Interview by Recording Studios / June 2017
There’s a young lady who has been caught doing the rounds on the big world wide web, and is gathering fans and admirers along the way because of her cutting edge style, her attitude and her alternative indie energy. Her name is Jozia, and she has just released her full-length debut album Mamokebe. The single Twenty is getting a lot of attention, but her videos are the real sirens. Just check out her You Tube page, and you can see with Views over 90 000, she is definitely doing something right. We caught up with her and asked her some very poignant questions. Well, we especially enjoyed how she answered the ‘Survive The Kruger Park’ question…
HI JOZIA, GOOD TO CHAT TO YOU…WE ARE VERY IMPRESSED WITH YOUR MUSIC. CAN YOU TELL US WHERE IT ALL BEGAN AND HOW LONG YOU HAVE BEEN BUILDING THE JOZIA BRAND?
As long as I remember I loved singing and dancing. I grew up in Daveyton, a township near Johannesburg, where I joined the local church choir when I was a teenager. From then on, it was my big dream to become a musician.
After Highschool I moved for two years to Cape Town and worked day and night to fund my music studies. But when I finally was able to start them in 2015 at COPA in Johannesburg, it was a disappointment. At this point, I had already recorded dozens of songs on my mobile phone and knew how I wanted to compose and perform songs – which was quite different from the mainstream music with which we were fed at school. So, instead of being encouraged and inspired, I felt narrowed and slowed down: The school did not allow me to further develop my own musical style. That’s why I quit after only one year and decided to put all my eggs in one basket and do it on my own. It paid off: In the same year I got a scholarship by a Swiss Arts Foundation that invited me to record my first EP ‘AT LAST’ in Zurich. There I recorded 4 songs together with Dutch guitarist Jordi Kemperman and British Sound Engineer Nigel Hilbourne in a professional recording studio.
YOUR MUSIC VIDEOS ARE INCREDIBLY EDGY AND MOVING. MAMOKEBE WAS SHOT IN THE BORDERS BETWEEN THE US AND MEXICO… HOW LONG DID THIS TAKE YOU? DID YOU JUST DRIVE AROUND IN A CAR AND CAMP OVER? GIVE US MORE INSIGHT INTO HOW THE WHOLE THING CAME TOGETHER.
Inspired by documentaries about the North American National parks, I spent two months in the USA, travelling from the East Coast to the West Coast and down to Baja California in Mexico to shoot the videos ‘Mamokebe’ and ‘Julio’. I had a clear vision of the stories and of their sceneries, and I managed to convince my Swiss Sponsors to enable this quite ambitious project. Luckily the budget then was enough that camping was not even necessary 🙂
WHAT IS MAMOKEBE? BREAK THIS DOWN FOR US?
My grand parents lived in Jane Furse in Limpopo. When I visited them as a child, I was fascinated by a hill that was formed like a triangle. It was not that steep, but everybody from the village was scared to walk up to the top. They believed in the ancient myth that inside the hill there was a creature who looked half human, half fish – beautiful, but dangerous. If somebody would walk up there to look inside, they would not make it down again to tell the story. If there was a storm or heavy rainfall, people would say: ‘Look, Mamokebe is angry!’ They believed that she sent the bad weather because somebody tried to walk up to her. My grandmother would tell me the story everytime when I went to visit them.
When I wrote the song ‘Mamokebe’, I was not interested to retell this story the way it is normally told. What interested me was to take on the perspective of this creature who is constantly misunderstood and being blamed for everything bad that happens. Mamokebe is somebody who is isolated and alienated by the normal society because she is different. An outsider. A freak. That’s how I felt myself during high school where I was bullied for being different.
So I used this creature as a tragic image, as a metaphor for this feeling of not belonging. That’s why I favour the English translation ‘Siren’. In Greek Mythology, Sirens were strange creatures, partly human, partly bird and partly fish. They lived on isolated rocks in the sea and were infamous for their very seductive voices. Every nearby sailor who heard them singing went nuts and eventually drowned.
