A conversation with Zoe Modiga

Some hip-hop songs are samples from jazz, pop, R&B, and other amazing music genres worldwide. Therefore, it wouldn’t be fair for us as a publication to focus only on hip-hop. We have incredible artists, and our rappers also sample music. The day before Freedom Day, we were blessed with a soon-to-be classic masterpiece. I’ve been listening to it, tweeting about it, and unexpectedly got the opportunity to interview her so quickly. After the special conversation I had with industry colleagues after the Seba Kaapstad performance at the Eswatini Bushfire Festival, I just knew the world is ready to receive and embrace her Solo career. The name is Zoe Modiga. The album is “Nomthandazo.” Zoe Modiga is an electrifying performer that you need to witness in your lifetime. I had a young conversation with her about music, travel, politics, her fans, Seba Kaapstad and her future.

I love it when artists introduce themselves to the readers as artists know themselves best. With that being said, who is Palesa Nomthandazo Phumelele Modiga?

I am a person, a human being who has the platform of music to be able to express myself and to reflect the times and to tell the human experience, constantly trying to figure a whole lot of things out. That’s me in a nutshell.

Firstly, what is your opinion on interviews?

Interviews for me are as enjoyable as much as the good research has been done.  So, the better the research, the more enjoyable it is for me, the better the vibe, the more enjoyable for me. And obviously that means that the opposite is also true.  So, if it is not well researched and it’s not like there isn’t some kind of wanting to be there by the interviewer, then I feel like I have to work a lot harder, which makes it not as fun. I normally won’t show that on my face, but I do have real opinions about it. I like to be able to share with the person interviewing and to the music lovers at large. It’s something that I don’t mind doing as long as it’s fun.

What would you be doing right now if it wasn’t for your amazing music career?

When I was in grade four, our class went to a dentist excursion thing and the dentist was really kind, awesome and handsome, and he gave us these lucky packets afterwards. So, after that I was like, oh, I want to be a dentist, but I think music has always been the end goal.  I just didn’t know how it would happen or what it would be, but music was just there much longer than anything else and it was always the thing that I would do.

Where do you find inspiration and when is your favourite time of the day to create music?

I think I find inspiration from everything hey. I find inspiration from observing life around me, the experiences of other people, from my own personal experiences and opinions, from perfect strangers and loved ones and other kinds of music and art forms. I find inspiration from absolutely everything and I think my time to create it was always in the evening, but I realized that music comes when it wants to come. So, that could mean absolutely anything. It could be 1 a.m. It could be 12 noon whenever the music comes then that’s when I create. But I’ve I always thought I was more of like a night owl.

Who has been the most influential musician for your own development?


Most influential? I actually have a top three of women that I just resonate and have resonated with so deeply over the years. Nina Simone was the priestess of soul. Miss Eunice Waymon. She was the first person that I just found myself resonating with the depth that she takes the music and the way that she’s able to or she was able to reflect the times and be an activist and still be soulful and still be very hilarious. She was very hilarious, at least in interviews that I saw. So, she was one of the ladies I loved. Ma’Letta Mbuli is another one. I think she’s so underappreciated. But she sings a ballad like no other singer in my humble opinion. I just love the stories that she’s been able to share the fact that she was the one talking in Swahili on Michael Jackson’s librarian girl. Like there’s just so many things I think people don’t know that they’d really find so fascinating. One of my wishes is to do a concert for her where I just sing her songs with an orchestra. Then the third one is Mam’Busi Mhlongo.  I love how steadfast she always when it came to the African stories and how she would reflect it in different ways and how she took a cultural experience and modernised it. So those are my queens, Nina Simone, Busi Mhlongo and Letta Mbulu


Have you faced any criticism and setbacks, and how have they influenced your work?

