“Words. So powerful. They can crush a heart, or heal it. They can shame a soul, or liberate it. They can shatter dream, or energise them. They can obstruct connection, or invite them. They can create defenses, or melt them. We have to use words wisely.” - Jeff Brown
In an age where words and lyrics are used more for personal gain than social upliftment, it takes a finely-tuned poet to stir up emotions and allow humans to reflect—to find solace. One artist who has taken this emotive experience to new heights is the inimitable storyteller, Sió.
Over the last five years, Sió has carved a harmonious blend of soul and dance music, creating heartfelt, relatable songs to both sing and dance to. Her discography includes songs by SA talents like Luka, Dwson and Jullian Gomes, and international masters Fred Everything and Osunlade.
Before she gears up for her performance at The DJAM Series this weekend in Cape Town, we chat with the multi-talented singer/songwriter/poet to find out more about her journey to the top cusp of SA’s house music scene.
You have stated that music came to you by accident. How is this true and where did your fascination with lyrics and melody begin?
I got into poetry late—I’m a late bloomer in many things. I was still writing “roses are red, violets are blue” by the age of 16, while most people were whipping out verses by that age. One day, I was in studio and I shouted to somebody, but in a way that rhymed, and it was quite funny and made sense, so I started tackling creating rhymes. But my passion for lyrics and telling stories came from my love for reading. I try to tell stories like a condensed novel within the music. Writing songs was initially very tough because I was trying to fit 17 different ideas into one song, which never worked. It was only until I turned 21 and had insomnia for a few months, when I started writing songs about the experience of insomnia. Only then did it begin to make sense to me.
What I tend to do now is watch and listen to people and think to myself, “If I were in your situation, how would I describe what I’ve just seen?” From there I’ll create a peak in the arc of the story, I’ll start telling the story from my perspective, from your perspective or an observer’s perspective, or even a future, retrospective. Having studied theatre, I see things in pictures, and I’m able to write very descriptively to conjure the image I want you to see or create your own perception of.
You first stepped on to the scene in 2013 with a feature on Marubini Music’s EP “Take a Deep Breath”. How did the release with Marubini Musiq come about, and how did the song get on to South London based label FOMP Records?
I had a friend who knew a friend who made a beat, and he had a friend who bought a mic, so they asked her if she knew anyone who could write and sing. So they matched us together. We then put out a couple of songs on Soundcloud as Project 5, which caught the attention of Andy Compton’s Peng label, who are friends with the FOMP guys. Peng got to us first, but they only released Project 5 after the EP as Marubini, which included the two producers and myself as a featuring artist.
Things catapulted for you in 2016 with the release of “1000 Memories” with Julian Gomes. What brought you to find your own sound in house music?
I just approached it as if I was telling a story. And I felt music, across genres, lacked good story telling. I’m a wordy person, so I can pump a song with words. Even Charles Webster told me: “Yoh, you write novels!” I pay more attention to the arc of the story than on my own voice. When you’re “jiving” it’s cool, but there’ll come a time when you’re sitting, and going through your feels–if something’s going on in your life–and you’ll ask, “What is this girl saying?” I want to give you something to reflect on or relate to. In terms of a sound, I don’t think I’ve found one, because I want to explore various genres of music. The story is more important to me.
Your artistry falls on the cusp of song and spoken word. How does your approach as a poet help create your unique sonic identity?
As a poet I’m aware of the power of words. My words are metaphoric and comparative, so that either you get what I’m saying or you can take what you want from it. I try to leave it open to interpretation as well. I do acoustic parts in my set that focus mainly on the poetry. But I don’t consider myself a slam poet or anything—I tell stories in various formats. You need to be able to emote on some level, no matter what the medium. Song is a place where I get the most immediate response, and people buy records more than they’ll buy an anthology of poetry. I wish I could dance though that’s one thing I can’t do (laughs). It would be nice to have a dancer interpret my poems.
The track “Words” has been remixed 14 times over the last two years, including mixes by Osunlade and David Montoya. What was it like recording the song initially and what is your response to seeing it develop and become such a hit?
It stuns me, and it’s actually a strange story. I was working a gig for a booking agent and we got this liqueur as a gift. So a friend and I tasted it and I was like, “Yoh, the alcohol levels are too much,” as I’m not an alcohol consumer. I then took my phone and recorded a video, singing exactly what you hear on the song. It was recorded on my phone, in my lounge, with my droopy, sleepy, drunk eyes (laughs). A few weeks later a producer called AbysSoul hit me up saying, “Sio, this is what I did with your video.” I admired his initiative. I generally wouldn’t have allowed it, as I had no intention for it to be used in a song. And eventually it landed with Osunlade—from a video on my phone!
