Meet Suzka: The Hip Hop Violinist!
A hip hop violinist? Vancouver's Suzka has taken her violin into the studio with some of the best in the business
When I met Suzka, a couple of years ago, she was playing in a world fusion band. Since then, she has dedicated herself to enriching hip hop with the violin—with some very impressive results. She has shared the stage with RZA (from the Wu-Tang Clan) and recorded with Canadian hip hop legend Maestro Fresh Wes (of “Let your backbone slide” fame)!
Scott Wood: You are a violin player who collaborates with rappers, but you also put out your own material. The music biz can be tough for a "regular" act. Can you talk about what drives you?
Suzka: My complete and total addiction to music, great beats, and the creative process itself. I wake up excited about getting the compositions out of my head and onto the next beat I'm working on. I think the randomness of the biz and collaboration possibilities fuel my creativity as well. I never know who I will work with next and I like that. That keeps everything fresh and alive for me plus I like challenges. I like to see music and art pushed to the next level. As well as the way music has this magical way of bringing people closer together and on one vibe—that’s powerful.
Scott Wood: You have played on stage with RZA, how did this happen? Can you talk about that experience?I was relaxing in the sun, not knowing what to do with my day, when I got a phone call from Maestro Fresh Wes. He's all excited on the phone and says, "Hey RZA is in town and doing a show tonight, come down to soundcheck and bring your violin!"
Suzka: That was one of my best musical experiences EVER. It was so spontaneous and how do I explain it other than....divine providence? I was literally relaxing in the sun the afternoon before the show, not knowing what to do with my day, when I got a phone call from Maestro Fresh Wes. He's all excited on the phone and says, “Hey RZA is in town and doing a show tonight, come down to soundcheck and bring your violin! I threw some clothes on and got down to Richards on Richards, shook hands with the RZA and plugged in with the band. We jammed on 'Re-United' for the length of the song and at the end of it, RZA turns to me and says, “You good to play tonight?” I manage to say, “Uhh...yes.” “Ok” he says, “See you in a couple hours.” That was it! That night I was onstage playing with him.
Scott Wood: Enough about onstage! What was the after party like?
Suzka: Oh man, that was the best!! I had my documentarian with me at the time, Ashley Fester and we got taken onto the bus, past the massive line-up of people to where the party really was. They had two big tour buses, so we just bounced from one to the next. They were all so warm and inviting and literally I wanted to stay and go on the rest of the tour with them. I felt part of the family. His band Stone Mecca had so many amazing musicians and vocalists in it and I instantly connected with them all. Actually, I ended up going to LA to record with them later on.
Scott Wood: Your current record Source has raps from Canadian hip hop icon Maestro Fresh Wes. How did you get him on your record? And what is it like to work with him?
Suzka: Well it’s funny. Of all the artists in Canada, Maestro Fresh Wes has really reached out and helped me the most in this industry. He told me he is a big fan of my musical style and basically when I told him I was working on a record he said, “Don't worry, I got you.” But I know how some rappers are, so I thought he was just saying that to be nice and supportive. But I went ahead and I sent him several beats, my producer Vago (from the Vanguards) was working on, and sure enough Maestro picked one of them and recorded a sick verse on it! I was so impressed by his integrity, that guy comes through.
He in turn asked if I would compose some string parts for several of his songs for his new album coming out called Orchestrated Noise. It was all done long distance (he is in Toronto and I'm in Vancouver). We would chat about the music and then send the files back and forth until we got what we wanted.
He is amazing, super positive and inspiring and really goes for it, no holding back. He is the type of artist that likes to push music and his craft to other places. He has the confidence to try something new and different and I think that’s why we connect so well together musically.Maestro Fresh Wes is amazing, super positive and inspiring and really goes for it, no holding back. He is the type of artist that likes to push music and his craft to other places. I think that’s why we connect so well together musically.
Scott Wood: The violin is not heard as much as many would like to hear it in "mainstream" music, but sometimes when you add an "unconventional" instrument like a saxophone or violin, you can really make a track pop. I was hoping to get your take on this.
Suzka: I totally agree. I love the saxophone and horns in general. I went through an intense 'jazz period' in my life where I would just listen to Miles Davis and John Coltrane because their sound would just cut through on a track so distinctly and with so much soul. When thoughtful notes and phrasing are chosen, I feel those instruments can take a song to another level. I try to use my instrument like that as much as possible, basically thinking more like a horn player. I like to bring something different to the table, staying away from typical fiddling or a pure classical sound, I like to mix it up.
Scott Wood: Your record Source has some instrumentals and some tracks with emcees. How did you find your guest emcees? Can you talk about the balance of the two on the album?
Suzka: Most of the emcees are either really good friends of mine or artists who just have such a unique sound of their own that they fit the message I was trying to get out with each particular song. One of the rappers, Bukue One from Oakland is an artist I performed with before in LA. He also happens to be the manager for Del The Funky Homosapien.
I wanted to keep it worldly as well so I only have one local rapper, Emotionz because he just has the heart and soul that we needed. My album also features tracks with an upcoming Bermudian emcee named Jaro, an American from South Carolina called Donnie Darko, and another long-time friend from Montreal named Annakin Slayd.
I chose to have a couple more relaxing and more spiritual sounding songs on the album which reflected my travelling gypsy side. I thought it would be nice to just have instrumental breaks in between the other songs. Also I didn't stick to the traditional songwriting formulas, so I would take a verse on the violin after an emcee would take a verse. That just became my style.
Scott Wood: When I met you a couple of years ago, you were in a world-fusion band Tambura Rasa. Can you contrast what a violin player gets from each genre, hip hop and world-fusion?
The hip-hop genre really allows me to express more of my aggressive side and gives me freedom to make more of a statement by using less notes. It's more heavy-hitting in contrast to technically perfect songs.
Suzka: Ahh yes, Tambura Rasa. That band was a lot of fun. It was musically very satisfying and definitely got the dance party started. I think overall the crowds we attracted were a lot more hippie-style, which I defiantly am part of. Whereas the hip-hop genre really allows me to express more of my aggressive side and gives me freedom to make more of a statement by using less notes. It’s more heavy-hitting in contrast to technically perfect songs.
Scott Wood: While we were emailing to set up this interview, you said to me, "It’s been quite a journey so far and I feel very fortunate to still be in this music game." Still in this music game? You are still pretty young... Can you explain this quote?
Suzka: Yes well I think because I was so young when I started music—I was 5-years-old when I had my first concert. I thought I had “retired” so many times along the way. In fact I put the violin down for several years after high school and just went into the world solo. I lived in foreign countries such as Japan, Thailand, England, Scotland, and Egypt just to figure out more of what the world is about and to figure out who and what I wanted to do and be.
Music just kept pulling me back in and I guess by simply going with the flow and not resisting what came naturally, I found my voice and continue to find it. Mostly because people keep offering me jobs and requests to collaborate. That just keeps me smiling and I feel like: Yes, this is why I am here. I feel lucky when fans like what I do and post videos or songs up and actually get what I do. That makes me feel connected and loved. For that, I feel truly blessed.
You can catch Suzka live at the Best of the Best Urban Showcase - 'Year of the Legends' April 19th @ Red Room in Vancouver. If you would like to find out more about Suzka, please visit her links:album: http://www.cdbaby.com/suzka2
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