Jojo Abot has an unexplainable magnetic energy, not just because she is approachable and easy going, it's something else, that you can't really put into words. Perhaps its that she is self-managed and is pretty much involved in all elements of her work from making beats to creative directing her own music videos, the non-cool, non-glamorous aspects of her music, aspects that keep one grounded. The Ghanaian-born, New York based artist has been in Southern Africa for just under three weeks, having started her Southern African tour in Mozambique at the Azgo festival, completing it in Durban at Zakifo festival.
Seated on the balcony of her apartment on Commissioner Street, overlooking Joburg CBD, I caught up with Abot to get some insight on her on-going projects, some music in the works and her appreciation for Joburg's energy, so much so, that she is considering extending her stay for a month.
Her Debut EP and her ongoing self-exploratory project are both titled FYFYA WOTO. Curious about the birth, evolution and significance of this title, I asked her to explain the meaning. "FYFYA WOTO initially, as a word is a rewrite of my grandmother's name. It has however grown to be much more, and has become its own essence and being. It is being in a state of constant evolution and constant rebirth and discovery of self of purpose of intention, of values, of life and identity and having those things being fluid elements of oneself rather than being static. "
The recurrence of her grandmother's name in her projects indicates that her grandmother meant a lot her. Talking about her grandmother Abot says, "I enjoyed her strength, I enjoyed her spirituality, I enjoyed her sense of confidence in who she was, her presence was really special." And then adds, "I think we should hang on to age old wisdom while we still have that privilege, you have to be intentional about that."
Some of her songs and lyrics such as To Li are sung in Ewe, her first language, I wonder whether she gets any comments or feedback from her fans regarding the lyrics. She says often the feedback she has received is from people wanting to be able to read the lyrics since she has not shared the lyrics as yet because she feels like there is so much more to explain in the lyrics' contents.
She lets me listen to an unreleased track, a remix of one of her major singles Pi Lo Lo. When you feel and listen to the waves, rhythms and vocals of Abot's music, which she has coined as AFRO-HYPNO-SONIC you can't help but get the sense that she creates from a spiritual place. So I ask her, what role spirituality plays in her artistry? "Spirituality is in being whether we are aware of it or not, we encounter spiritual spaces and manifestations all day long, whether we choose to be aware of it or not, whatever levels you choose to be aware."
On her recent Southern African tour, Abot says, "The experience has been incredible, getting to know new people, getting to perform alongside phenomenal artists like Thandiswa Mazwai, Petite Noir, Damian Marley (who was preaching the gospel and the Bible) and Baloji. I'm blessed to have experienced so much and have travelled so much in such a short period of time, the energy here is special."
Abot is certainly no stranger to performing alongside phenomenal artists. Last year she got invited to perform as part of Diaspora Calling, Lauryn Hill's tour. The music legend had invited a number of artists and asked her to be one of the supporting acts on the tour. She adds, "Lauryn Hill is a musician I grew up listening to, I haven't had a lot of personal encounters with her but to be on the same stage with her and see her do what she does, it taught me a lot about the importance of hard work and being true to your artistic identity."
When I ask her whose closet she would shop out of, with no hesitation, she says, Petite Noir, Laduma Ngxokolo and the late Brenda Fassie's closets. She adds, "even when Brenda Fassie was naked, I would closet jack her while she was naked. Her style was more than just the things she wore. Her energy was in the way she carried herself, that was her style and then whatever she put on added to it."
Although she is leaning towards staying in Joburg, Abot has a multimedia project in the works in New York. In expanding on the specifics of the project she says, "I'm a member of New Museum's incubator program called New Inc, it'll be a year in August. I've been developing aspects of work in visual art, photography, film, textile work in fashion/ drapery and mixed media work using watercolours, acrylic, bullets, plastic and recycled material. It has just been an expansion of the energy of rebirth. "I'm just having fun with what could happen and how I could express myself."
On the topic of music, Abot mentions (in passing) that along with the remix to Pi Lo Lo, she has a remix for To Li and should be releasing new music soon. I guess we will have to wait with bated breath for her new releases and see the projects she will be working on while she is in Joburg.
Photography: Chisanga Mubanga
Writing: Phendu Kuta
Make-up: Jojo Abot