First Listen #22: Sephyr Patriq’s ‘Departure 1989’

“If you’re not living in a way that makes you happy, then why are you living?” 

Sephyr Patriq, “FITAMOLD”

I did a lot of research on house music while I was writing my senior thesis (on Chicago hip hop) for my undergraduate degree last year. Without giving you an entire decades-long backstory on the genre’s creation, house manifested out of a need to replace disco as a musical freedom space for Black and Brown (queer) folks. What came out of that need was a sacred space where they were able to find refuge and solidarity. Taking some elements of disco, they created the genre in order to rebuild that space of individualism, a space where they could literally just be – or at least find out who they were. The genre was the sonic representation of what it meant to truly be unrestrained – free from your expectations of yourself, free from the expectations of others, and free of compartmentalizing your life. The spaces that house created were literally life-changing for the people who had the opportunity to exist within them.

And from what I was able to hear and learn, that same life-changing energy existed within the manifestation and creation of Sephyr Patriq’s Departure 1989 (2019). Now, make no mistake. Departure 1989 is not purely a house project. There are bits and pieces of house-inspired sounds scattered across the musical space of this project, but Sephyr and his collaborators infuse the project with a bunch of different genres that span the kind of afro-beats/reggae sounds on “FITAMOLD” – the EP’s opening track (with a VERY catchy chorus to match. It’s been on repeat in my head for DAYS) – to the more hip-hop and R&B production on “Chamele-On Me” and “Who? Nobody! No.”

But I wanted to introduce this First Listen with house music because the environment that the genre creates recognizes the same thematic principles of Departure 1989. At its core, Departure 1989 feels like a sort of ode to putting yourself first – not in a selfish way, but in a way empowers your own agency and self-authenticity – and stepping out on faith. And like I mentioned with Justy’s Soul Food (2020) a couple of weeks ago, that process isn’t without its potential messiness. As Sephyr shows us here, people get in the way, our insecurities get in the way, and it’s easy to feel like zero progress has been made. I listened to Lianne La Havas’s new album for the first time a couple days ago, and on it, she speaks on something similar – that slight discomfort of embarking on the journey of finding yourself. The “[bittersweetness of being] born again [in] summer rain.” And it’s a process that requires a lot of “self-love and self-care” throughout. And it takes a lot of power to be willing to embark on such an unclear journey and DEPART from your comfort zone, but the stuff that’s found there? Whew, chile. It feels like a breath of fresh air.

speaking of ‘soul food’…

Earlier this week, around the time I was listening to Lianne’s album, the news was showing a clip of some interviews from the late John Lewis. Now, bear with me because I’m about to go down a bit of a rabbit hole, but I promise, I’m gonna pull us through lol. So buckle up! There was one particular clip where the interviewer asked Lewis why he continued to fight against injustice; what was the thing that kept him going when he was up against his greatest challenges. If I can find the clip, I’ll add it here, but he essentially pointed to his optimism. He said that when you lose your optimism, you lose your life.

(courtesy of Sephyr)

And that reminded me of the Palestinian concept of sumud (another gem from my thesis research) – the Arabic word for “steadfastness” or unwavering resilience. Generally (because I’m not extremely well-read in Palestinian history), Palestinians use this word as a reminder to themselves and others of their humanity, and they empower it by maintaining community ties and selfhood. Things like remembering the names of old streets, laughing, passing down songs/stories, and LIVING become ways of saying “we’re still here.” There’s a sense of optimism that’s embedded into the idea of sumud that helps them keep moving foward. And while sumud is a “uniquely Palestinian tactic,” there are aspects of it that can be found in communities and spaces all over. Sephyr mentioned to me that his music is for anyone who “has been confused on their purpose or who they’re supposed to be.” And I think that what Sephyr’s Departure 1989 offers is that stepping out of your comfort zone and breaking the molds that you’ve been encased in takes that same work of waking up everyday with optimism in your heart, air in your lungs, and determination on your mind.

All that to say: I really enjoyed this project, and I hope to hear MORE from Sephyr Patriq in the future ❤

“[Recapture] your heart, your soul, the things that make you you. Don’t ever let love take away the love inside of you. If you know God, you know God is in you…That’s when you can truly be you.”

Sephyr Patriq

Tamar: Who are you? Where are you from?

Sephyr: Thank you so much for a chance to talk! My name is Sephyr Patriq (say-fear pa-trick). I’m a singer-songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee; I’m also a compassionate person who cares for others. I’m a work in progress. I love live music, architecture, acting, and writing. I’m a dreamer over everything and working on being a manifester now.

T: Where – or who –  do you draw inspiration from? Both musically and personally.

S: I am very inspired by different artists who step outside the box – who don’t “fit a mold” and set their own standards. Musically, I’m inspired by artists like Bjork, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Brandy, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, The Clark Sisters, Imogen Heap, Queen, Sutton Foster, etc. Personally, my friends inspire me to be my best self. Most definitely public figures like Hill Harper, Michelle Obama, Gabrielle Union, and others who use their voices positively for change.

T: When did you begin to recognize that making music was something that you’re passionate about?

