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Sampling Stories Vol. 10: YATTA

From all kinds of voices to the sounds of WhatsApp and Skype: in her songs, videos, and digipoems the New York-based interdisciplinary artist Yatta Zoker aka YATTA [1] samples a lot. It is the very discrete mixture of these samples, jazz vocals, folk spirit, live instrumentation, experimental electronics, and digital aesthetics that characterizes her weird and beautiful song sketches. Talking with Yatta about her sampling strategies it got obvious that there is a strong spiritual dimension behind. And a big portion of humor.

Yatta Zoker (Photo © by Cameron Kelly, ISSUE Project Room)

Connecting Moments: Mourning and Sampling

«Sampling is like creating time capsules», Yatta told me when I asked about her approach to the production method. Sampling gives her a means for bringing moments from the past together with the present and thereby «breaking up time». A track where this play with different periods of time could be followed is «We Never Went to Church» – released apart from her debut EP Spirit Said Yes! on SoundCloud only (and featured on thump [2]).

Yatta composed that track after her grandmother died; she found herself in the middle of the process of mourning. In search of a fitting voice sample – she predominantly works with voice samples, her own and foreign – she was browsing her personal sampling library. She finally came across a short sample of a friend which she has recorded maybe months before while driving to a show. «For me this sample fit perfectly to talk about my grandma», Yatta explained. «Just be sure to hold her in the light» the friend says on that sample. But it was not just the semantic level that made her choose this piece. It was also humor as she told me: «The way he said it was very funny. And I think humor is important to me, especially when talking about dark things.»

It is thus the process of sampling that connects two moments in the life of the producer that hadn’t anything in common before. «You never know what moments in your life will talk to other moments in your life. As a sampler, you are able to make these connections», Yatta reflected on this observation. But that’s not all. The spiritual dimension of this sampling process reaches even deeper. Yatta further manipulated the voice of the young man and turned it into the voice of an old woman. But why did she do that? «I believe that all of my friends have been here before.»

By the way, I also asked her about the sample which appears at the beginning of the song, seemingly played in reverse. I wanted to know what we listen to here. But Yatta only laughs and responded: «this is secret.» But why? Due to copyright reasons? «No it’s just because these kind of samples are like inside jokes to me that other people wouldn’t understand.»

The Sound of Diaspora: WhatsApp and Skype

Let’s move on to another sampling story and the track «Desert Song». Here, Yatta is negotiating questions of belonging: where do I belong to? Where is my home? She reflects her own situation of living in a diaspora and being away from family (her parents live in Sierra Leone). And what are probably the most typical sounds to characterize this situation in 21st century global society? Right, the connecting sound of Skype (1:03) and the sound of a phone call on WhatsApp (2:08). In «Desert Song» Yatta samples both of these by now almost stereotypical sounds in an artful but still prominent way.


«Sampling is like creating time capsules.»

«I usually sample my own voice. Most of my songs start from me looping and I record that on my phone and I listen back maybe like a year later or a month later and I see which moments I like the best and then I create loops from that selected moment which is the sample which creates the foundation for the song and then I’ll start to think of instrumentation or beats from there.»

«I’m always recording. Friends or family speaking, laughing, talking.»

«I like sourcing from YouTube. YouTube is like a huge sound library. It is a good way to add instrumentation if you are not in a studio.»

YATTA: Spirit Said Yes! (self-released 2016)

Read More on the Web

> Mask Magazine: «Yatta Zoker on making her debut EP, the psychological warfare of black creativity, and why the internet is not your bedroom.» [4]
> Thump: «YATTA Explores the Spiritual Dimensions of Mourning on Her Elegiac New Track» [2]

The interview was conducted via Skype on 6.9.2017. This article has been published in the context of the PhD research on sampling in experimental electronic music by Hannes Liechti. For more info click here [5].