In the same way a great image paired with an equally potent caption does for an article, so should an artist’s live performance do for an album. It makes it more endearing and grips the audience with a deep sense of engagement. Both artist and listener have been deprived of this exchange for the most part of the year due to the pandemic, settling for the seemingly arduous virtual concerts.
Zoë Modiga’s sophomore album Inganekwane is a body of work that has left many music lovers craving to experience it live since it was released four months ago. “I miss people buth’wami, there’s nothing like it,” says Zoë. “I consider myself to be an empath, I really enjoy to feel people’s energy and having that fuel me, where I’m not fuelling myself because virtual performances feel like I’m fuelling myself but the audience doesn’t understand how much of an importance they actually have in creating the world,” she says.
With only a handful of us at Constitution Hill against the women’s prison, mostly made up of the crew capturing performances which are being streamed to thousands, Zoë gave a consistent performance that should’ve been experienced live by many warm bodies at the Blooming Sounds in Joburg. My eyes closed, taking in the music, the sound of her voice is as pure live as it is on record.
“With the virtual space we’re in right now, I suppose me trying to be consistent is the understanding that I know it’s an awkward place for everyone to be in, I know we all like to doll up when we go watch our favourite musicians so I think that consistency is not taking that for granted ukuthi people are gonna be in PJs, they probably don’t want to watch a show in PJs, but they’re gonna tune in anyway and that means something to me. I suppose another thing, it is the music [and] it is the passion but also the product and I feel like if you want to exist in spaces where people respect the brand as well, you need to be able to do it professionally, regardless of the circumstances that you find yourself in,” Zoë tells me after her performance.
As Stogie T gets his turn on the Blooming Sounds stage, between the historic walls of Constitution Hill I find a quiet space to talk to Zoë about her work. Inganekwane, a Nguni word for fairy-tale, is a project that’s preceded by adjectives such as ‘moving’ ‘divine’ and ‘healing’. Poignantly released at a time when black youth is enamoured with being woke and is having conversations about what it means to be black in this world- it’s the perfect soundtrack.
“This album is about a lot of conversations that I had been having for three years after Yellow The Novel, my debut album was made and released. There’s a lot of conversations about the state of black people and what’s that like. For the longest time I felt I couldn’t express it in my language, but I began to be affirmed by my audience you know, that’s the power that my audience has and that music lovers have, is that sometimes they can cause you to move into spaces that you would not qualify yourself for. So even with the response of the album, it feels the same way. People are qualifying you. It’s such an affirming thing because for me music is a personal thing, but for me the motive I have is to move people’s souls first and foremost before I formally get recognised formally through awards and those kinds of things,” says Zoë.
Her music moves more than just the soul. Her performance of Intsha had the tiny audience dancing, and probably a lot more streaming viewers’ hips swaying. “It always makes me lose my breath and twerk myself into a disaster,” a panting Zoë says while on stage. “It’s a song dedicated to the youth of 1976 and it’s a song that reminds us that young people are always part of watershed moments, we always make big changes.”
As James Brown’s message on Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud cannot not be misunderstood, so is Zoë’s Abantu. It’s a candid conversation she has with Bantu people- touching on black on black violence, self-image, and poverty but yet the song is mighty reassuring. “This song is dear to my heart because it’s part of all the conversations we’ve been having. It’s a beautiful love letter because it’s a song that puts us in a place of realising that we commit so much violences [sic] amongst ourselves as black bodies and part of that is calling systems into place that have allowed us to think in this way,” she says during her performance.
With her trademark brush-cut, rocking a leather dress and snakeskin print ankle boots Zoë looked elegant. A glimpse of her Instagram page will let you know, that she’s an aesthetically-conscious one, and is comfortable in her style.
It was her vision that inspired the album cover art, helped by an amazing team of creatives in its execution. “I’m blessed to have people who believe in my visions,” she says. The idea for her cover stems from a visit to her paternal grandmother as a 5 year-old KwaMpisi, in rural KwaZulu-Natal. “I’d always have this moment of looking into cows for a long period of time, and she’d [grandmother] always look at me like I was crazy. That’s the power of this record that it’s allowed me to really look back into childhood, look back at what’s made me who I am, right now.”