Somali-Canadian neo-soul singer and producer Cold Specks has earned a reputation for her stunning voice and goth-tinged R&B style. Sometimes referred to as “doom soul,” her contemplative sound has grown from roots in southern soul and gospel tradition. On her September release, Fool’s Paradise, she explores a more minimalist electronic approach while maintaining her gospel influence. Addressing her identity as a Somali-Canadian woman and what it means to find home, her third album was received with wide acclaim.
We interviewed Cold Specks ahead of her show at The Cedar on November 27 about her new electronic sound, her roots in Mogadishu, and finding beauty in darkness. Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.
The name Cold Specks was taken from James Joyce’s Ulysses. What about that story did you relate to?
I liked the quote ‘Born all in the dark wormy earth, evil, lights shining in the darkness, cold specks of fire. I was also a really big X-Ray Spex fan. It made sense to me.
Your new record, Fool’s Paradise, leans a bit more toward minimalist electronic music than your previous releases. How would you describe the shift in instrumentation and composition between Neuroplasticity and Fool’s Paradise?
I was listening heavily to Massive Attack after doing a few sessions with them. I became especially obsessed with ‘Blue Lines’ again. I demoed the record up that way with the intention of hiring musicians to flesh it out. I decided I really enjoyed the arrangements and the softness of it. Sonically, I felt it brought the themes of love and loss to life in a sweet, subtle way.
Cold Specks, Fool’s Paradise
How has your live performance changed with this electronic approach?
I’ve certainly learned to have more sonic movement and shifts throughout the set. I want to allow for a journey to take place. I’m interested in affecting various senses as well. I burn Somali incense throughout the set as I want people to walk away the memory of the scent of a Cold Specks show. Visually, I like to be submerged in haze, blue lights and general darkness. It’s a cute morbid time.
“Fool’s Paradise” is a song dedicated to the semi-mythical queen Araweelo. What about this queen inspires you?
It’s difficult to find strong, female heroes with familiar faces. I do believe the story of Araweelo has been distorted over time as is natural with oral history. I find her incredibly empowering and I found solace in her story.
The album was particularly inspired by pre-war Mogadishu. What interests you about that city specifically?
There are a number of songs that deal with diaspora. Mogadishu is where my family is from. I have never been but my head is infested with memories of the city that do not belong to me. Growing up, I so desperately wanted to know every detail of my parents lives in the city. Learning more details and pairing that with songs that have survived war trapped forever in vhs recordings found online led to a great deal of dreaming that inspired some of the album’s content. However, there are also a number of broken love songs that were inspired by heartbreak and loss of time.
A lot of Fool’s Paradise is about your identity as a Somali-Canadian woman. In what ways has your relationship with your identity shifted while making this record?
Fool’s Paradise, the title track, is a dystopian reflection from my perspective as a Somali-Canadian. It was my reaction to seeing my country on the news and all the dreadful narratives attached to it by people who know nothing about the country. It was difficult watching Donald Trump in Minnesota spewing his hate while I sat there with my mother, father, and sisters who all left Somalia looking for light. It feels like Somalis are constantly bombarded with darkness, we dance beautifully around it. The songs that deal with diaspora and identity were my attempts to bring some light… beauty from ashes.
What’s inspiring you lately?
I’ve been touring endlessly. Getting out of my little bubble in Toronto and greeting the world again has been delightful. Although, exhausting and thrilling in equal measures. I’ve been writing songs on the road, referring to the collection as ‘hotel ghost whispers’ as I don’t bring my amp into hotel rooms. I’ve been listening heavily to Sade on the road as well, sweetest road music.