A Q&A with Artist and Composer EmmoLei Sankofa

  1. EmmoLei, let’s start with your story. Tell us about your background, and what sparked your interest in music and media? Are there any major influences or role models that inspired/inspire you?

    I’ve been a musician all my life, literally since I was two. My parents were musicians and music lovers who exposed me to many different genres and forms of art. I sang in choirs, played in bands and symphonic ensembles, and even played in percussion ensembles. My first instrument was the violin, but I hated it. Then I switched to alto and tenor sax and later settled into drums in 6th grade. I played drums through college and still to this day. My intro to composing music was in middle school. A friend made this beat and song for a social studies project, and I later learned he had used FL Studio to create it. My dad got me the basic version and that’s how my composer/producer journey began. Fast forward to college, a professor of mine heard my music for a project and suggested that I try film scoring. Many people had mentioned that my sound was cinematic, but that was the first time someone said “film scoring”. After I left college (Hampton University), I went to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where I was exposed to film sound and music from production to post. I completed my program in 2 years and then went off to LA, did many things and now here we are.

    As far as role models/influences are concerned, my parents first and foremost. I’ve had many other role models and influences along the way. Missy Elliot, Beyonce, Lili Boulanger, Pharrell/N.E.R.D., Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, King Crimson, Melo-X, Quincy Jones, John Cage, William Grant Still, Claude Debussy, Chuck Harmony, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins…I mean the list could get lengthy.

  2. You have collaborated with countless award-winning filmmakers; how do you develop and cultivate relationships to such an incredible degree? 

    Many of the people I’ve worked with are friends, friends of friends, or came into my sphere via referrals; It’s that network effect. Additionally, I’m not afraid to create opportunities for myself, so many times, I build relationships with folks by simply reaching out and sharing how we can create value for each other. The worst that’s ever happened is a “no.”

  3. In your artist bio, you state that the bulk of your work involves “honoring and learning from the past in order to create the sound of the future” Can you elaborate on this creative perception of time? 

    Sankofa is a part of my name, and it means, “go back and get it.” Sankofa comes from the Akan tribe in Ghana. It symbolizes the quest for knowledge and importance of learning from the past to build upon the present and future. So, in my work, I go through cycles where muses–many of which have been largely forgotten–from the past come into my awareness, and I study them. Creative dots are connected, and they often influence my work. For example, I was studying John Cage for a while, which prompted the creation of my YCANIMRETEDNI EP. Then there was a time where I learned about Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and channeled some of his essence in the songs I made for my Ow EP. Essentially my creative ancestors speak to and inspire me, and from there, I give new life to things from the past.

  4. Your collection of artist work is outstanding. From composition to production, visual media to fine arts, it seems like your work isn’t tied by boundaries. How did you find yourself working in so many creative avenues? Was it a natural progression, or did you actively pursue one branch in particular? 

    My creative fluidity is just the natural response to me following my curiosity. Music has always been at the forefront, but I find inspiration and connect dots by experimenting and exploring different disciplines.

  5. Do any current, past, or future projects have a unique place in your heart? Why are they particularly important to you? 

    My Geometry Trilogy has a special place in my heart because I think it was the first time that I truly felt seen as an artist. The branding, execution, community involvement, etc. were just top tier. It unlocked so many opportunities and creative portals for me. Horror Noire, which was just released this year on October 28, has a special place in my heart as well because it’s my first major feature film as a composer. Working on this forced me out of my comfort zone and revealed more of what I’m capable of. I also got to hire a bunch of my peers, which was just really special to me. The Common Characterspilot is also another great project that means a lot to me. At the premiere, one of my friends came up to me and said, “I was thinking throughout the film that I hope Lisa went through the right channels to license this music because it’s really fucking great and then I see your name at the end in the credits as the composer and I was like ooooooo shit!” So yea, lol.

  6. Would you like to share any current or upcoming news?

    You should go watch Horror Noire on Shudder or AMC+. I scored that.

    Interview by Michael Van Bodegom-Smith

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