You have worked with many talented producers around the world, including Charles Webster, Sir LSG and most recently Fred Everything. What is your most memorable collaboration to date? Which recording did you enjoy doing the most?
I have big love for so many of them. I love working with Magic Number, he’s one of the people who can create songs around what I sing—usually I have to adapt myself to the beat. Daev Martian and I can probably do an album in a day, we just work that quickly. But one of the people I work best with is Luka. I’ve only met him once when I visited him in Mafikeng. He was paralyzed from the neck down in a rugby accident, so can’t get around much, but he makes these beautiful songs! I guess he’s able to expand his mind a lot, so when he creates it’s always on another level. We’re working on an album that’s going to come out soon, and we’re doing a few songs that deviate from what people know of us.
Two of your recent releases step away from the typical house drum format and edge itself nearer to the broken beat and even trap genres. Do you see this as a conscious decision to create alternative sounds and songs?
It is! I made a decision to explore music before I settle. I love house, but I don’t want to be pigeonholed by it—I want to explore various genres of music. One of my life-time dreams is to do a jazz album with jazz musicians and tour with them. I’ve got a lot of songs that are very precious to me, and I’ll only share them once I’ve found people that can play them as close as possible to what I have in my mind. I want people who kill at their instruments—I don’t want it to be programmed electronically at all. I want to do the “me” before I became well-known.
What are your thoughts on the emergence of African sounds and artists becoming a staple in clubs around the world?
It’s about time, yo! We been doing this. There are rhythms and there is creativity within the African diaspora that only Africans can do. Yes, there’ll be people who will try to incorporate the sounds into theirs, but that’s the organic process of life. I love that we’re getting acknowledged for what we do as African people. I may not love absolutely what everyone’s doing, but I love seeing Moonchild touring the world, I love hearing that Busiswa’s touring, I love to hear that Nonku Phiri’s also everywhere and doing her thing, I love that Manthe Ribande and Sho Madjozi are playing Afropunk, I love that Nakhane Toure’s living in London and touring. They’re all doing their thing as artists and are being respected, and people love what they do regardless of where they’re from. Like for instance, “It’s Women’s month, so let’s give you a space to play”—I find that a bit tiring, maybe even patronizing. Like, guys, we can do the things the same way that guys can, as can every person from every colour in every nation. Every artist should get love based on merit, nothing else.
Which producer would be your dream to work with?
I would really love to work with Bonobo. He’s smack-bang in both of my worlds—jazz and electronic. The first song I heard of his was “Animals”, and I was like, “Who is this man?” So I went to find absolutely everything he did. I was in a Movement class and I learnt that compositions—at least in the old days, back in the classical period—had movements, and that song definitely starts in this space and moves to this one and moves another one. I was just like, “Yoh, I want to work with this guy! After that, Lord, you can take me, it’s fine.”
What can we look forward to from Sio this year?
There a few releases I’ve worked on a bit for the album, because of that I’m being very careful about who I collaborate with leading up to the release—I’m holding back a bit to complete everything I’ve committed to. There’s a remix package of “Forbidden” coming out soon with Myazisto, Fka Mash and Bruce Loko. There’s also an album pending with Magic Number—it’s complete but we’re waiting for sign-off. “Domino” with Luka is available for pre-order now and my album will be coming out in the late first-quarter, early second-quarter of next year. The album is complete, I’m just waiting for the masters to come back.
Which artists should we keep our eyes on this season?
I always keep an eye out for Jordan Rakei’s music. Nonku’s also got a new album, super excited about that. I’d like to hear Manthe Ribande’s new album soon. Also Thandi Draai is working on some new stuff as a producer. I like what Dwson is doing too. The new wave of producers have a very clear, distinctive sound, and they’re very brave—they haven’t lost courage or found the comfortability of a formula, and I love thata bout them. I love Fka Mash and Samthing Soweto too. There’s a lot!
How are you feeling about the upcoming DJAM event?
I’m super excited about the medium. Yes, I’ll sing songs I know and that people know, but there’s a whole scope of space to improvise that I’m really excited to be a part of. It’s cool to be in a space where people are that competent and confident about their skill. So I’m very excited about that.
Tell us something people don’t know about you.
I have an apprehension of sorts towards fame and being in the spotlight, so I try to curate what I share of the craft and myself. You’ll find me in my music, in what I’m saying. You’ll find my opinions, perspectives and social commentary there. People feel entitled to you after a while and you get addicted to their approval, so I need to watch myself a lot when I’m on social media.