Oh jeez, people have opinions about everything. I actually have a friend that reached out to me not too long after our third album, Nomthandazo was released and he was like “Oh man, please don’t listen to what they’re saying on Facebook, you know, like they don’t understand what it takes…” and I literally started searching my name because I wanted to see what the people are saying. I have a lot of opinions about things, I don’t publicly share all of them so, I understand the idea of having an opinion. It just doesn’t mean that I need to take your opinion seriously or to find rooting in it, you know, I think it’s very important as people who create to be able to take criticisms from people who are qualified to give them and people who want to grow and not kill what it is that you’re trying to do because it really comes from a sensitive vulnerable place. The more successes one has, the more criticisms come in the same way that the more praises come. It’s an act of trying to just take what it is that I find to be true from those people that I think mean the best and keep it moving.

In the space of 8 years, you gave us “Yellow: The Novel”, “INGANEKWANE” and recently “Nomthandazo”. How would you describe your journey?

It’s been every kind of human emotion that you can attach to life and sharing. It’s been glorious, it’s been victorious. It takes a lot of bravery and a lot of courage. I felt unworthy, I felt supported, I felt anxious, but I’ve enjoyed it. But knowing that it’s been eight years is actually so crazy. “Yellow: The Novel” was my debut album, and I was very green. I did not know too much about the industry I was getting into. I just knew my love for music, and it’s been the gift that keeps on giving. With “INGANEKWANE” I got to really share it with a whole lot of people because it was the lockdown and we had nothing else to do. It’s really beautiful to get music lovers from that era. With “Nomthandazo”, it’s been beautiful to really celebrate how the journey has been with everything that has come.

Talking about “Nomthandazo”, how long did it take you to write and record all 18 songs {The entire album}?

Oh, so “Nomthandazo” is four years’ worth of work. We actually started it at the same time that “INGANEKWANE” was being released which is 2020 June. It was around that time that the first song called “imithandazo yethu” from “Nomthandazo” was formed and it’s, it’s been a good four years. Not all of it was entirely work but that was like the collective time that was spent. I would record certain ideas and then let it rest a little bit, then go to the studio record more things, let it rest a little bit. But yeah, it’s been a span of good, glorious four years.

Songs like “Phansi”, “Simakade” (few) really deserves music videos, are there any you working or currently? There, few of those songs which I love really deserve music videos.

So, we have the visualizer for “Ngelosi”, the visualizer for “Amen” and the visualizer for “Indlela”.  And that’s been kind of what we’ve been trying to do visually. I would love quite honestly to do music videos, but I don’t know if it’s a return in investment right now because I am an independent artist. And I think for me, I want to focus more on the music and on being able to do shows which takes a lot of engine, a lot of people, a lot of resources. So, I’ve just been creatively trying to find different ways to express the visual story and that’s kind of what we’re going for right now. But I’m very interested to do music videos and to explore that world.

You don’t just write and sing, you also co-produced the entire album with BandaBanda, does it mean you were there from creating beats, recording and giving this album a direction sonically?

So, I’d started producing well, parts of the record, the vocals, the vocal stacks, some keys, some guitars, some percussive ideas, some synthesizer ideas. And then there was a point where I felt like the music needed a rhythm, it needed a heartbeat because it all felt like if you can imagine music without like a drum pattern, you know, it all felt very, yeah, it just had that thing that was missing and that’s when I called on the co-produced Banda Banda who’s just been an incredible generous collaborator over the years with me and I was like, look, I need a heartbeat and I don’t think there’s anyone else that could really help this part of the process.  So, that’s when he hopped on and just helped to give the music its heartbeat and to help with some arrangements. We also had the help of Sebastian Schuster who did the string arrangement for “Nomthandazo”. it’s been a beautiful time to create.

So, how do we classify this masterpiece?

You know, the million-dollar question, look, I would say that I’ve never been too far removed from any of the things that you mentioned ever from. From “Yellow, the novel” to “Inganekwane” to “Nomthandazo”. There’s been an element of the jazz, there’s been an element of gospel, there’s been an element of neoclassical sounds of soul and with this album, it’s a mixture of all those things. I think it’s difficult to call it a certain genre of music because it’s influenced by so many, I mean, we have songs like “Bengemanzi” which is something of an R&B song quite frankly. So, yeah, I would just say this is a mean spirited and ceremonious and surreal work that is influenced by jazz, soul, R&B, modern African sounds and neoclassical sounds.

