Sequoyah Murray is a 20-year-old singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist. Born in the Emory Crawford Long Hospital, renamed to Emory University Hospital Midtown, raised in the West End, and attending Georgia State University-Clarkston, where he’s studying Music, Sequoyah’s history rests in Atlanta. With a spirit that can best be described as vibrantly calm, Sequoyah sat down with our intern, Grace Gardner, to discuss his artistry, musical inspirations, family, and activism.
Grace Gardner: How long have you been singing?
Sequoyah Murray: I’ve been singing professionally, like as a career, since 2013 or 2014. I started making my own music in 10th grade, which was in 2013, but I learned to sing as a kid with my mom, who was also a singer and songwriter.
GG: How old were you when you learned to sing with her?
SM: She would take me to shows and gig with her and rehearsals for her band and I would just sit and be falling asleep and her voice would just drift into me. The way that I sing now, I try to channel her at times. She says she doesn’t see it. She says our voices are a lot different, but in certain moments I’ll literally do the exact same thing she did in a rehearsal and she’ll be like, “Oh you got that from me.”
GG: How would you describe your style of music?
SM: Uplifting, Afro-Pop inspired, Brazilian inspired music, with vocals like Morrissey and Tracy Chapman and George Michael mixed together.
GG: In what ways do you try to uplift your listeners?
SM: A lot of the music I’m inspired by, like Afro-Pop music, has these beautiful chords and tones that are so warm. It just makes you happy. It makes you celebrate. Sometimes I can be sensitive to the world and just emotional. Whenever I write stuff it doesn’t come out as sad. It comes out as happy music.
GG: What else do you hope to convey to your listeners?
SM: I hope to convey the idea that I need to express in the moment of writing the song. Whether that be heartbreak, happiness, hunger, elation. It can be a lot of different things, but I just want to get that idea across.
GG: Who has inspired you most musically?
SM: I can’t choose one person. There’s this CD that’s like my childhood CD, the CD we played in the car all the time, called Beleza Tropical. It’s a compilation by David Byrne, who’s a singer from Talking Heads, of all these Brazilian songs by a lot of great Brazilian artists. That music is the sound of my childhood so when I try to do things today on my album, I channel those things. Those are my inspirations. I listen to other artists too, like Bjork. I really like Little Dragon.
GG: Do you play any instruments?
SM: Yes. My voice. I jump on different stuff in the studio, but my voice is my main instrument. I play the marching drum with my dad in the second line band. It’s called ABC Brass Band. Second line music is from New Orleans. It’s music of celebration and sadness. [It’s played at] funerals, graduations, birthday parties, and marriages.
GG: In what ways is social change or social justice integrated into your music and performances?
SM: Most recently in the Tent City show, but before that never really have I ever talked about any social justice issues. I really just have written from a place inside of myself.
GG: What did standing up for something with your music feel like for you?
SM: It feels different than when you face the stage and you’re just trying to talk about something that’s so internal. It felt like being a part of a community or being a part of everyone doing one thing together. You appreciate [community] even more once you go and once you’re there. I had a completely different perspective on what Tent City was than what I was seeing on Facebook.
GG: What is activism to you and would you describe yourself as an activist?
SM: I think I’m an activist. I think everybody has to be an activist, more or less. But I think that activism is living and standing up for or pushing towards your own personal truth inside and aligning the elements in your life with your personal truth and what you feel is right and comfortable for you. That’s activism.