Moonchild has landed

2014-12-07 07:35

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A blistering new pop artist is about to be unleashed on the music scene. Lloyd Gedye spends some time with the blue-haired,

genre-busting, female-empowering Moonchild

Pity the selfish lover who inspired Moonchild’s Kiss And Pop. Over killer live drumming, Moonchild spits a dressing-down, attacking her lover’s lack of skills in the bedroom in a way that will have Xhosa-speakers cringing or laughing out loud.

“Ngeloxesha ndi gqibele ndiphuzwa / Ndi qhwanyaze / Heh usufunuk ngena” (One minute we are kissing / I blink / There you are, ready to enter), she mocks.

She chides him for his hygiene, his stinky breath and his inability to satisfy her, all the while sounding like an alien from outer space, soundtracked by squelching synths and a wall of chugging guitar.

It’s a sublime pop moment that rams home its point.

When you ask Moonchild, she’ll tell you the song is about “speaking up in the bedroom”.

“As a woman, it’s not all about nut-busting,” she says, a cheeky smile creeping across her face. “I am all about woman empowerment, be it in the office, the bedroom or in the home.”

The blue-haired pop star, who goes by the name of Moonchild, is part of a new wave of young purveyors of South African electronic music. They can’t easily be boxed into a particular genre.

Among her genreless peers, she can count Spoek, Okmalumkoolkat, DJ Spoko, Muzi, Mashayabhuqe KaMamba, Motel Mari, Neo Hlasko and Dookoom.

They are not straight kwaito, they are not straight House and they are not straight hip-hop.

Yet all would probably admit to drawing some influence from most of these electronic genres.

The fact that most of them have invented their own terms to describe their music speaks to the fact that they are way out in front of the local industry they operate in.

Okmalumkoolkat calls his music “primusstof”, Mashayabhuqe KaMamba calls his “digital maskandi” and DJ Spoko calls his “Bacardi House”.

No matter what they choose to call it, one thing’s for sure – they are all producing killer tunes to shake your ass to. They’re inventing new forms of South African dance music, drawing on various influences and ending up sounding unlike anything else we have heard before.

While Moonchild is definitely holding her own in this predominantly male South African electronic music landscape, she is not satisfied.

She is tired of being the only woman, she says when #Trending sat down to chat with her and her producer, beat maker and one-man live band Tshepang Ramoba, who is also the BLK JKS and Motel Mari drummer.

“There was an article a few weeks back in The Guardian and it mentioned Okmalumkoolkat and Spoek, they always mention them. They are the people within this sound that are making things happen for themselves,” she says.

“But this time they wrote about me too, which is cool, but we need more girls doing this. I don’t see any girls I can compete with, it’s always one girl lumped together with all the guys.

“Women get treated like objects in South Africa. It’s hard to get taken seriously in the music industry,” says Moonchild.

Listening to the banging track, Dance like a Girl, from her forthcoming as-yet-untitled album, which is due for release next month through Just Music, one gets the sense Moonchild wants to light a fire under the patriarchal South African music industry’s ass.

So is Moonchild a band or a persona?

“Moonchild is a persona,” she shoots back.

“We’re not a band,” says Ramoba. “I am the producer.”

But throughout the course of #Trending’s interview, it becomes clear their relationship is more complex than just that of singer and producer.

Moonchild and Ramoba have a relationship resembling that of a big brother and a little sister.

Take how they met, for example.

“We met at Kitchener’s,” begins Moonchild. “I was partying on my own, it was my first month in Johannesburg.”

Born in Port Elizabeth, she arrived in 2011 via Durban, where she spent six years studying fashion.

“He was very forward, he just came up to me and starting talking to me,” she continues.

At this point, Ramoba steps in, interrupting and admonishing her.

“No, no, that’s not what happened,” he says.

Moonchild breaks into a highly infectious cackle of a laugh.

“BLK JKS were playing in Durban, she came to the show and I saw her there,” begins Ramoba. “The next week I was DJing at Kitchener’s and I saw her near the end of the party near the door and there was this guy, this dodgy, old-looking guy, hitting on her.

“I wanted to try and save her from him, so I said: ‘We are having a party at my house, do you want to come?’ and she came with.”

Moonchild smiles as Ramoba recounts his version.

In her version, she didn’t need to be saved by anyone.

The way Ramoba tells it, he had plans for a new project for a while and central to his vision was a female singer.

