Singer-songwriter Sofia B performed at Pandora Fest women’s music festival last month. Ana Hine, editor of Artificial Womb, caught up with her.
How did you enjoy Pandora Fest?
Aside from the vomiting from motion sickness on the way up to Scotland and the rain, I actually had one of the best days of my life! The array of acts, the combined efforts of everyone who put it together, the scenery and the general ambience was incredibly cool and unique. The local food and drinks vendors were super lovely and had great quality food and everyone in attendance was remarkably skipper considering the weather. Definitely looking forward to next year!
Can you give us a bit of background about yourself?
My mum is Venezuelan and my dad is Lebanese. I was born in London, but we moved to Caracas when I was 3-months-old and then moved back to London when I was five after things started to get politically unstable in Caracas and day to day life became increasingly more dangerous. Living in London exposed me to a multi-cultural hub of musicians, but I decided to explore the United States and was awarded a scholarship to Berklee College of Music to study songwriting. After graduating, I found myself in NYC and wrote my latest album In The City, about one of the toughest breakups of my life.
You released In The City, your second EP, last year. Can you tell us a little more about the record?
As I mentioned briefly before, it was written while I was living in NYC. I decided to record the songs in Beirut, where my father lives, as I wanted to connect with my Lebanese roots and take advantage of the immense talent one can find there. We recorded with producer Raed El Khazen and my dad is playing lead guitar on ‘Ice Cold Love’ and ‘Hurricane’.
There’s a track called ‘Soldiers’ on it, about a friend. Can you say a bit more?
Absolutely. My best friend Avery Nejam, was diagnosed with IBD (irritable bowel disease) a few months after I was diagnosed with Crohn’s while I was in Boston at Berklee. We crossed paths then and sort of became inseparable since, especially because she is an artist/illustrator. We’ve collaborated on my song ‘Friendly Little Ghost’ about being diagnosed with Crohn’s and she made the most amazing artwork for it.
And what exactly is Crohns disease?
Crohn’s is an auto-immune disease that creates inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, which can cause you to lose organs.
Why do you think it’s important to be ‘out’ – as it were – about your condition?
The main reason I want to raise awareness as an androgynous woman about Crohn’s disease, is because of the day to day hardships I encounter. The stigma around stomach problems and going to the bathroom are messed up enough as is and you feel like you can’t properly communicate your condition without being judged. I also want people to realise that even though you can have a disease that can hold you back sometimes, you can channel your frustrations into art. It’s what gets me through it, anyway.
How does having Crohn’s affect your ability to tour? Is there anything that fans or venues could do to make things easier for people who have the condition, or something similar?
It affects my ability to tour because, realistically, accommodation and comfortable means of travel really lessen the burden and possibility of getting sicker. I’m on immune suppressants that basically make me susceptible to everything. Honestly, the only thing that makes things easier is if there is a clean bathroom with soap and toilet paper and I’ll be fine. I don’t really like to make too much of a fuss about these things.
You spoke, when we met, about how living with Crohn’s means that you’ve chosen not to transition or take testosterone. Are you able to explain a bit more why that might be the case?
Honestly, taking testosterone at this stage in the game would be like adding fuel to the fire. I already inject myself with Humira, a drug that has led me to be in remission with Crohn’s disease. It has its side effects already and the possibility of having to inject more chemicals when I’m scared of needles as is? Yeah, no thanks! Plus, I don’t think hormones makes you more of any gender.
Has being butch or masculine presenting affected your musical career at all?
Absolutely. If I’m most honest, I think that presenting as masculine makes people think that I want to be an emblem of strength and masculinity. I don’t really care what I represent to people, the goal is purely to spread good music that people relate to, whoever I am. Artists celebrate the spectrum of emotions, I just so happen to be mixed race, queer and a woman. Being butch/masculine presenting has shown me the privileges I should have when I don’t “pass” and the ignorance that still exists.
What are you working on or promoting at the moment?
Currently, I’m promoting my music video for ‘Let It Go’, the last song off my album, which is available to view here.
When will you next be performing in Scotland?
Not too sure yet actually! I’m in close contact with Erin Bennett, who I’m a die-hard fan of. Her band is incredible, her songs bring me to tears every time and we are actually going to be doing a show together at The Portland Arms in Cambridge in September!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you so much for introducing me to the zine world and for schooling me on so much stuff! Definitely still considering making one for myself to offer to new fans.