Interview with Zoe Modiga


Finding comfort in the humility, grace and passion of making music

by Afrika Bogatsu

zoe modiga

Can you tell me a bit about your journey in music, where did the love and passion come from?

I believe the answer to this question will change every time it is asked. I am quite sure music chose me. Music is one of the most humbling gifts to have and I am lucky that I was drawn to it by the mere fact of belonging to it. I love music, and how the idea of my love and passion for it continues to evolve. I am quite certain that every little detail of my life influences my love and passion. Whether I am aware of it or not.

It’s common knowledge that you’re musically versed, but outside of the great music halls of NSA and UCT, where else can you accredit your musicality? Who’s inspired your journey as a musician?

A lot of people have inspired me in this musical journey. God has really attracted people into my space that I can draw from, learn from and grow from. These really are ordinary people like you and I that are trying to make the most of the roles they play in this life. I have a deep love for musicians that stand for something like Nina Simone, she is my musical queen. From my school teachers to contemporaries in the industry, to the audience that follows my journey and my loving , supportive family.

What are the greatest/most trying challenge(s) you’ve faced along the road? And your biggest highlight?

I think challenges are a common certainty. As an independent self-employed musician, everyday really does have it’s own challenges. It is usually the battle of having amazing ideas and trying to find resources to match up to these ideas. The challenge of making a lot with a little is a common one, but I am sure I am learning a great skill with that. My biggest highlight so far was being chosen by colleague and music maestro Kyle Shepherd, music director of “NOEM MY SKOLLIE”, to sing ‘Amazing Grace’ to a now Oscar Nominated local film.

You’re originally from Pietermaritzburg, but you’ve also stayed a while in Cape Town and if I’m not mistaken, you’re based in Joburg now. How does the concept of home (and family) influence your music, especially when you spend quite a lot of time touring abroad?

Interesting question. I think firstly that home is such a fluid concept to me. Even as a child growing up, our family moved around a lot. This changes the understanding of home. I find home in people and not places and I find that this influenced me musically. I want people to find home in my music. I want my music to be a get-away, a place of healing, reflecting, good times, everything that a wholesome home feels like.

What would you say is the most distinct differences (if there are any) between the Johannesburg and Cape Town, musically that is.

Cape town and Johannesburg are quite different musically. Cape Town is the mother city, a space of true talent.  A place of heart despite the the fact that people have yet to celebrate their differences. A place with some of the most amazing, world class musicians. A space of honing your gift and meeting people you want to explore music with. Johannesburg is a space of growing those talents and using influence to get your sound, your message heard. A space of taking risks and being around people that are trying to succeed. People that look like you, that want what you want, that never settle and always challenge themselves, despite the sleepless nights and all. Sometimes the hype factor blinds focus but it’s a rush of blood to the head.

What’s the message behind the new single “LOVE (YAWEH)”?

Love(Yahweh) is a very important song to me, even as a single. An introduction to who I am and how I would like to relate with my audience. A song about not being able to exist outside of the Higher Power and creator of all things, who in His image is known as Love. All of this awareness while breaking down to the groove is my kind of fun. My belief is that people are God embodied in the flesh, they are made of love.

How would you describe your music? Would you call it jazz, neo-soul, or would you prefer not to limit it to one specific genre?

My music is heavily influenced by the plethora of things I listen to. I was schooled in classical and jazz, born into African music and enjoy pretty much everything. The reason why I don’t particularly enjoy putting a genre to my sound is because I am really an experimental person that doesn’t like to be seen as a purist of any sound. Certainly, there are soul, jazz, alternative and African influences in my sound. But I am curious, so don’t hold me to it.

If (heaven forbid), you weren’t making music (in some alternate universe) what would you be doing?

I would probably not be me. But being a writer or a photographer seems right in my head. Or a veterinarian or a psychologist. Heaven knows, I think music just made sense.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common/shared struggle with separating our favourite artists (and their problematic behaviour) from their artistry. I often wonder if we’re being unreasonable by refusing to separate the artist from their craft. Personally, I’m finding it so challenging to still respect/listen to artists when I find out they’re trashy human beings. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think audiences hold artists/musicians at too high a standard forgetting they are human or do you think this is normal/expected?

