TO THE MOON & BEYOND
Cross-genre artist, Moonchild Sanelly has never been afraid to speak her mind, through her lyricism and performances, bringing sexual positivity and socially charged conversations to the dance floor
Moonchild Sanelly speaks her mind
With her trademark bluemoon mop hair and unapologetic stance, Seneziwe Sanelly, otherwise known as Moonchild Sanelly, is one to watch. For years the eccentric creative was the darling of the alternative music scene, making waves internationally with her debut album, Rabulapha!, which gained her a sizeable following in the UK and USA. Delighted that her home country’s finally claiming her as one of its own, she aims to inspire women and children to express themselves and live out loud by creating music with a unique voice and perspective. ‘I’d like to see more women and children being themselves; I want to see more children not tolerating any nonsense or repeating unnecessary cycles. I want women to own their power and be
able to say “no” to any situations where they have to compromise themselves,’ she says. The singer sealed 2017 with South Africa’s smash summer hit, Midnight Starring, produced by local DJ Maphorisa and DJ Tira and featuring Distruction Boiz and Busiswa. Since then, her career’s soared to new heights, seeing her share studio time with British virtual band Gorillaz and perform as the opening act for Die Antwoord on their European tour this year.
Where did you grow up and what ignited your love for music?
I grew up in Port Elizabeth, raised by my aunt and my mother. I was always surrounded by music and each family member exposed me to different genres. My mom was a jazz singer and jazz club-owner. I also remember watching TV shows like Gospel Gold at my grandmother’s house and her leading vocals at church. My brother influenced my love for music too: he’s producer and had many musicians coming in and out of our home, where they’d record our own hip-hip songs.
What challenges have you faced in the music industry?
Even though I left home at 19 to study in Durban, I was determined to establish a career in music. I was fearless in forcing my way into this industry because I knew I had a purpose. I experienced many difficulties, as a girl from a remote town in the Eastern Cape, but I didn’t let that discourage me. When I arrived in Johannesburg, I was often rejected for being a total misfit; everybody was doing the same thing, forming groups and cliques. I’ve never been that person – I wanted to be known for my own sound and style. What’s always worked for me is my drive, my persistence and refusing to hear the word ‘no’.
Your music’s evolved since you released your first EP, Rabulapha! Tell us more about your sound evolution, especially crossing over to gqom.
I felt that was the most comfortable way I could speak to South African audiences, especially knowing that my music’s primarily followed by alternative black people, as well as whites. That’s why I sang in isiXhosa. My goal wasn’t only to blow up overseas, but also to be known and respected in my own country. I found that the most accessible way of doing that was through collaborations with my fellow African artists.
What’s your creative process?
It depends. It took me 15 minutes to write a verse for DJ Maphorisa’s Midnight Starring. I normally get the beats from the producer and write immediately. It’s easy for me because I write every day, even when I’m not in studio. I think the best way to master writing is by doing it constantly.
Who are your influences?
I live in my own world. However, people have always likened me to Grace Jones. I love her controversial performances, always bending the rules and playing with the idea of gender, well before the likes of Madonna or Lady Gaga came onto the music scene. I love that comparison because that’s how I’d like to be seen; I consider myself to be a fearless, bold person. But essentially, I’m my own inspiration and I live in my own creative box.
With which artists, both local and international, do you still want to collaborate?
Definitely Beyoncé – I love that woman! She’s driven, reinvents her style and has the ability to shake a crowd. Cardi B is also unapologetic, honest and true to her own story: a total inspiration. And I’m a huge Paloma Faith fan, whose writing style is impeccable, I used to listened to her music all the time when I was new in Johannesburg. Oh, and Tina Turner – she’s fabulous, energetic and ageless. Have you seen her legs!?
Is the South African music scene an empowering and safe space for female artists?
I think it’s becoming more receptive and accommodating of us. We still have a lot to do, but we’re getting there. My pet peeve is unnecessary comparisons between us females to cater to men’s egos. In my opinion, the local music industry suffers from mental scarcity, but honestly, there’s space for everyone – the pie is huge. Just be yourself. I don’t have time to feed people’s egos: I just want to work hard, make good music with confident women and have fun.
You’re an advocate for body positivity, as is evident in your style, your performances and your lyrics. Why is it important to you to communicate this to audiences?
It comes from being aware of my own sexuality and owning it. As soon as I embraced it, it transcended from my lyrics to my style and performances. Also, this is the body I was given and I don’t feel I should hide or be ashamed of it. I advocate for women being free, happy and enjoying multiple orgasms, because we deserve it. It’s natural.
You’re performing at this year’s Afropunk Festival in Johannesburg. What can we expect from your set?
Prepare for an energetic performance filled with body confidence and sexual liberation. The Afropunk Festival runs from 30 December 2018-1 January 2019.