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Toni Sancho’s manifesto of hope

As she releases her debut EP, the London-via-Trinidad singer discusses the power of music in helping her move past depression and uplift others.

By Will Richards

Toni Sancho (Picture: Marco Grey)

Toni Sancho only began to realise what music meant to her when it was taken away. The singer was born in London before moving to her mother’s native Trinidad aged 10.  

During Sancho’s time in the Caribbean, her mother gifted her a range of musical instruments, but it was the ukulele that stuck. When the pair flew back to London when Sancho was 21, her instrument was seized at the airport and left behind. “I didn’t realise how upset I’d be,” she says now. “I needed it.” Soon after they returned to the capital, Sancho’s mother bought her a replacement ukulele, and the rest is history. 

During the few years prior to their move, Sancho had been writing songs as a way to make sense of — and to try to move past — a debilitating depression. “What I’m realising now with getting older is that it’s very spiritually healing to be able to process that and have the mirror reflecting these extreme feelings of misery and shame,” she says. 

These experiences are laid out on debut EP Heaven Knows!, due out on 31 May via her own Blue Daisy Records. It’s an impressively naked and honest collection of musings on this darkness, transmitted via Sancho’s honeyed vocals and juxtaposed with buoyant and uplifting music. Each track, as well as the EP’s title, ends with an exclamation mark, as if she’s physically willing herself through the hard times. Her Zoom handle — Toni! — does the same. 

In releasing the debut EP, Sancho says she is “releasing this darkness” and moving into another phase of her life. “In not being able to release these songs, I have felt tied to the hip to my old self,” says Sancho, and by sharing them with the wider world she can shed that skin. “They were mantras to me, and would lift me out of whatever I was going through,” she says of the songs, which explains their singular and personal feel. “There’s this rock bottom you hit, where you’re like, ‘Fuck it,’” she recalls. “Either I fuck off and just die, or I keep going. [These songs] represented what I was going to do when I kept going. It’s not caring about what anyone else is going to say. Just: ‘What does Toni want to say right now?’” 

What Toni wanted to say, it turns out, was to turn personal despair into a manifesto for the whole world. The EP’s lead single and best track, ‘Free Falling!’, tries to find what’s important in life by zooming out and considering our place in the entire universe. “For me, the way out of my darkness was through this purpose of music.” 

Away from its lyrics, Sancho’s music is imbued with the rhythms and cultures of Trinidad as well as London. “We are so much more than just Soca,” she says. “There is an innate rhythm and feeling to us that can be communicated in music. I love the idea of opening up what Trinidadian music is.” 

To do this, Sancho has launched the label and collective Blue Daisy, which taps into her past as well as the Caribbean artistic community in London — she has referred to it as “a Trinbagonian Creative Movement”. Its logo — flowers drooping in the rain — is about how “the worst and darkest parts of my life were in fact the parts that produced the most fruit, the most healing, the most purpose.” 

Through the label and collective, Sancho wants to teach artists how to use social media in a way that enhances their art and the experience of the listener, rather than diminishes it. It’s the next step for an artist who has turned personal turmoil into a life-changing manifesto, emerging in the process as a special new voice.