I love this question. Musicians have the honour of platforms. Platforms attract opportunity and attention, attention means influence and scrutiny. I think knowing that it comes with the territory is a good start. Musicians have gifts that will always look attractive and portray them in the most amazing light. Gifts that bring people to who they are, gifts that relate with them. However musicians are only human, and as much as they have a public role to be accountable to, they are still human and really should be related with in this manner.  It would be unreasonable for a musician to sell music only to particular people because they think that some are “trashy human beings”. The fact is, we can all be trashy and really should focus on the magic that music is to us. It is a connector and a constant in a world of fallible, temperamental human beings.

On the whole point of artist vs human being, is there a difference between Zoe- the musician/artist and Zoe- the daughter/sister, friend? Is there something that separates the two, if yes, what is it?

Zoe is firstly a human being. I try my utmost best to play the roles I am expected to play in my life. I am many things to different people and I just so happen to have a gift. I would not separate myself from my gift but I would say that I separate my personal life from the entertaining life only because I respect what all these roles are, and feel that they all influence each other, but they are experienced effectively as separate from people’s watch.

What’s the one thing you want people to know and remember about Zoe Modiga?

I am a sensitive kid that truly means well. I mean well. I would like to be impactful and breathe life into people. I want to evoke emotion and I certainly do not want to be forgotten.

Do you think it’s difficult to carve a space and identity of your own without being compared to other more established musicians in an industry like ours.

This is a funny question because I always say that flattery and comparison do not belong in one sentence. I truly understand the sentiment, but I feel as though people should try and see young artists for who they are growing to be. We are influenced and we have learnt from those before us, we respect the roles they have played that directly influence where we are. We are also gifted people that are still paying our dues and trying to leave legacies behind and add to the legacies of people we are often compared to. It is a little odd living in someone’s shadow, and I think comparison can be a lazy way out of learning any one. Come into my world, and don’t focus so much on me being a reincarnation of someone else. I am simply not good at being anyone else.

You’ve collaborated with a number of amazing musicians, many of which aren’t all that well known. What is that you look for in a collaboration? What connects you to other musicians? Is it a similar musical process or a mutual respect?

I think collaboration really is just a realization that you connect with someone else. I love collaborations and the more unexpected they are, the better. I collaborate from feeling not people’s resumes and I really enjoy musicians that are open and allow for possibility musically. Creating a space where we allow music to do it’s thing is just transcendent to say the least.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt from a fellow musician? Care to share who you learnt this from?

Bra Louis Moholo taught me that, you just can’t be a smart ass about music. You don’t lead it, it leads you. I still need to learn this sometimes.

Your project is called “Yellow: The Novel”, care to share with us the concept or at least the reason/meaning behind the chosen colour and accompanying visuals?  

“Yellow: The Novel” is a passion project recorded in 2015. The central theme is self –realization and it explores a few topics around that. It is a body of work that, very much like a novel, you have to read from cover to cover. It isn’t trying to play to popular trend but needs you to read it. It is called ‘yellow’ because to me yellow is my favourite colour and really a state of mind. Joy despite all things, bold, cautious, exciting.

What are you most excited about this new stage in your music career?

I am excited about owning my ideas and not needing to answer to anyone. I love that I can explore and experiment as I go along. I can learn from established artists and make healthy mistakes while learning the ropes. I love that this early part of my career is building me to appreciate small beginnings and embrace success whenever it shows up, even in the little things. I love that I can encourage people who are at the stage I am at musically to just completely give it their best shot, because really, we have nothing to lose.

Where/when can people see you perform live and what can they expect from a live performance by Zoe Modiga?

A Zoe Modiga show just asks for open people. We are there to create a very beautiful moment that will have no carbon copy. I am there to move and entertain you. I have shows to be announced lined-up for “Yellow: The Novel”, stay tuned on my social media for more details coming soon.


About Author