Months down the line – with Ramoba and Moonchild socially acquainted by then – he asked her off the cuff if she could sing.

“She said ‘yes’ and a few days later arrived at my house with a CD of her previous recordings,” says Ramoba.

Moonchild’s brother is a hip-hop producer who had a home studio in Port Elizabeth when she was growing up.

She began recording in 2007 with a producer called Catalyst when she was in Durban.

“I was moving in hip-hop circles and I later began to move in jazz circles too,” says Moonchild.

“In 2008, I had two labels that wanted to sign me. The one wanted to turn me into an Afro-pop star so I said ‘no’.

“The other had no idea what to do with me, they just didn’t get it,” she adds.

Not prepared to compromise on her music, Moonchild rebuffed the label approaches and kept plugging away, eventually moving to Joburg to chase her dream.

“I was listening to her songs and there were two that I liked, Rabubi and Red Eye,” says Ramoba.

“When I heard Red Eye, I immediately had an idea for a beat because I didn’t like the production on the original recording.”

But the first song Moonchild and Ramoba completed together was Rabubi, a track deliciously inspired by the theme tune of the Sesotho version of Spider-Man on kids’ TV.

“I kept saying to Moonchild, this song Rabubi needs to be on radio, it was made for radio,” says Ramoba.

Rabubi would become the first single released by record label Just Music. It subsequently took South African radio by storm early this year with repeated plays on 5fm, YFM and Kaya FM.

“I bought a radio just so I could hear my song being played on radio,” laughs Moonchild.

“With my rapping style, my songs are always about very real issues,” says Moonchild. “I try and make the chorus cool, the thing that pulls you in, but the verse is where the meaning is.”

The very real issues include police violence, bedroom politics, the state of South Africa’s justice system and eating disorders.

But the lyrics flit between a cartoonish fantasy and a gritty reality in a way that is rather refreshing.

“I skirt the boundaries between fantasy and reality in my songs,” explains Moonchild. “You need to get people singing along and listening many times before they start to understand what the song is about.

“Go Starring is about the justice system and having to feel afraid of the police in South Africa,” she says.

The point is made by turning a South African national intelligence officer into an alcoholic James Bond type who is too drunk to respond while citizens are being robbed blind.

All of this is set to a glitchy beat and swirling synths courtesy of Ramoba.

“I sing about eating disorders,” says Moonchild. “Back home, all the girls I grew up with suffered from these things.

“But we only found later when we were older that we were all suffering from it and not talking about it,” she adds.Then there are the outwardly surreal songs like Rabubi.

“Rabubi is about a spider that bit me and how I felt attached to the spider,” says Moonchild in a matter-of-fact way, as if this reaction to a spider bite is a run-of-the-mill response.

Ramoba says he felt a lot of pressure to get songs ready for the album.

“It’s Moonchild’s first album, it’s important,” he adds. There were some songs that were done and I went back into the studio for another two weeks to make sure they were perfect.

“This is my first album as a producer and I don’t want to look back and say: ‘Oh I could have done that better,’” he adds.

Listening to seven of the completed tracks from the album, it’s clear Ramoba has done an exceptional job and should not be concerned.

Just the beat-work on the standout track, Red Eye, makes it clear he has a long and successful production career ahead of him.

So with a great debut album about to be unleashed and an increased international focus on South African electronic music, Moonchild appears well-placed to stake her claim for music glory.

“South African electronic music is getting way more attention overseas than it ever has before,” says Ramoba.

But Moonchild points out that many of the artists getting international attention are still getting limited attention in South Africa.

“It’s as if they need an overseas stamp of approval to get recognition back home,” she says.

As someone who has seen first-hand how foreign journalists jet into South Africa and allow one or two players on the scene to become the gatekeeper about whom they feature in their articles, what Moonchild is saying strikes a chord.

When one looks at the influence of international taste makers like the website, okayafrica, it is clear that some South African artists could fart and the site would proclaim it as God’s gift to the music world.

To a foreigner, this country’s rich, vibrant, electronic landscape is confusing. It drips in references they don’t understand and the well-placed musical tour guide becomes a key element in helping them navigate this landscape.

Ramoba says the problem with this is that artists often end up pandering to an international audience, which sometimes feels like they are dumbing down their music.

“I think that is part of the problem BLK JKS had with Secretly Canadian [their American record label].

“They wanted us to dumb things down for an international audience,” he says.

What is clear is that Moonchild has no intention of playing that game – more power to this artist.

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