Scrunchie welcomes Toronto native, SATE, for an introspective conversation touching on her new album, short film, and her mother’s legacy.
The daughter of Canada’s ‘First Lady of the Blues’, the late Salome Bey, SATE discusses her mother’s impact on her body of work and the doors she opened for Black people as an activist, playwright, and artist. In December, she and her sister accepted Bey’s star on the Canada Walk of Fame in her honor.
Guided by the stars in her sky and tarot cards, SATE takes up the space she deserves with her sophomore record, ‘The Fool’. Illustrating the journey of her Fool, the album builds a foundation for new beginnings, urging listeners to step off the cliffside and take a leap of faith in the universe. Having learned from the experiences that gotten her to where she is, calling on her ancestral guides, and becoming in touch with the world around her, this era of SATE encourages us to take up space and allow ourselves freedom.
Your website bio mentions your strong connection with astrology and tarot. What’s your sign, and how do you feel it reflects you as an artist?
I am a Libra sun, Aquarius moon, and Sagittarius rising. And it reflects me so much. I’ve got a lot of Libra in my chart. And let me see… I guess Libras are about justice and looking beautiful, fairness, relationships, love. Yeah, that would be my sun. But you know, the Sagittarian part of me is, which is really the forefront and what we project on to other people and how they perceive us… I’m philosopher and traveler. Sometimes put my foot in my mouth, sometimes a little blunt. I’m an Aquarius moon, which is how I feel. I sometimes very much don’t like people. But then really love people. Definitely says a lot about me.
This bio also mentions your strong connection with the black panther, red robin, and blue butterfly. Would you like to share more about what these animals mean to you?
Those animals, they actually came up for me on my last album, Red, Black and Blue. And they’ve kind of followed me around for a long time. Red robin kind of came around when I was a kid, you know, listening to that song, “When the red, red robin goes bop, bop, bopping…” I always got, I don’t know really happy around spring, when I’d see robins and so that was my first thing. Then maybe the butterfly came after that. The panther came probably in my teen years, and then I started collecting Black Panther comics and figurines and everything. So those three beings, those three creatures, they provide me with different messages. The robin for me is about letting go, of like past hurts, forgiveness, spring time, newness. The butterfly, transformation. But really butterflies are fucking warriors, because to be a butterfly means you’re going through shit. You’re like literally dissolving into nothing and becoming something altogether new. The Panther is strength, mysteriousness and clear audience actually.
Your website bio mentions that you “learned at the feet of countless music legends that passed through Toronto during her childhood.” What are some people or moments that you were especially influenced by?
There were a lot of people that I was able to… just like family, you know? Like my dad also owned a restaurant, so there were a lot of people that came through his restaurant. It was a soul food restaurant in Toronto, which was one of the first and only. And you know, a lot of people came through there and then would come through our house and I think I just… because I was around my mom, around my parents all the time, seeing people, famous people and knowing them and not really fawning over them, but some of them would be like Dionne Warwick, or I remember I waited up all night to see Kurtis Blow and…let me see, Dizzy Gillespie. Seeing Little Richard in concert. Lena Horne, Rita Moreno. There’s a picture of me being held by Tony Bennett as a baby. Just things like that. We were going out to concerts all the time. Just new people. Harry Belafonte, who sang for Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, and, you know, the Prince and Princess Diana. And you know, just this is that was kind of my life.
I feel like it’s not just celebrity that teaches us, it’s everyday people, because we’re all human beings. And we all come into contact with one another for a reason. Yeah, we learn from each other for a reason. And we meet at that point. So I learned from everyone, you know?
In 1978, your mother created “Indigo,” a blues and cabaret show about the history of black music and the blues. In honor of black history month, who are some more contemporary artists you’d include in your own history of black music?
Me. [Laughter]. Oh my gosh. Living Color, Fishbone, Beyonce, Rihanna, Jay-Z. It would be really full, because what Indigo was, was a timeline of the black musicians that really shaped and shifted things. Drake would be in there. The Weeknd. I’m not necessarily talking about the things I listen to, but it would be chronically the history of the richness of the music. Santigold, Jay Davie, Joy. It would go from rock to blues to dance to house. Jay Dilla, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Prince, all of those things that weren’t included in 1978.
In December you and your sister were presented with the incredible honor of accepting your mother’s star on the Canada Walk of Fame on her behalf. What was this experience like for you, and how do you believe your mother played a role in the creation of your latest album?
Whoa, that’s a loaded question. I mean, super proud because I feel that she so deserves that star. She’s broken so much ground, just by being such a perseverance. Like she just never stopped. She came to Toronto in 1961, met my dad, fell in love, came back, and they got married in ‘64. And from the moment that she set foot on Toronto soil, Canadian soil, she just didn’t stop. She was in the club circuits, and then in the theater, and then on television, and then, you know, it just kept going. And she just, she didn’t stop her own momentum of, of being like, “This is what I do, so if there are no opportunities for me, I’m going to create them.” So in in her creating those opportunities for herself, she also created those opportunities for other black people, especially with Indigo and any other show that she created thereafter.
