Being of mixed heritage has proven a creative blessing for quite a number of our best known music artists. In Sacha Van Beek’s case it was a Dutch one via her father’s parents, and a connection with Trinidad and Tobago on her mother’s side. Exploiting the Netherlands connection has in recent years led to her competing in TV show The Voice of Holland, touring with Poland’s biggest selling hip hop artist and recording at the insistence of her Japanese label. In Christchurch to launch ‘Luminous’, her debut album, Sacha Vee talked with Jennifer Shields.
Our story begins in Dubai airport in 2011, with Christchurch soul singer Sacha Van Beek, aka Sacha Vee, on a layover on her way to the Netherlands. She had released her first EP, and while very happy with it and the performance of her band, she was restless.
“This band was playing with every other soul singer in NZ, and I knew I had more sound. I heard something else that I wanted to give.”
Though born in NZ, Sacha is half-Dutch, and when a friend invited her to the Netherlands, booked some gigs and entered her into The Voice of Holland, she went for it.
But in that delay between flights, Vee got a call asking her to work with Fly My Pretties.
“‘Yes! I wanna do Fly My Pretties!’ Do I get back on the plane and go back or do I carry on and do these shows and do this audition?’ I had to do a real quick pros and cons list, and I decided to go to Holland. It takes so much effort to make that decision to move overseas, and I thought I’d only go for a couple of months – my opportunity to get on the world stage.”
She made the first audition for The Voice of Holland, and then the second and third, and all of a sudden found herself on the reality TV show – followed by live shows, singing with Michael Bublé, meeting Lenny Kravitz and Jessie J.
Once those initially planned-for two or three months finished, it was hard to leave.
‘Hang on, I don’t wanna move back home yet, I’ve got all these industry contacts,’ she recalls thinking.
A record label was keen but evidently wanted to mould her into the Dutch version of Joss Stone.
“I love Joss Stone, but… a Dutch version? That’s kind’a cheesy.”
Turning down the sub-par contract offer she ended up in retail, selling jeans, and broke.
“I was on the other side of the world, still getting asked daily for my autograph and photos, and like ‘Are you ever gonna sing again?’”
After a lull period – not wanting to come back home but not knowing how to move forward – she met Dutch producers Killing Skills (Jaap Wiewel, Chris van Rootselaar and Adam Otrowski), and began working with them on some demo tracks. It was the start of a very successful professional relationship.
Killing Skills also work with Polish hip hop superstar O.S.T.R., which proved a foot in the door.
“They took bits of my voice, put a track together, got him to write over it and then called like, ‘Hey Sach, by the way, you’re on the next album.’”
That lucky link has led to Vee appearing on three of O.S.T.R.’s albums, the latest going double platinum and being the biggest selling hip hop album in Poland to date. She’s been touring with him, too.
“It’s the weirdest thing to be in Poland with O.S.T.R. and his crew, because when I go there people know who I am.”
“We were in this van driving around Poland and I had no idea where we’d end up or what was happening because it was all in Polish.
Every now and again I’d get, ‘You alright Sacha?’ ‘Yup’, and back to Polish. ‘Okay, we arrive 10 minutes, you ready?’, me doing my makeup in the car, no idea how big it’d be. I knew it’d be anywhere from 5000 up, and we’d have no rehearsals. The whole show’s in Polish, so I had to basically wait in the wings until I figured out my track.
“First show we did, we were metres away from the Ukraine border, right in the middle of all the bombs and all that, that was pretty scary actually.”
When O.S.T.R. called her back for another tour, this time he wanted her to sing some of her own songs in the middle of his set. Suddenly Sacha Vee found herself performing to crowds of 15,000 or more.
“I’m singing Rising One, Hey Sugar, Heavy Load – that’s his favourite track, he was gonna put that on his album. And it was just so weird.
They rark up the crowd and the Polish audience doesn’t really understand what I’m singing but they’re so into it!”
Amongst all this though, Vee didn’t really have time to work on her solo stuff. Living in Amsterdam, fresh out of a breakup, still being her own manager and agent, frustrated with her label and being really stubborn so not wanting to move home, she was introduced to Percy la Rock (aka I.N.T.) via a 22 Tracks collaboration. (22 Tracks being a local streaming music forum in the Netherlands.) They clicked immediately, remixing old tracks and working on new ones. She absolutely gushes about I.N.T.
“Real old school hip hop. He’s toured all over the world and had releases on [record labels] Stone’s Throw and Brownswood. Such an incredible guy.”
During a tour stop in Tokyo this year, Vee’s Japanese label Sweet Soul rang, asking to hear some of those new tracks.
“They said, ‘Shit, can we release this? But can this please be a Sacha Vee album?’ and that’s how this whole thing came about. And I was like, ‘Oh, I.N.T., we have this opportunity to release this album in Japan, but it has to be my album. Is that cool?’ and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, of course!’”
‘Luminous’ – produced mostly by I.N.T. and Vee herself, both in the Netherlands (and in various rooms around the world while on tour) with a few guest producers (Wantigga and Moods, both Dutch) – is honest and meaningful, while also upbeat.
“I really wanted to make something that was a bit more upbeat. I’ve been doing a lot of gigs lately where I’ve been incorporating house.
So I wanted people to be able to dance and have more of an electronic vibe to my music.”
It tells a personal story that might not be evident without her commentary of each track’s meaning, but the feeling in it is universal – rising from sadness and frustration to triumph and desire. In terms of the NZ scene, she places herself thanks to a comment from P Money, who apparently told her, ‘You’ve got a wicked opportunity because you’re right on that platform between Ladi6 and Hollie Smith.’
The 13-track album’s opener Caught Up speaks about that low period right before she first met I.N.T., just after having hit the big 3-0.
“I’m in this relationship and I don’t wanna be in it. Was I even meant to be in Holland this long? I was thinking I was gonna be in a different place in my life by now.”
First single, Stone Cold, talks about numbness.
“Don’t wanna go back to him, don’t wanna move forward, like aggh! Stuck in the middle, numb.”
Monday is inspired by Anderson Paak a US artist and producer.Trigger is one of the strongest tracks on the album, a strong reclamation of flirtatious sexuality that sits alongside other strong releases this year like Warpaint’s New Song and October’s Cherry Cola.
Feels Good is about falling in love again – which she notes hasn’t happened yet. Light Of Day acknowledges that even when you’re doing really well, that black cloud of negativity can still persist.
Vee’s own favourite on the album is Music Child, a track she wrote after watching one of the Amy Winehouse movies.
“Just so overwhelmed at the idea of her standing on stage in front of a massive audience – which is where I’d wanna be, having that love from that audience – but her so not wanting to be there. So basically saying, even though us musicians that are trying to get to the top, as much as we wanna be there, remember what it’s like to be there, it’s still fucking hard at the top.”
Music Child also returns to her roots in jazz and soul, after working with hip hop producers for so many years. That’s her plan for her next music.
“Finding that blend again and getting some musicians – jazz school guys – back onto the record. I’m looking forward to writing that neo soul stuff again but also giving that to these Dutch producers and getting them to put some flavour into it.”
Following an exclusive release show in Christchurch, her home town, she plans to let people sit on the music for a few months before touring on it in 2017. Given the season she admits to wanting a NZ Music Award.
“Not a Grammy. Just like, small… that would be incredible.”