Jozia: The SA folk singer gaining international acclaim

Johannesburg - Who is Jozia? That’s not an easy question to answer.

Her music has that folksy, road-trip feel to it, and yet it’s unlike anything you’ve heard. It’s modern and eerie, weaving its way across genres, breaking all the rules, but also clings to traditional values. The 24-year-old from Daveyton sings about the ancestors, lobola, village life, and she does so in Sepedi, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Tshivenda and English.

She flaunts her particular proficiency in isiZulu in her song Always, in which she urges her unresponsive partner – in the music video for the song she weds a mannequin – to always remember her. On another song she recalls how her elders wanted many cows from the man seeking her hand in marriage.

The old school fuses with modern, experimental musical strains. And the music videos – which Jozia directs herself – are just straight up avant-garde.

Quietly, without many of us even noticing, Jozia has been mapping her own lane in the world of indie music.

Mamokebe is angry

The videos of Jozia’s debut full-length album Mamokebe (2017) take me back to the early days of MTV (back when they played music) and the trippy promos they would air. In one music video she’s a green sea creature, in another she’s a Medusa of the forest.

“In 2015, I started to record my songs and produced my EP At Last Together with Dutch guitarist Jordi Kemperman and British sound engineer Nigel Hilbourne,” Jozia said.

“Last year, I recorded my first full album in Johannesburg, working with Kevin Leicher.

“As long as I remember, I loved singing and dancing. I joined the local church choir when I was a teenager. It was my big dream to become a musician.”

The name of her album – and the root of her out-there aesthetic – stems from visits to her grandmother in Jane Furse in Limpopo.

There she became fascinated by a hill starkly shaped in the form of a triangle. “It was not steep, but everybody from the village was scared to walk up it.

“They believed in an ancient myth that inside the hill was a creature, half human, half fish. A beautiful and dangerous siren. If somebody walked up to look inside, they wouldn’t make it down to tell the story. If there was a storm or heavy rainfall, people would say: ‘Look! Mamokebe is angry!’”

When she wrote the song Mamokebe, Jozia took on the persona of the mythical creature from her childhood.

“Mamokebe is somebody who’s isolated and alienated by normal society because she’s different, an outsider or a freak. That’s how I felt about myself in high school where I was bullied for being different.”

The music comes to her at random. She could be doing the dishes and mentally stumble on a melody, which she then records on her phone until she can hook up with her band. “The music happens to me like a vision or dream. It comes as an overall idea of the song as if it were already recorded. I sing an a cappella melody for the guitar or the bass line and I produce the rhythm of the percussion with my hands.”

Being mainstream holds no allure for Jozia. She’s here for the art. Asked about the local soundscape, she replies: “It would be nice if there was less of this mainstream bubblegum music which is only produced for money. I wish more artists wouldn’t compromise their music and artistic vision.”

The Swiss connection

Jozia is managed by the Swiss Art Foundation which has allowed her to go to places other newcomers still only dream of. Last year, she toured North America for three months and shot two of her music videos. “I’m going to join them again for a tour from Mexico to Colombia. I regularly go to Europe when I’m invited to perform or record. I’ve had my album release show in Zurich at a festival. In the past two years, I’ve been to Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, France, the USA, Mexico, Mauritius and Mozambique,” the dynamic artist said.

“I guess it’ll take a while until South Africa is ready for me.”

Her goal is to push boundaries. “That’s why I admire artists like Radiohead, Björk and the grandmaster of invention and innovation, David Bowie,” Jozia explains.

It’s not a stretch to place her alongside the likes of MIA, Santigold and FKA Twigs. “Listening to their songs and watching the videos I had found, not role models, but allies. It was good to see that there are other artists that do weird stuff and do it successfully.”

She hopes you will walk away from her work with the courage to care less what others think, and to follow your own dreams.

Mamokebe is available on iTunes and Amazon.

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