A young woman dances on the fridge in her kitchen, burning cash. Some friends play and joke under the trees in a park, freeing themselves from constraints and stereotypes. A big teddy bear pops out of a black car with tinted windows. These are the—sensual, funny, surreal—overlapping scenes taken from the video for Masterkush, the new song by Berlin-based Italian-Tanzanian singer-songwriter Chantal Saroldi aka PNKSAND. A few weeks after the release of her collaboration with David Blank, Foreplay, we get to discover a further nuance of her artistic personality.
GRIOT: PNKSAND has become your solo project, it is no longer a band. How has your approach to songwriting and music production changed
PNKSAND: The approach was slightly different. With the first songs, I was working with two of my best friends, we would listen to my ideas and develop them together. It was like jamming with friends. Obviously, moving to a new city and meeting new people required me to grow up and to build up the confidence to get in a studio, write a song on the spot and vibe with someone I had just met. But after a while, Chris (Christian Friedrich) and I got our own flow and it was so cool to just see the songs come together naturally.
Undoubtedly, the sound and atmosphere have also changed: without losing the neo soul sophistication of your previous works, with Masterkush you moved onto a more urban and bold dimension. What is the cause of this change?
I have changed. These past years I’ve learned to have a playful attitude with music making and I rarely have expectations on what the result should be. I enjoy the process. Nowadays when I write I am actually able to let go and just express whatever I feel. I don’t even know how to define my songs, maybe that’s the point, I just aim at capturing my experience, my feelings or mood and I think the boldness comes from personal growth.
What were your sources of inspiration (musical and not) for Masterkush? One can sort of hear the echo of new electronic sounds from different African scenes (especially with regards to the rhythms) and from Europe, less from North America.
Yes, exactly. Since I had been listening to a lot of afrobeat and dancehall songs (I was listening to Koffee and Burna Boy), that day I got to the studio and told Chris that I wanted to write something like that. We played around with beat samples and then Chris played a synth pad. I jammed on it and the melody came up as a sort of freestyle. I am so fascinated by the rhythmic quality of a song and by how a melody can play with it and somehow amplify it. The song is built on two chords, so the rhythm is the main engine pushing it.
There is also a video for the single directed by Megan Stancanelli. A few themes emerge: the search for independence and freedom, the importance of friendship, the representation of a diverse and inclusive society… What did you want to express?
The video is a trip. I think it captures so many sensations: anger, frustration, the need to escape and the theme of the absurd. We wanted to communicate the absurdity of our reality by showcasing a variety of relevant themes in our society: the importance of money, the anger of the black community, the need to escape from the city to find peace in nature, violence. All through a lense that is oneiric. Everything happens like in a dream where the scenes are constantly changing and don’t follow a linear and horizontal storytelling, but somehow gain meaning if they are read in a more broad and symbolic way.
From Berlin, where you have moved a few years ago, how does the Italian music scene look like to you?
This is a tough question because I don’t have an answer right now. After the pandemic, everything has changed and I am still trying to navigate the new reality, let alone understand it. An important area of music has been closed, that of live music. How will we even go back to “normal”? Every single musician is facing the same issue no matter where they come from. Having said that, there are so many Italian artists to discover and follow with so much talent and even in my small hometown, Savona, there is an incredible music scene. I don’t think Italy is lacking anything in any way, but there are very few spaces where artists can be seen and heard. And it is still hard for musicians to be seen as workers and to have the same consideration people have for other jobs, something that instead doesn’t happen in Berlin. But yeah, right now I feel like my answer is a big question mark.
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Half Italian, half Egyptian, I was born in Marche, I lived in Bologna fora while, and I’ve been adopted by Milan. I work in the field of communication and media. I write about music, street art, counter-cultures and I’m deeply fascinated by cultural contamination at any level.