The transition from “Mokete” to “Mokete o mong” is so beautiful even though you decided to keep “Mokete o mong” short, was it intentional so music lovers like me can complain?

Oh, my goodness that is so funny”. So “Mokete” is a song that really celebrates. It celebrates the idea of what being African is and I go on to mention a lot of… I couldn’t get all the African countries in the song but I got as many as I could, but it’s a song that really celebrates us as a beautiful continent. And, you know, when we were recording the song, we finished the song “Mokete” and then Banda got the idea of taking some of the vocal stacks and reversing them. 

Prior to the album release you only dropped two songs; do you think they were enough as part of the roll out?

I think I’m an album artist. I don’t think I’m a singles artist. I’m not saying I’ll never release singles without an album, but I just resonate deeply with being an album artist and I think I just didn’t want to give too much away, but I think “Ngelosi” being something of a lullaby and something that is catering to our childhood and our inner child wounds was a good start in terms of the roll out, you know, to kind of give an idea to the listeners what to expect. And ”Amen” was like, if you don’t understand where we’re going with this then I don’t know. I mean, we say those words after we pray. So, I thought these two songs give a very good idea.  One was a slower ballad, one was a faster paced song, but I really wanted people to discover the album I knew on the 26th of April. I just wanted people to just discover the album and i am happy with how it rolled out. 


I Asked some of your fans on my twitter TL if they had an opportunity to interview you, what’s that one question they would ask? I have four of them which I believe they always play your music on my timeline.

@NeliMsomi: “Asking about your writing process: where do these words come from? From dreams or visions”

I don’t get dreams; I don’t get visions but what I do get is feeling. I have a gift of feeling. And I think that’s the place that the music comes from. I believe that the music comes from my creator, God. I think it comes from that ether, that unknown heavenly magical place that doesn’t have a word yet. So, I believe that’s where it comes from and for me, it’s just important to be silent when the music comes and to have an ego death and not to put my own ideas into it, but to allow the music to be what it is. I think it also comes from the inspiration of the world around me. It’s a whole lot of that coming together and being expressed and, I just try to listen and take it in and document it so that I’m able to share it with everyone. Sometimes it’s a whole song, sometimes it’s a small phrase, sometimes it’s a couple of words, sometimes it’s a series of chords, sometimes it could take on any shape and just allow it.

@Zintathu_L : “How did you know you wanted to end up in Jazz music?” “What’s your style inspo and the art behind your album covers”.

So, I don’t think that I am so much of a jazz artist, but I’m jazz influenced, and I have a jazz background, but I also have a classical background. I also have a pop background, and many may not know that. I also have a background of singing ballads, you know, like your power ballads, your Whitney Houston’s and I have all of these different backgrounds that then come into my music. So, for me, I think my music is just a mixture of everything coming together and I try to express it honestly and with vulnerability delicately, and its what people get to hear.

And with the album cover, that was a cover that was inspired by the music, the music is there to be kind of an ode to matriarchs or abo Mama bemthandazo,

It’s there to what everyone’s inner world, everyone’s spirit world. And I wanted a symbol because every album of mine has had a symbol.  “Yellow, the novel” we were wearing yellow, that was the symbol, “Inganekwane” was cows because cows are part of the African. A lot of African spiritual practices when you have cows, that means that’s a form of wealth, that’s land. There are so many things that you draw to it and with this one I wanted an ethereal kind of female embodiment of the work because that’s the energy that it was coming from. I wanted it to be me looking like an out of this world version of myself, and not because I think this world that I’m trying to create is a world that’s not tangible, but I just wanted a magic about it and that’s why we went, myself and the visual team went with what we went with there. So the inspiration is the human experience,

@Lookus_Jnr: “which one do you enjoy the most, working on a solo project or Seba Kaapstad projects?Oh, my goodness.