S: I began writing songs at the tender age of 10. Of course, I was writing songs that were fashioned after other artists that moved me at the time, but it gave me an outlet. It allowed me to express myself in a way I was not given in my life, and it carried me through the peaks and valleys of my teenage years. There were so many things I couldn’t say to people in my life, so much anger, so many romantic feelings I never verbalized, but the songs were my conduit, and they were my sanity and my strength. I’m thankful for the gift I was given.

T: What does the creative process look like for you while working on a project/song?

S: I start with a concept. I try to put my emotions into a unique way of expressing them. Let’s use “Chamele-On Me” for example. I often had people change up on me, and it frustrated me to no end. I wrote that song with the theme of chameleons – changing – and applied it to amorous relationships that went south because of inconsistency. I wrote the lyrics first and then a blueprint of a melody. Then, in the studio, I sang everything and described the sound I envisioned to my producer and we fleshed it out from there. It took six versions of the vocal for the song to get it to where I wanted it to be. I know CJ was tired of me.

T: How do you choose who you make music with?

S: My debut EP I wrote all the lyrics beforehand, and I wanted to make sure that the songs were going to be in the right hands. I moved to New Jersey a few years ago and worked in New York, where I became acquainted with Shareef Keyes who is a phenomenal artist and performer with his group. I liked how he melded the contemporary with the classic sounds, and I knew he would be a good fit for “You Better Recognize” which was the first song I ever recorded. We talked and collaborated in January 2019 in Brooklyn at Become A Star NYC, and it was a fun experience. Then I also worked with a producer, C-Ma”J”or, in Memphis. I caught wind of his work with Unapologetic, and I thought his beats were the hard-hitting edge that I wanted to sing over. I arranged a meeting with him and presented my lyrics and all, and we decided to work together on five out of six of the songs I recorded, and I thank him for his patience and hard work.

T: Who is your music for?

S: My music is for anyone who ever felt they didn’t fit what’s popular. Anyone who’s ever been on the outskirts of life. Who has been confused on their purpose or who they’re supposed to be. Anyone who’s ever felt alone. The overthinkers, the heartbroken, the transcenders, the ever-flawed and ever-growing people. That’s who I write for. You’re not alone in this.

T: Significance of the title and cover of Departure 1989?

S: I turned 30 last year and 1989 was my birth year. I have always wanted to release music, but I always felt inadequate in the talent category and never felt I would have a place compared to others. I had been in a really dark place, but I decided to take a chance for my 30th year – to put caution to the wind and just take a stab at a music career. So Departure 1989 stands for me taking a flight from my doldrums, from my insecurities, finally moving forward in what I want to do. That’s why the cover was taken in an airport with me sitting on the luggage conveyor, looking out into the promise that lies beyond my comfort zone. Shout out to Christopher Cohran of Aristoshots who shot the cover and the amazing promotional pics. I’m indebted to him.

T: There’s something kind of house-esque about some of the songs and sounds on the project, was that intentional?

S: Yes, it was. I wanted the project to be a melting pot of musical styles, just to show some of the things I could do. One song that really exudes house is “Grieving on a Dancefloor,” which was very different from the other songs. I wanted it to be for the clubs and to be something people could dance to. That style was chosen to contrast to the lyrics, which is the point of the song. The song is about a person who is grieving a relationship but goes out and tries to not only dance but find someone else. They don’t get the attention they want and can’t find someone to help them heal their grief and have to face their problem as their world comes crashing down. The dance music is a soundtrack for a full meltdown which I think is an interesting dichotomy, one I know well haha. I was very proud to co-produce that song.

T: What’s your favorite song from the project? What was your favorite song to work on?

S: My favorite song from the project, ultimately, is “Recapture [Start Anew].” It’s where I am right now…focusing on healing and recapture the light, and it’s a vulnerable, honest, and emotional song. I loved doing the vocal arrangements of the harmonies and evoking the sounds of the motherland with the percussion. It was the last song I recorded for the project. My favorite song to work on was probably was “Chamele-On Me” because I loved doing the odd vocal runs and placing them just right. Also, singing the high whistle notes at the end of the song in the background.

T: Your favorite song/album right now?

S: My favorite album at the moment is Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour (2020). I love their synchronicity and the way they don’t sacrifice lyricism and emotion for popularity. There’s this phenomenal song on there called “Wonder What She Thinks of Me” which is so folky, so tuneful, poignant. It really speaks to me musically, and I love the little blue note in the chorus. I’m also digging Brandy’s “Baby Mama” right now; I just love her musicality and the positive message of that song, and I’m so excited for her new album.

T: What wakes you up in the morning?

S: God wakes me up in the morning. His Love, mercy, forgiveness – it all strengthens me. Also, my family and friends. They give me strength to keep going. And the dream and promise that one day I’ll be able to sing worldwide and help other people with my art. That gives me hope in the midst of survival jobs, just getting by. One day this won’t be life.

Follow Sephyr:

Twitter: @Sephyrpatriq

Instagram: @Sephyrpatriq

Facebook: /sephyrpatriqofficial

Featured image art by me 🙂


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