The album title is derived from the Swedish word for “all” and refers to the newfound meaning of vulnerability that the artist acquired over the course of the pandemic. Surma started “seeing the world vulnerability as a word of strength and persistence”. The new record is shaped by this personal evolution and allowed the artist to open up creatively.
“That’s what made me grow enough to be able to give people this alla, this universal whole, without any secret passages to flow into the real me. I wanted it to be an album for everyone, without fear, without barriers, and with all the transparency and sincerity about everything.”
The Magic of Collaboration
Part of the process of recording alla, was influenced by a new collaborative approach. While powerful tracks like the dynamic and, towards the end cathartically noisy, Islet is a solo effort, most of the album is recorded in conversation with other artists. Tous les Nuages features Cabrita and Victor Torpedo and dials down the fast-paced electronica of Islet to a guitar-driven verse that deconstructs itself in an instrumental part.
“Working with friends, who inspire me both personally and musically is always homecoming,” Surma says about the collaboration process. Working with a wide range of artists from different backgrounds and disciplines, allowed the album to take shape in a mosaic-style manner piecing together colorful shards of composition held by the fluid glue of constant creative dialogue.
“It is a constant learning process. That is where the magic of everything happens, the unexpected, the unknowing of the final result and the path to where it will take us. Sharing the unknown with friends is the most magical thing.”
That magic shines through on the powerful collaboration with Portugal-based, Mozambiquan singer Selma Uamusse who sings in her native tongue Changanaon Nyanyana accompanied by a haunting echo of layered vocals and a simmering synth beat driving the composition forward. Together, Surma and Selma Uamusse create and fill with their voices and instruments and entire space. Growing an entire soundscape with valleys, mountains, and rivers, Nyanyana is one of the most beautiful examples of artistic exchange and the magic of collaboration on alla.
Beyond the music, the album cover was also made in a collaborative approach with the visual artist Teresa Murta – a friend of Surma. It is the contemporary reinterpretation of “Singerie”, a painting by Bruegel, which Surma saw exhibited in Antwerp – the city that lent its name to the title of Surma’s debut record. The detailed oil-painting shows a creature that bears various layers of meaning to be explored. “It is a complex painting with a lot of meanings and hidden messages, but always with a light of hope”, the artist comments and talks about the satirical feeling of the character wearing yellow rubber gloves and luxury bracelets calling out classist and sexist patriarchal structures of society.
Deconstruction and Destruction
Two prevalent themes of the music and art of Surma are deconstruction and destruction. “Right on point”, Surma says. “Those are two of my favorite words. My main aim is to explore deconstruction and destruction in practical terms. What I love most about creating is the freedom we have to be able to destroy and deconstruct ideas. I like to take a simple idea and break it down into several interpretations and put it in my own imagination. I don’t like to close myself in formulas or routines.”
Part of that freedom of creation is derived from Surma’s love for silence and putting herself in uncomfortable situations forcing her to break the patterns and analyze them. “I absorb places, people and environments instantly. Traveling is one of my biggest addictions and that’s where I find and seek my greatest inspiration to create and see myself in different situations that I am not used to.” Between the overwhelming input and experiences of traveling, silence is the other factor that shapes Surma’s creative expression.
“Silence is everything to me. Driving alone without any noise helps me a lot to just be with myself and with my internal noises. It calms me down and helps me to focus and open several doors in my brain without force.”
Silence and noise, destruction and deconstructions – alla is a record of a variety of different facets. It breaks the rules and conventions of music making and recording. “I focused on experimenting with everything I had at my disposal. It was more of an experimentation with the instrument’s own material and production than anything else.”
“In my opinion, I broke all the rules and did not follow the same formula as the first album. I felt safer with myself to experiment without fear.”
That sound of that creative freedom culminates in Aïda, which Surma recounts was derived from trying everything in the studio. Finally, that allowed the song with the “most outlandish ideas” to develop a natural atmosphere deep down. The record is a high tension, high dynamic, collaborative piece of art. A different vein pulses through each song, but finally, they all flow into one complete body of work.
alla is out now via Omnichord Records.
Every Monday, the NBHAP staff brings an exciting new artist to your attention alongside a 30-track-strong Introducing Playlist over on Spotify. Feel invited to follow the playlist and give these talents a spin.
This time, we curated the playlist together with Surma. Featured artists include St. Vincent, Nuha Ruby Ra, and Kate NV. Tune in below.