That’s an easy question. So, we just did a very small African tour with Seba Kaapstad, which is myself, Grammy Award winning Manana, Pheel who’s an incredible producer, Sebastian, who’s an incredible producer and composer and we’ve been together for very many years since our college years, you know. We just did a performance here in South Africa and in Swaziland, which happens to be where me and Manana come from. And I was saying to them last night because we had dinner just kind of taking in everything before Sebastian travels that I’m so grateful that we are a band that has four different identities and stories that we tell and that when we come together, it feels like a sigh, it feels like a relief. It feels like we can play, you know. So, I feel like I get to play in Seba Kaapstad and I also love being able to have my own identity and my own stories that I believe in even outside of that. So, one does feed the other, in my opinion. And we don’t get to perform as much as we’d like but when we do it’s always right on time. It’s always exactly what I need and it, it becomes the fuel for what I’m going to be doing as well. So, it’s both of them. It’s a marriage.

Seba Kaapstad gave us one amazing performance at bushfire stage on Friday, how was the experience?

Oh, my goodness. So, we kick started in Johannesburg. Seba Kaapstad really likes Johannesburg a whole lot and I think that just set the tone, you know. So, when we went to Eswatini, they received us so beautifully. Eswatini has gentle people. It has people who are ready to receive and who are receptive. They’re not a judgmental audience. They take you in. People were singing along in the cold, having a good time. We enjoyed ourselves. And even after our performance, we went to see a couple of other acts together as a band and had ourselves a good night. So, yeah, big love to Eswatini, it was beautiful time. It was the second time we went there as a band to the festival.

Can we expect any album from Seba Kaapstad anytime soon?

So, we’ve been working on an album for a long time. I can’t really say for sure when it would be released, but just know, we have definitely been working on something and we’re getting closer to the final stages of it. So, hopefully, sometime this year, next year, the following year, I don’t know. We’ll see.


From 2016 to 2022 you guys performed at 60 Stages worldwide, at the same time you were working on your solo project, how did you find the balance?

I think I’m a nomad, to be very honest, I don’t think I’m meant to be in one place. I’m proudly born in Durban over Port KwaZulu-Natal, raised in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal lived in different parts of the country. But I really find a lot of joy in being able to travel celebrating my own background and culture and being able to share that with people and share in their cultures and their languages and their ways of thinking and their music. So, when we travel with Seba Kaapstad it really does feel me. It really is a big inspiration to me. It gives me the fire that I need to do my own things which I really enjoy, and we don’t get to do what we do together very often. So, when we do, I just I really take it with both hands. And then I’m able to do what I do as Zoe Modiga, the artist, just a beautiful balance and I take it in man, I mean, we’re here to rock and roll, right?

How does it feel to be part of the Born free generation especially after the recent voting results?

Oh, my goodness, what a time to be alive.  So, I turned 30 this year and we released our album on the 26th of April, which was the day before the 27th of April, which is Freedom Day. And we’re celebrating 30 years of democracy. We are having a very important election that we came from this year. I feel like I was literally like, what do you call them? I was like a voter influencer this year; I would shout it from the tabletops. I would put it in all my posts all the time and be like guys, you know, we come from a very powerful people, a people that didn’t necessarily have the rights that we have right now.

And when in the year I was born was the first time people like me were able to have the agency that they have in being able to vote, so, I found it to be incredibly important to vote and to exercise that right. That agency and to see young people, old people, all kinds of people just, you know, kind of take up that space in that way. It’s important to be able to exercise that right, that you have.  It was all about looking into policy. Do you know what is policy? What is the heartbeat of each party and being able to make my decisions that way. I really hope everyone did that because there’s a lot of changes that we need.  We know there’s been an abuse of a power right now. With the party that been there, even though they come from such an incredible legacy, we need actual change, we need actual freedom, we need people of all backgrounds and demographics to be taken care of.  Those are my thoughts on that and, and hopefully, you know, it turns out for the better.