YOU’RE INSPIRED BY SOME AMAZING INDIE ROCK ICONS LIKE BOWIE AND RADIOHEAD – THIS IS QUITE UNIQUE FOR A SOUTH AFRICAN SINGER. IS THIS WHAT YOU GREW UP LISTENING TO? DO YOU LIKE THE OLD OR THE NEW RADIOHEAD BETTER?
I was already doing my own music when I discovered them. The songs that I make are different from the music that I grew up listening to, which was mainstream music. Many of my listeners – especially the Europeans – found my music style quite different and compared me to other indie artists who are doing their ‘own thing‘, too– artists like M.I.A., Santigold, FKA Twigs. Listening to their songs, watching their videos and following their career, I felt that I’ve found – not role models – but sort of allies. It was good to see that there are other artists out there that do strange stuff and despite this – or perhaps because of that – do it successfully. I don’t mean this in a commercial way, but in terms of following through their own artistic vision.
What fascinates and inspires me the most is when artists try and try again to push the boundaries. That’s why it was only a matter of time until I would stumble across Radiohead. And, of course, Björk. And eventually the grandmaster of invention and innovation, David Bowie.
I think, this also answers the question which stage of Radiohead I like best – I like their constant changing and how they keep on challenging themselves.
TELL US ABOUT THE MAMOKEBE ALBUM
The nine songs are all quite different – I like to experiment with styles, sounds and genres, ranging from acoustic folk, soul, pop and up to indie rock. I don’t write music according to the books, but follow my own artistic vision. I sing in different languages, in Sepedi, Zulu, Xsosa, Xevenda and English. I sing about the things that trouble and touch me in live – in the good and in the bad.
YOU RECORDED AT DARK STAR STUDIOS WITH KEVIN LEICHER – HOW LONG DID THIS TAKE AND WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE?
When I write a song, the music happens to me like a vision or a dream. From the beginning, it comes with an overall idea of the song as if it were already recorded – the melody is there as well as the mood, the structure, the rhythm, the lyrics of the chorus, and even the instrumentation. The first thing I do is to record this sketch of the song on my mobile phone.
Later, I use my singing skills also as an “instrument“ or tool to direct the other musicians how I want them to play: I sing acapella the melody for the guitar or the bass line and I produce the rhythm of the percussion with my hands, etc. But before I met Kevin, I had a hard time to make other musicians understand what they have to do to transform my musical ideas into the complete song. With Kevin, this went quite straightforward. We worked together – on and off – over a period of four months.
YOUR SINGLE TWENTY HAS GONE TO RADIO IN SA – HOW IS IT DOING?
I’ve only released the song a week ago, and I’m happy to find it being played on different radio stations, like Alex.FM, Kovisie FM, Zone Radio, Bay FM and others.
YOU ARE BASED IN JOBURG AND SWITZERLAND – IS THIS A SNEAKY WAY OF FOLLOWING THE GOOD WEATHER OR IS THERE ANOTHER REASON?
Yes, you’ve got me there! When it’s winter in Joburg, I escape to Zurich where at the same time it’s summer – and vice versa.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE SONGS ON THE ALBUM AND WHY?
I don’t have a favourite song. They are all my beloved babies 🙂
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT ART AND MUSIC ARE THE SAME THING? IF SO WHY?
I am interested in all forms of performative arts. I like movement and development. Music is basically movement of sounds, poetry is movement of words, dance is movement of bodies, film is movement of images. That’s why writing songs. performing, dancing and directing videos go hand in hand to me. And that’s why I like songs that develop in a way that you don’t expect it from how they start.
LAST QUESTION, IF YOU WERE TO BE STRANDED OVER NIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE KRUGER PARK – WHAT THREE THINGS WOULD YOU TAKE WITH YOU TO SURVIVE THE NIGHT?
A bottle of Tequila, a pack of cigarettes and a lion costume.