She plays a role in every single thing that I do. I finished the album in 2018, and there was something niggling in me that said, “Don’t put it out yet.” So I followed that, and I was really, really grappling with it. And then, you know, global pause happened.
And it’s just like, “I’ve got this album that I have to put out.” And then my mom passed. So, it was just like one on top of another. And it was just…to be in the grief, but then also to be in the place where we were finding all of these archives, and this archival footage, TV shows and, and reel to reels, and papers, or scripts, or diaries, or even just pictures, and people were coming out of the woodwork telling stories. And one of the reel to reels, we digitized as many as we could, because some of them got ruined.
There was a practice tape, because my mom used to sit down with a piano to compose, and she turned on the reel to reel, instead of a tape recorder or whatever. And she would record for hours and hours and hours, working things out, just working, shedding basically. And this one particular one I found was with my mom and me singing, and then my sister and me and my mom singing. So it was like a 17 minute, reel to reel, like a tape of just us going back and forth. It might have been longer, it might have been actually an hour. Just over, over, and over again. I was four or five years old. And when I heard that, it was like, “I need to figure out a way to put that on the album.” Because it just, in terms of the theme of the album, the concept for the album, being the fool, being my fool’s journey, this was part of the journey. This was part of getting me through the grieving and, just remembering that she… I called that track “Guardian Angel,” because that song was called “Guardian Angel.” It was just, all of the everything aligned, you know, the lyrics of the song were just like… Spirit’s work. Oh my gosh, It’s just…when you’re tapped into that, and really listen in, it’s so magical. It’s such a beautiful adventure to just witness.
While the concept of your album “The Fool” is guided by your experiences living through this major arcana, what also stood out to me on the record were the several interludes included within the tracklist. How does each of these snippets contribute to the narrative you’re telling?
I wanted them to lead people on a journey. I grew up listening to albums, like, you know, Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder and Dark Side of the Moon, like concept albums, where you just sit down, you press play, or you put the needle on the record, and listen to the work from top to bottom, and it takes you on a journey. So those interludes actually…When I made the album in 2018, were not there. So all of these things happen for a reason, to give me the space and the opportunity, to give more context to the story, to bring people through the opening, where it is actually the last track backwards, if you noticed. This is the first time I’m actually saying this. It’s actually an arrangement of “The Fool.” And there’s a lot of reverse and, and just an overture of of music. “Call Her” is me calling on ancestors, on goddesses. And so that comes out of “Howler,” and goes into “Nobody.” And so, I put that there in the middle of those, because “Howler” is really about strength, and sensuality, and empress energy. Being a creator, and knowing your creative energy. But then there’s also, there’s always the times when I’m doubting that stuff. That’s what “Nobody,” is about, talking about that doubting or that wanting to please people and wanting people to love me. So putting that interlude in between was calling on the energies to support me, while I’m a little shaky. “Guardian Angel” is pretty self-explanatory.
“Guardian Angel” is the one I’ll explain to your viewers. That the one with myself and my mom, me as a kid, and just again calling on support, right? Because I feel that’s how I use the Tarot, as a tool of support, calling in spirit guides, and angels and guardians, and just guidance. So that was the purpose of those interludes, to really call on the support even with “Dream Stream.”
All of these things happened so magically, I was on a on a hike with my partner, and we went by a stream, and I just recorded the stream. I was like, “I’m going to use this one day.” And that was actually two days before my mother passed. And I was like, “Okay, so I’m going to use this.” And it was it was the moving into “Wait on me,” which is the lover’s card. For me it’s the self-reflection, self-worth, the self-love. All of these lessons talking you through that.
Then “#SFC,” which is “So Fucking Close.” With my dear sister friend Ursula Rucker, was just a prelude into the fall, just getting ready for that leap off the cliff, to start all over again, wherever you are on, or wherever I am on the journey. Because I feel like sometimes I’ve put the songs in certain tarot cards, but sometimes they change when I listen to the songs, I’m like, “Actually, maybe this is not the Empress energy, maybe this is more strength energy.” It changes depending on how I’m feeling. And I hope that it changes for people listening, that they feel something.
The short film accompanying your record is a beautiful anthology of the many hats of strength and power you command both as an individual and through your music. How do you believe this film captures the essence of “The Fool” and what do you hope others learn from it?
