This article originally appeared on 10and5.com.
It was early on in the day when it first became apparent that we weren’t in control of the interview. In fact, it was sometime between her loudly calling me a blesser in the middle of Mr Price, and the emergence of the first Black Label quart at around 10:30am, that we knew this was going to be a day spent entirely on Moonchild’s terms.
There were four of us – myself, the photographer, Moonchild, and her friend and fashion consultant for the day. We had scheduled a day long photoshoot and walk around Johannesburg’s Maboneng to become better acquainted with the SAMA nominated, alternative pop star who’s flipping the local music scene on its head.
“Be careful you don’t fall hey,” she says to the man with the camera. “My eyes sometimes have that effect. You’re lucky it’s daytime. They’re even brighter when the stars are out.” It’s mid-morning at a popular backpackers and we’re sitting in a shaded area around the back of the establishment. Moonchild’s standing in the hot tub, sipping beer through a straw in-between drags of whoever’s cigarette is closest.
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Moonchild is an artist who needs no introduction. If you haven’t seen her name all over your timeline, you would have heard her songs on the radio or witnessed her inimitable stage presence at one of her many live shows. Her groundbreaking album Rabulapha! was already known across the country before garnering the SAMA nomination for best alternative album. Certainly by local standards, she achieves celebrity status. And it’s not just for her musical achievements either. Having moved to Jo’burg in 2011, Moonchild’s spent nearly five years immersing herself in the city, be it through her live performances, the cultural hub of Maboneng in which she resides, or the thriving nightlife scene she’s come to love. Walking through the area, every second person is a potential conversation. From the woman who runs her own ice cream store to the patrons of the backpackers and the passers-by on the street, Moonchild knows everyone, and everyone loves to see her. Growing up in the Eastern Cape’s Port Elizabeth, Moonchild was a shy child, but one who was always comfortable in the spotlight. Her first ever gig?
“When I was six months old I was already the face of Edgars’ catalogue babies and at four years I was a PEP model,” she begins. “My mother raised me to never do any housework. In fact, she would scold me if I ever tried to cook because I had to enter Miss Beautiful Hands, and I couldn’t scrub the floors, because it’d mess up my chances of winning Miss Beautiful Legs. My mom had all these reasons for the spoilt tendencies I had, but it was all based on stage, performance and camera.”
Her mother, who for a long time ran a jazz tavern in PE, can also be credited for Moonchild’s self-described rebellious streak, and of course, her early love for music. On weekends, Moonchild would stay at her grandmother’s house where the spotlight would fade away in place of chores, and socialisation came by way of a host of cousins and family friends, all deeply involved in the kwaito and informal dance scenes. Here the artist found influence from an entirely new sound, much of which is still evident in her music today – a heady blend of break beats, playful basslines and frenetic synth pop. If you listen with a keen ear, you’ll even find remnants of those early jazz days in her fragmented and scat-like lyrical delivery.
When it comes to the content of Moonchild’s music, it can only be attributed to the way she lives her life. She’s a bold and unapologetic artist who isn’t hesitant to speak her mind while simultaneously trying to open the minds of others.
“The other day someone on TV was asked about me and they said ‘Oh, that horny girl?’,” she mimics in a mock whiny accent. “Like ja, I sing about sex, so what? I also love porn. I used to watch my brother’s hidden porn and cover the TV with a big fairytale book and with all the doors locked. This was in High School. Back then I didn’t like boys. I grew up with brothers and I think I knew too much about them so for me I preferred stalking and punishing boys. For me it was punishment, but I never liked them sexually. There was this one boy I really liked actually,” she pauses to take a drag of her cigarette and a sly grin creeps across her face. “But he never paid attention to me and today he’s a nurse so whatever.”
She’s passionate when she speaks on her aspirations to educate through music too, explaining how high schools will bring in medical professionals to speak on how you won’t contract HIV/Aids through a toilet seat, but how no one ever talks about school kids having unprotected sex in the bathroom stalls. “I’ve had so many brands and radio stations refuse to work with me or play my music, because it’s too explicit by their standards. But fuck, these people are all having sex too, they just don’t want to admit it.” We’ve left Fox Street now to find some place quieter for the rest of the interview. Moonchild’s carrying a jar of decanted beer – “Oh don’t worry,” she says, “They always let me have my drinks takeaway.” We end up at her apartment. It’s a small one-bedroom spot on the second floor. The ceilings are high and the walls are dotted with the odd canvas. More artworks sit unhung, lining the skirting boards and throughout the space there are colourful futons, scattered here and there while a gold painted fridge brightens up the kitchen area. A lone bass guitar announces Moonchild’s musical side, while a battered mannequin speaks to her love for fashion. It’s quiet up here and Moonchild’s grown quieter too. In the background, Beyonce’s Lemonade plays softly.
“I want to teach people,” she states. “I’m a very serious person who’s very full of shit at the same time, so I try and just put a whimsical twist on issues that are very serious. Like ‘Rabubi’. That song was inspired by my pet spider who I loved so much. She bit me one day and it left a scar. I found myself missing her one day and I had completely forgotten about the bite and the poison, despite having the scar. That song is all about abusive relationships.”
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Similarly, Twitter, which uses the premise of a bird buying airtime to talk to his crush instead of just flying over to say hello, speaks to the twisted nature of human relationships through the advent of social media. ‘iSdudla’ addresses the pervasive culture of body dysmorphia and reflects Moonchild’s own struggles with an eating disorder.
“Now where I grew up, it was a case of being fat was worse than committing a murder,” she explains. “But either way you’re screwed because they’ll either say ‘Ah you’ve gained so much weight or they’ll say ‘oh you’re so skinny, do you not eat where you come from?’ I developed bulimia eventually and it made everyone happy, because they saw me eating so much, but I was just staying skinny which is what they want. So ja, I may have gotten my music and my discipline from where I grew up, but I also got an eating disorder.”
It’s getting late now. Moonchild’s got a show to attend and we’ve exceeded our proposed interview time by nearly three hours. As a closing point, we discuss the SAMAs − a nomination she wasn’t at all expecting, and Moonchild’s recent show at SXSW − a gig that was all work and no play. We close on the state of the local music scene, a topic Moonchild’s always willing to vocalise her discontent for. “It’s all just a circle jerking boy’s club lit up with an international spotlight,” she says. “I mean after years of struggling in a male dominated scene it’s rewarding to get nominated for the SAMAs, but you know when you do well at school and your teachers notice, but your parents don’t, and then one day your parents come to your awards ceremony and they give you a pat on the back? That’s what it felt like. I still want to see South African artists value themselves more, especially the women. Otherwise the same thing’s gonna keep happening where we think we’re shit until Hollywood picks our talent up and sells it back to us like it’s theirs.”
As we wrap up, Moonchild gets a call from her manager. A quick back and forth goes down before she hangs up and stubs out her cigarette.
“Yoh, trying to get your music on Xhosa radio stations hey. I’m so tired of people telling me that I can’t talk about sex when they’re probably wanking at their desks. It’s fine though, they’ll Google me when I’m famous and away from here.”
“And where would you like to end up?” I ask. “Japan” she shoots back. “But not before taking my music to every corner of this country. Even those without access to iTunes will be hearing my music. I’m gonna give people my music. They have no option but to hear it. They’re gonna know me.”