Get To Know... Toni Sancho

Neu Get To Know… Toni Sancho

The genre-fluid London via Trinidad artist tells us about founding her own creative collective and the road to releasing her imminent debut EP.

Hello and welcome back to DIY’s introducing feature, Get To Know… which aims to get you a little bit closer to the buzziest acts that have been catching our eye as of late, and working out what makes them tick.

‘Heaven Knows!’ may only be her debut project, but Toni Sancho has arrived with very clear ideas about who she is - as an artist, as a person, and as a member of her community. On the five-track EP, the Trinidad-born, London-bred musician draws equally from the colourful eclecticism of her Caribbean upbringing and the down-to-earth grit of the English capital to create intimate vignettes of personal discovery, all conveyed via her richly contemplative, wholly distinctive vocals. Ahead of its release next week, we caught up with Toni to hear about how ‘Heaven Knows!’ has helped her overcome her fears and, in her words, “get out of my own way.”

What’s your earliest musical memory?

I remember having violin classes in year one at school, and playing the violin like a ukulele a lot of the time. I remember looking up the words to Michael Jackson's 'P.Y.T' and making videos singing along to it on my laptop.

Your childhood was split between London and your home island of Trinidad. Musically, how do the two places compare? How do you think the culture of each has fed into your own output? 

I think because Soca is our most popular genre, and carnival is what our country is best known for, musically, a lot of the artists in Trinidad feel that they have to explore partying and fun and just this very care-free, joyful music in order for people to want to hear it. There's a lot of emotional pain in the country that can be explored through our music, but isn’t. Or when it is expressed, it’s not uplifted. For example, “Trinibad” music is the one outlet that our lower income communities use to express the pain of growing up in this environment, but it’s currently being ostracised. People are discussing banning it in my home country because it doesn’t express this care-free happiness or because it shines a light on a reality they don’t want to consider.

I feel musicians over here [in England] are very good at self-reflection and expressing all emotions. They don’t feel a need to represent their entire country in the music they’re making, and as a result we have a very vast and rich understanding of what English culture is because there are so many individual expressions of it. There’s more depth, whereas I find sometimes our music scene in Trinidad can be a bit one dimensional. 

Your debut EP, ‘Heaven Knows!’, comes out at the end of the month! How would you describe the process of writing, recording, and getting to this point? Were there any particular challenges you faced along the way?

I wrote these songs in the vacuum that was left after my first single 'Survive!' was released. It made me really want to pour all my time and energy into music. Everything about the project required a kind of rapid self-development that I don’t believe I would’ve been able to achieve without the process of making it. Every challenge that came up was one that I had procrastinated facing in my personal life: my lack of confidence; my paranoia; my co-dependence; my indecisiveness. So I had to address these all at once in the name of bringing this project to fruition. 

'Heaven Knows!' is absolutely the process of working myself out; the tone of the songs transition from victimhood, to acceptance, to transcendence, and nothing changed except that I finally reflected on myself through the songs I was making. I’d like for people to see that this process is possible. The biggest challenge in making this record has 100% been overcoming myself and getting out of my own way.

“The biggest challenge in making this record has 100% been overcoming myself and getting out of my own way.”

Who would be your dream collaborator? 

Wow. My dream collaborations would be NoName, Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino and Sampha. I’m interested in learning from artists that are very good at being unwavering within their own identity. I’m also very interested in what the new Black Alternative Musician sounds like, and I think these individuals all lead the way. 

‘Heaven Knows!’ is set to be released via your own label, Blue Daisy Records, which you’ve called “a Trinbagonian Creative Movement”. Can you expand on this description a bit more? Are there any principles or guidelines which shape the collective’s work? 

Blue Daisy Collective is an idea I came up with just before leaving Trinidad to come to London. I felt absolutely lost at the time, and felt that there was nowhere for a young Trinidadian creative to express themselves. I became really committed to creating a space for that. Of course, at this time I was just an 18-year-old working for minimum wage at a pharmacy, so it wasn’t anything more than me posting my own perspective on current events. Now that I’ve come to London, I definitely want it to represent the Caribbean expression on a world stage - I am a Trinidadian artist, and I want it to highlight our culture and our perspective and how varied it can be. Morally, I want it to represent honesty and vulnerability in art. 

You’ve said that the EP’s closer, ‘Free Falling!’, is about perspective and acknowledging that we’re all just a tiny part of the wider universe. Have you found a sense of freedom in embracing this slightly nihilistic outlook?

Yes, absolutely - especially in the climate of music right now, [where] it almost feels like a rat-race for attention. Validation is a dangerous drug. I definitely got caught up in it, and it just left me feeling extremely exhausted and unfulfilled. I needed to pull back because it was ruining the craft of making music, which is one of the most sacred things I have in my life. What really helped, though, was realising that making music and expressing myself is a gift in itself.

'Heaven Knows!' is out on 31st May via Toni's own label, Blue Daisy Records. 

Tags: Toni Sancho, Neu, Get to Know

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