Do you think who ever going to be on power will change our country for the better?

I can only hope. I think now there’s like a lot of vote counts that’s happening and we’re kind of seeing where we stand in terms of the things that are going to be in power. And I really do hope that there is a lot of changes because we need a lot of them. There’s a lot of social ills that we’re dealing with as a country. There’s a lot of sociopolitical conversations happening. There are conversations around education, conversations around medical care, and just like basic human needs, never mind all the other because there’s a bigger conversation even after that. But I think there’s a lot of basic needs that need to be taken care of as a country and I’m really hoping we’re able to see that. I think we’re in a country that has people that are also ready to see the changes and that also put their money where their mouth is with the voting.

But as far as I’m concerned, as an artist who’s there to reflect the times, it’s something that I think is important with the platform that I have to be able to facilitate and have conversations about it.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

I would prioritize artistic merit and artistic excellence in the work. I would encourage us to be more of an expert as a person who has taught all over the world. I think the world is looking for what it is that we have to say as South Africans and we’ve always spearheaded a lot of conversations and music, not just now, but for many years. So, I would encourage us to be exports so that it also increases the national morale, the patriotic thing. I think we need a patriotic spirit about us as well. I would also facilitate more ways and spaces for the art world to be celebrated, you know, through tributes through and like a multigenerational tribute, a lot of activities around that and more grass root level kind of projects where people go to schools and kind of encourage that expression as well.

How do you envision your impact on the music world in the long term?

I think what I do is impactful, influential and it evokes people’s emotions. I think my music is a soundtrack to people’s lives. I think it does impact them in their personal space, with their loved ones and families all the way to when we come to concerts and share space together. But I think a part of it is not for me to say, you know, I think the people will be the ones that determine what it is that they get from me. For me, it’s just to honour my gift and to continue to learn, grow, share and to make music. So, people can tell the world what they thought of me and what they think of me.


Are there any upcoming projects, collaborations or tours you’re excited about?

Oh Man… So, we just came from the most amazing album launch this past week.

It was beautiful to play the entire album because I’ve never had the chance to do that in any album launch, but we played the entire album there and we had the whole band.

We had beautiful string quartet of Queens, violinists, viola, cellist. We had a beautiful time so that really has springboarded a lot of other beautiful things happening. This month, we will be wrapping it up on the 21st and the 22nd in Makanda. It’s going to be for the National Arts Festival because I am the standard Bank young artist for music for the year. So that means I get to do two performances there. So we’re excited about that and there’ll be more performances, more tours and there’ll be more magic shared with people and we’re going to have ourselves a lot of fun with this new era.

Who are your top five performers in South Africa?

Yo, I’ve never been asked this question ever. Yo, there’s too many, there’s too many amazing people. I’m definitely putting MaBrrr, the one and only Brenda Fassie, we can definitely put in Lebo Mathosa. Lucky Dube because Wow. I never got to experience, but I’ve seen the performance of the DVDS amazing performer, Ringo Madlingo, this is crazy because now I’m, I’m thinking of Kamo as well. I’ll say Kamo is an honourable mention. She is an incredible performer. TOSS… he’s an incredible performer, honourable mention. The last one I want to say is KING freaking THA her performances always build me up. They’re always spirited. I will never get tired of seeing her, but there’s a lot of honourable mentions.

Your top five South African rappers of all time.

Oh guys, I mustn’t lose my street cred. I’m just going to say the people I like so I really, really like Khuli Chana, ProKid, Maglera Doe Boy, Ney and Godessa

One word to your fans out there who really supported you from day one, what would you want to say to them before we wrap up the interview for us?

I’d like to say thank you to all the music lovers for the years, for the magic, for the crying, for the twerking, for the laughing, the singing along, the memories. Thank you.

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