I feel like the film is quite simply the journey. It is very introspective. It’s very reflective. It’s is also like, you know…”Nobody,” at the end of that part, with the little girl, looking at me, and being like, “Huh, I can do that,” you know, just representation. And just seeing just being intrigued, and, and then the little girl growing up and being on the bikes with the girls and just taking over and taking up space and just the wishes and hopes. I guess this kind of spills into what I wish for people to take away from the film, the wishes and hopes that I have for myself. And that I wish for everyone else to feel that expansiveness, and to see, to be inspired to do whatever the fuck you want to do. Because all we know is this life that we’re living and holding back. For what? You know, there’s so much space in the world for everyone to be as brilliant as they are. Like, we’re brilliant. We’re perfect. We’re made. There are things that our bodies do, that our intuition does, that we don’t even tap into. It just does it. That’s how beautiful and perfect and magical we are. It’s just so like, take it run, go. Go take it. Inspire others to do that.
What did you learn about yourself while putting together this record and reflecting back on these past couple years of your life?
Oh my gosh. Well, I learned that it’s okay to ask for what I want. And it’s actually okay to get what I want. There is space to get what I want, if I ask for what I want, and keep going until I get that.
There were times when I was scared. There were times when I was really insecure, especially in the past couple years, before going back into the album. Like I redid vocals and added those interludes. So those were new things. And I was really taking a chance, taking the leap, to actually put those things on it. But my heart, everything in me, was pulling me to “This is what you want to hear. This is how you feel. This is your journey. This is your voice.”
Like I spent many, many nights in my studio crying, and just berating myself. Like, I’m so good at that. And then I learned how to speak gentler to myself. I learned how to accept my voice. When I had not been on stage for a long time, because I was so used to being on stage, and not having that outlet and just being alone with myself and all of the insecurities. So yeah, I learned a lot about the things that didn’t serve me any longer. And, and I learned how to let go of those things. I learned why I was holding on to them. And that was hard to do. And it’s still a process. And I’m still learning.
The spoken word track preceding the title track on the album mentions the possibility, “maybe all this time…all along…all this time… I’ve been free, I’ve been me”. What does it mean to you to be free?
It’s kind of always in relation to not being free. We live in this very dualistic society, like good, bad, light, dark, you know? So, it’s either freedom or enslavement. And what does it mean to be free? It means that I’m living by my intuition. I’m living authentically. Do I always allow myself that? No, because, because of the world and it’s heartbreaking.
But I’m learning that and I’m learning how to take up space. Be more free. That’s something that happens for me, when I’m on stage, where I allow myself. Like, “How can you be more free? How can you just allow yourself to just go wherever your body decides it wants to go, wherever your voice decides it wants to go? How can you just become part of the music?”. Freedom is really being in tune with the plants and the air and the animals and people and really allowing for real conversation and heartbreak and laughter and all of those things, and disagreements and all, because those things happen. And as we said at the beginning, you know, I’ve learned from everybody, it’s not just celebrities. We learn mostly from the people that we disagree with. We learn mostly what freedom is, or who we are, from the people that we don’t get along with, or that rub us wrong. Like, “I don’t like that person,” or “That person made me feel like this,”. You’re able to actually, realize, “Oh, this is how I feel. This is what makes me feel good, or happy or at ease.” You know? It no longer for me, becomes this, or that, it becomes the gift. The gift is the experience, versus “It’s a good experience,” or “a bad experience.” It’s just an experience.
Judging from your Instagram and music videos, you have a rockin’ sense of style! What’s a favorite accessory of yours and how does it reflect your personality?
As a Libra, sometimes I have a very, very hard time making decisions. I don’t know if I can pick one, I will say jewelry. I can’t pick one, but jewelry. I love these earrings, I found them at Kensington Market and I love them because they’re spirals. But then I love my rings, and I love my necklaces, and I love these glasses. I think any adornments.
What are your upcoming plans for 2022?
Well, I’m working on and rehearsing for a show that will be… there’s not much more that I can say about it. It’s kind of secret. Coming soon to a screen near you. So look out for it, it’s really exciting. I’m really excited about it. I’ll get to do songs that I haven’t done before live.
And I’m finishing my tarot deck, I’m designing a tarot deck. It’s almost done. I’ve been really precious about it, because during the pandemic and during lockdown, that’s when I learned how to use Photoshop. I went through a couple of duds, of graphic designers that kind of left me high and dry. [I did the album cover, the Fool card.] I’m just navigating my way around the digital cut and paste. I’m about… five or six cards to go, for the major arcana. I’m excited, and I’m nervous, because this is a whole new muscle that I’m working. So I’m precious about it. I can sing, I can go onstage, I’ll act, act a fool, whatever. But this is new. What if people don’t like it? You know? But I have shared it with people, and they like it. And you have seen a couple cards. You’ve seen the fool card, and the card for “Howler” is the Empress card, and the card for “Nobody” is the strength card. So you’ve seen three cards, and that’s kind of what they look like. I’m very excited.
Photoshop, what a world. I’m lowkey, not so lowkey, a geek about art and fonts and graphic design. But I was never a graphic designer, I just love drawing. I went to school for the arts, so I did everything. I mainly focused on dance. Art was just something I loved to do. So the cut and paste is really cool, for me.