by Amir Bagheri
South African-Dutch singer-songwriter Joya Mooi has dropped her brand new single, “Remember”, off her forthcoming EP. Joya is known for her enchanting vocals that have seen her win hearts and devoted fans over the years. Her music is a blend of soul and alternative R&B with a strong jazz influence. She exercises self-expression in impeccably creative ways. With the success of her debut EP, Blossom Carefully, her new music is testament to her continuous growth in the music scene.
Amir: So, I did a bit of research and I noticed that you have over 100,000 listeners per month. It was rather interesting to me that in South Africa, still, the name Joya Mooi hasn’t become a household name. So, knowing that more than half of our readers are from South Africa, it would be great to have you introduce yourself, and let our readers know who Joya Mooi is.
Joya: Mainly… uhm… I think I am a nice person but besides that, I make music, I write, I really enjoy listening to stories and writing stories, and yeah… I incorporate many perspectives into my music; or I try to. I think not being very known is also part of my brand. Like, I’m more into making music. That’s my own focus point; it’s the most important thing to me.
Amir: I have this deep desire for you to become more known, especially here in South Africa, simply because your music is really amazing! Over the last few years, my ears have developed a hunger for more electro-soul or jazz kind of sounds. So, when I heard your music for the first time, a couple of weeks ago, I felt ashamed that I did not know you, as a fellow South African artist.
Anyways, I learnt that your mum and dad met in Angola. Your dad was a South African exiled political activist, right? Tell me about your childhood. What was that like?
Joya: It’s a strange story because all my siblings were born in Angola. Both of my parents, actually, were freedom fighters. My mum was involved with the liberation of Angola and she was a doctor. My father was in the ANC (African National Congress). They’re not quite sure where they met, but sometime in the 80s, in Angola, they joined forces and in the 90s, they moved to the Netherlands, where I was born in Deventer. It is a small village in the east of the Netherlands where the majority of the people were white. Now I live in Amsterdam, it’s very multicultural, where you see many different faces and backgrounds, so I can sort of feel like I belong here. But in my village, where I grew up, I really didn’t feel that sense of belonging, so it was challenging, to say the least. I was really trying to navigate, not only just the streets but also, the feeling of knowing that there is a place for me where I belong and where my story fits in the crowd. I knew this place might not be the place where I lived in, so I think that really made me interested in reading and listening to music, like a little bit of escapism.
Amir: I’m assuming a lot of those challenges were probably around race and culture, right?
Amir: Has your relationship changed with your village since then?
Joya: A little bit because my parents still live in the house where I grew up. I go there every two months. But it has the same old street, where people just live for generations and generations, and don’t really go abroad. It’s a village where the young people try to escape. So, I don’t really think that my relationship with Deventer has changed. But I do view it differently because I’m just a visitor now. I’m not a resident anymore. I can just peek-in and say hello. But even then, you want to move away quickly because it feels very restrictive. I can just see and feel the eyes! I feel like people are watching me. But in Amsterdam, I don’t really feel seen, the same goes for when I’m in Jo’burg or when I’m in Berlin. I don’t feel as if people are watching me, so I can just walk the streets.
Amir: I was actually going to ask you if you’ve been to South Africa. Tell me more about your relationship with South Africa.
Joya: I try to go every year and a half, especially around Christmas. So yeah, I visit very often actually.
Amir: Do you have any specific South African artists in mind that you would like to collaborate with?
Joya: I am currently working on my upcoming album and I’m really trying to focus on the music. I don’t want to think about who I can work with. Sometimes, it just happens and then you are like “Ah! that makes sense!”, so who knows? But I am really looking forward to working with some South African artists.
Amir: So, you’re not going to give me names yet?
Joya: [laughs] No, not yet!
Amir: So I read somewhere in these streets, that your last EP, The Ease of Others, was more or less about being lost, or being stuck between two worlds, that being South Africa and the Netherlands. That EP for you was about reclaiming your identity. Do you think The Ease of Others helped you achieve that? And based on your own analysis, was it received in that light as well?
Joya: It is hard to really know how your work was received. I really try to make music just from my own perspective. I don’t want to worry about what people are gonna think about it. In the beginning of my career, I was really trying to give words to everything and explain in detail what my work was about, but it didn’t really work that way. Because people also really try to incorporate their own thoughts into my music and that’s really cool as well! So, I just let it be and give some references or some key words.
But regarding the search, and what the album meant to me, I think it was a really good choice for me just to be honest about how I never get to be black and white, or how I never get to be Dutch and South African. Or just feeling quite South African, although I have never lived there. I think that’s also part of the larger story. The feeling that you belong to a place where your father escaped. We were also actively ignoring South Africa because I felt the pain and the efforts that my parents held onto in their political career. So, there’s this bond that we have with the country. It’s very warm but it is also very complicated, and I wanted to give back. Not only just words but also a sonic-escape of how that feels.
Amir: Your next project after that was Blossom Carefully which was predominantly about growing on your own terms and your own ground. I’m looking at a pattern here, the first project was about reclaiming identity and then upon that reclaiming comes growth. So, let’s talk about your new single, “Remember”. What were the feelings and emotions that were evoked, while you were writing the new song?
Joya: I read a lot at home and I read a thesis with the title “What difference does it make who is speaking?”. A piece from somebody (Mbali Khoza) at WITS [University], and she was arguing that, when it comes to great authors and artists like Toni Morrison, bell hooks, or Bessie Head, we just focus on who the author is and what’s behind their story, instead of understanding what the author is actually trying to say.
That was something that I was trying to remind myself of, because I also sometimes only read the headlines, or get stuck in the narrative or the story of somebody. So yeah, I’m not doing enough research, and that was the main frame, or rather the inspiration for the song.
Amir: The song is going to be part of your next project, right? So, just tell me about your next project, because there is very little information out there, and I thought I’d seek it out from you directly.
Joya: [Laughs] We have like 60-70% of it done. But I’m still so into the process of making and creating. In the next few months, we’re back in the studio, hopefully with the entire band, to get to finish all the songs. So, I’m not sure what the entire story is going to be.
Amir: So, what does Joya Mooi do in her free time, other than music? Do you have much free time?
Joya: [Laughs] I do, I do! With COVID and everything else, I really really enjoy my free time! I think it’s the best time to stay sane and to stay grounded. So, yeah! I am very much open to my off days… I really like cooking. I really like reading. Uhm… and I also work a lot! I am thinking about the visual stories for making my own music videos so that’s something that I do in my free time as well.
Amir: Which artist are you listening to right now? Who’s keeping your ears satisfied?
Joya: I am really curious about the new Tyler, The Creator, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST. I have only listened to it once, but I’m gonna listen to that mixtape again today.
Amir: Joya, I really look forward to meeting you in person the next time you’re visiting South Africa. I really hope that we can host a concert for you, and showcase your art and music to a larger audience here in South Africa.