ellesse: Can you talk to me about your childhood, and any interests you had in music along the way?
Shunaji: Well I grew up in Italy, so a lot of the music I’d listen to would be Italian music, Italian singer/songwriters, so they were the first artists I was exposed to through my mum. Then in the early years of my childhood going to church was a big part, that was the most musical part of my week because that was when I used to sing a lot and listen to the melodies and hymns. That was it, and then I got into punk-rock. So, a bit of a mix but it was all from traveling and meeting a lot of different people who told me about the music they loved.
ellesse: How did you get from punk rock to what you’re making now?
Shunaji: I don’t know but I make some pretty dark music I guess, I had a dark way phase where I used to listen to a lot of ‘Bow Wow’ all the time. That was really random but I still think that it influences my music, so I don’t make like ‘hip hop’ which fits into a box. I try to do very experimental, very abstract music.
ellesse: Is there a significant part in your childhood where you might have got your first CD or cassette?
Shunaji: Okay, my first CD that I ever got was ‘The Spice Girls’, ‘Forever’ and I had to choose between that and ‘Ricky Martin’, and I went with ‘The Spice Girls’ because I thought it was the safest option, but I must have been around 7 when that happened. In terms of being exposed to stuff, I remember my mum had ‘In Utero’ by ‘Nirvana’ in this draw, and I would always open the draw and see this really weird, winged, statue woman, and I never understood what it meant and it looked really explicit. So that was the first thing I actually listened to, and it was a secret so, that was ‘Nirvana’.
ellesse: Do you think that you’ve learnt a lot from your singing in church – has it helped what you do today?
Shunaji: I was in a choir for about 3 years when I was in high school and I was an alto there, so I’ve always liked to sing with other people and a lot of my singing is quite solemn in that way, but I draw my inspiration also from music I discover all the time. My childhood experiences have been the foundations to build up, but I’ve always evolved and it’s changed a lot over time, I can’t pin-point it really.
ellesse: In terms of your career and what you’re doing now, where did it start and how did it lead up to this point?
Shunaji: It started around March 2017, the tracks I performed for ellesse today, were actually from my debut EP. That started with a lot of fiddling with samples and being involved in online communities like Low-fi, hip-hop, and that was very ‘samply’ very saturated music so I had a go at a bit of sampling and drum design. Now I’m working with live musicians, taking my productions up a notch and also still writing to that. So, it’s been a journey from building from like ‘crack’ to ‘yeah let’s go to the studio for a full day tomorrow because I haven’t had enough of working on this project’. It’s been a journey.
ellesse: What are your inspirations in your new music?
Shunaji: This one is so had to explain, but I’ve been exposed to a lot of music from friends, I’ve always liked to listen to what other people have, especially like vinyl collections. I think that a lot of Roots music like Nigerian Funk music and Brazilian music in terms of percussion and more percussive elements are coming into my productions now. Before it was more of a ‘Boom-Bop’ dynamic, so now I’m looking at different elements and how drums can fit together and how groups can be made and developed throughout tracks. From then to now, I’m working more on my arrangement, so relying less on ‘verse, hook, verse, hook’ and creating something more ground-breaking. It’s always flocculating, but my main inspirations are like I said were like hip-hop or rock music.
ellesse: Drifting away from music, have you got any background in style?
Shunaji: No, but I used to wear like really strange outfits in high school, that was my outlet. I always liked to be over the top, even when I was offered a selection (of ellesse garments), I thought ‘let’s go with the most, out there’. That’s always been me, even growing up in Italy I always stood out as a black person anyway, so for me, what’s on the outside is not what makes me stand out. I could wear the craziest outfit and some weird thing on my head and it is still the same as being me, and dressing in a plain outfit, because I always stood out. So, for me, standing out through style has always been a very natural thing combined with my personality and my background.
ellesse: What’s it been like to come in and have your own personalised outfits?
Shunaji: It was really nice to work with Gemma and really nice to have your own outfit and your name on it and it’s just been really great working with ellesse. I mean, growing up in Italy, it was a brand I always knew about as quite an iconic, sport brand, so to be here, it is quite surreal. I’m glad that it’s also developing and engaging and working with up-coming artists and supporting us, and that’s something I didn’t know the brand did.