to understand and be a part of the conversation, I was like ‘wow.’ She gave me goosebumps. I used to listen to her MTV unplugged every night and I think osmosis must have occurred, because it stuck.

There are so many other influences around the same time as Hill, artists such as D’Angelo, Jill Scott, India Arie, Erykah Badu. But I like all types of music. When I want to untangle my thoughts I’ll listen to Mozart’s Symphony 40, when I want to get hyped I’ll listen to Garage, when I’m walking I like listening to Grime, when I want to chill it’s Reggae or Soul, if I want to feel 17 again it’s Indie 80’s rock – it just depends on my mood really. Spotify playlists makes it easier to compartmentalise my music and emotions.

You recently performed for the first time with your producer Blu Wiley at Green Door Store.  How did it go?

It’s funny because a lot of my friends were in the room, and I was explaining to someone the other day that it felt like a conversation, you communicate, and the other person replies. I think it’s the same thing with an audience and a performer on stage. You’re speaking to the audience and they reply with a reaction, they might reply with words, a laugh or a dance.

That communication between audience and performer is what was quite important to me, trying to maintain that communication throughout – it’s a movement of emotions through words, songs, music. I didn’t want the show to have the rigidity of a presentation, I wanted it to be natural and organic. It was so exciting and so much fun – I just want to do it again and again and again.

There was a song you performed where you were singing about the feeling you get when you first meet someone, which reminded me of my own experience in relationships. We often forget about those small moments and feelings, so it’s quite nice to use music as a way to catalogue your feelings throughout a relationship.

Yeah completely. Usually the songs are written about my own experience, whether it be how something has been, how a situation is going or speculation about the future. I’ll look back on songs and I can remember exactly when I wrote it, why I wrote it, who I wrote it for, and how I was feeling at the time. To look back and see a part of me that doesn’t exist anymore because I’m not feeling those emotions right now, but know that that was me at some point, is quite liberating. You’re able to free yourself from yourself, and it puts into perspective the now as well. If you’re feeling hurt or heartbroken, you’re able to say to yourself ‘this isn’t the permanent me.’ There will be progression or regression but you’re able to recognise that your present self is ever changing.

You and Blu Wiley have been working on an EP for the past few months – is there a theme in relation to the lyrics which runs throughout?

It’s sort of about finding yourself within relationships. I think initially when I’m writing songs it’s the raw emotions I’m feeling at that time that come out, but once I’ve had time to reflect on them, it’s about seeing yourself as well as the other person within the lyrics. I wrote a song called ‘Feigning Love’, which features on the EP, which is essentially about someone acting like they’re 100% into you, but you can see through their performance of love – it’s about that emotional confrontation. I wrote that song while I was still seeing that guy, so subconsciously I knew what was going on but I didn’t address it with him; I addressed it through writing about him. I only realised what had happened months after I stopped seeing him. When I looked back at the song I was able to see my positionality within that relationship, where I stood in relation to him, my loss of self in ignoring red flags, my hurt and my pain while acting like everything was fine. I think that’s sort of the theme: retrospectively recognising the place of self within a connection.

What are your plans for the future? Do you see yourself continuing to make music?

I definitely want to continue with music, for sure, but I don’t want to be limited by it. A lot of people I’ve spoken to who have gone into music talk about how it becomes your whole life. I already live and breathe music, but I also live and breathe for reading, writing, learning and teaching. There are all of these aspects of myself which can be expressed through music but there are also other ways to express my interests, so I want to explore other paths as well. At some point I want to work on an exhibition on Black community in a museum. I want to organise workshops for young teens on social and political engagement. I also want to be a part of a curation project reviving Black British Art.

Music is a part of me, but I don’t want it to constrain my self-exploration. I don’t think it’s just music on the cards, but it’s definitely something I’ve discovered is going to be a permanent aspect of myself.

There’s currently no release date for the EP as yet but follow @sophiaharari on Instagram for updates and sneak peaks.

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