We interview Moonchild Sanelly to chat about the journey which led her to music, what success looks like, singing in isiXhosa to a largely spanish audience in Barcelona and doing more than just existing.
Listening to your debut full-length album, Rabulapha!, one can pick up a number of musical influences. The album has a bit of jazz, hip-hop, and kwaito. How would you describe your sound?
I call my sound future ghetto funk: a combination of my influences mainly being hip hop, jazz and kwaito strung together by an electronic thread.
Using not more than six words, tell us a story about your creative journey up to this point.
Runaway, dreamchaser, travelled, collaborated, forceful and hardworker.
You have shared a stage with some of the country’s veteran artists such as Busi Mhlongo and Madala Kunene. As a young artist, to what extent is your work inspired by such icons?
When I think of mama Busi, I immediately think original. I’m inspired more by personalities and that plays a huge role in the music I make. I try take what I feel will work for my brand and its growth. My music is fun, I am never controlled by a sound or specific genre, I go with my flow and artists like abomama Busi, which helps keep the originality alive. I remember the first thing she ever said to me as a misunderstood artist who looked and sounded different,she said, “we nganeyami umuhle,hlala unjena” – that meant so much coming from that icon to this young hustling girl.
With a SAMA nomination under your belt, you are clearly doing something right and the world is noticing. What level of success are you hoping to achieve as an artist, and please share with us your plan of action?
I want international and local success. My team and I are physically working on this mission as we are going to be doing township tours during the festive season. The whole idea is that I will not be content with just being celebrated internationally without my country knowing what and who I am and my music, so we’re going into the township to perform for the locals nationally. We are very hands on.
Your music refers to a wide range of burning social issues like unprotected sex, abusive relationships, inefficient justice system and eating disorders. I assume that you somehow hold a personal relation to some of these issues. How do such issues affect your outlook to life as a young woman and can music be of any use in eradicating them?
I believe by opening up through music, it opens up conversations and gives assurance that you are not alone. It means that we need to be aware of more than just physical disorders and think about the many mental ones. I feel because I have been through most of these issues, it’s easier to raise the topic and hopefully it becomes a conversation or at least an opportunity to warm someone and let them know that they are not alone and issues we all go through aren’t just swept under the rug.
What is the general reaction to your music in the foreign countries that you perform at?
The international response is so big, it’s so great, it’s so eye opening . I sing both in xhosa and english and even when they don’t understand the lyrics, they still jam harder than the ones who do. It shows me that music is a language of its own . I always felt I was celebrated and welcomed by international audience before my country. Barcelona has been my best yet, oh yes and New York was lit.
You once posted on Facebook, “Today’s youth should do more than just exist; we should make a change,” or something along those lines. Tell us about the different ways in which you are making a change.
Through opening cans of worms most fear. To be fearless in my music and use my platform through relevance and not just worry about fame and red carpets. I write honestly, I want to get to a point where every woman finds what their personal sexy is and is unapologetic – I want women to be vocal. I want to help reinstall that confidence of being a woman through my music and fashion.
Not only are you a singer, but you are a multi-talented artist with skills in dance, poetry and fashion. Please tell us more about your involvement in each of these fields.
So in Durban, I started performing in the poetry space. Just like my music, it was different, unconventional and distinct. This translates in my fashion sense as well, I studied fashion designing in Durban . Growing up I did ballroom and Latin American dance and I’d compete. I then moved from that to modern dancing to teaching the kids in my hood to my mom organising gigs. I still dance, but not on a competitive level because all the art sides to me play a huge role in the Moonchild Sanelly brand.
What’s next for Moonchild Sanelly?
Next for me is the #PUSP (pop up street performances) in a township near you. I’m releasing an album early next year with such sick collaborations. I’m independent now, so I own my music and we push push and are investing so much in independent mobility. My ‘Guestlist’ video is coming out as well, which is my latest single with Sketchy bongo feat Aewon Wolf – such a banger. Lookout for it on Moonbeams.