Feature: Santigold

Published in the May 10-17 issue of NOW Magazine

Don’t tell Santi White that Disparate Youth, the dubby call-to-arms anthem from her recently released sophomore album, Master Of My Make-Believe (Atlantic), sounds like rap-rock band 311. Or Drake’s Headlines.

“As far as modern musical references,” says the Brooklyn-based musician better known as Santigold, “I don’t know. People are weird with that type of thing. No matter what you put out in the world, they’ll say it sounds like this and that.”

Instead, Make-Believe, much like 2008’s acclaimed and well-loved Santogold, takes heavy cues from the heyday of artists like Peter Gabriel, and David Byrne and the Talking Heads – “from when there was a lot of world music influence in pop,” says White on the commute back to Brooklyn from Manhattan.

For this approach, White brought back Santogold producers Diplo and Switch, global beat excavators and, more recently, pop music influencers. (See Beyoncé’s 2011 single Girls, essentially a Major Lazer refix.) To further refine that template she also recruited top genre innovators Ricky Blaze (Gyptian, Hold Yuh), TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner and pop producer – and one-time Byrne protege – Greg Kurstin.

Like her choice of collaborators, Make-Believe, whose rhythms reference warmer climes and past times, is an elegant, indirect indictment of modern-day pop. But there’s also a deeper wisdom, which White, 35, who spent years on the business side of music in A&R and as a songwriter, attributes to her life-long love of journalling and to having the time to develop a personality outside the spotlight.

There are also many allusions to power, both societal and personal, though White dances around calling Make-Believe political.

“I think ‘socially conscious’ is exactly what it is,” she says, reciting lyrics to The Keepers before explaining how the song is about taking responsibility for your life. “It’s a commentary on the world we live in and the state of things around us – from the dead birds that fall from the sky [to] the fact that we have 20 different versions of Housewives TV shows.

“Since I was little, I always liked to write, but I felt like if you wanted to say something it should be worth hearing,” she says, pointing to the lack of message in mainstream music. “These things are important. Whether for myself or for someone else, these are things that I think need to be said.”—ANUPA MISTRY

Discs and shows, NOW Magazine: March/April 12