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Joya Mooi Talks New Single, Mental Health and Being of Mixed Heritage

Joya Mooi is an Amsterdam based singer and songwriter of mixed heritage (South African and Dutch) who grew up in the Netherlands in the aftermath of her fathers exile from South Africa. Her latest single "I can Do Better"  featuring Pink Oculus is her second release of 2019, it tackles themes of mental health and self-care. "I often think society looks upon mental issues or working on yourself as a temporary thing, while I'm on a daily basis occupied with keeping myself mentally in check."

What influenced you to open up about your experiences as a woman of color in the Netherlands with this upcoming album? Was it a natural progression from previous work? I grew up in a small town in the Netherlands -where I literally knew every person of colour- and now reside in Amsterdam. My city is one of the most racially diverse cities in Europe, but still the power dynamics are very off. Of course there are more conversations about (practicing) inclusivity, but I think Dutch people overall still have huge blind spots for the experiences people of colour have at work and in their neighbourhoods. I feel South African and Dutch but for a long time my mixed heritage caused me to feel lost. Felt like I was stuck in between two worlds. I think in my work I always attempt to be honest and open, so in my upcoming work I will explicitly share more about my search of my roots and identity.  

Mental health awareness is a global conversation, what are your experiences personally as a musician in terms of mental illness and why did you feel it was important to bring awareness to this issue? I’ve always been an outgoing person with a lot of sombre thoughts. After a while I knew what I needed to uplift myself. But after the passing of my brother I completely lost how to take care of myself mentally. Writing music forced me to deal better with my loss, but it also awaked me about how I was treating loved ones, the world and how I was punishing myself. I wanted to be more vocal about my story because I know it’s hard to give space to your own mental health, when you are aware of your parents struggle. My parents had a tough life in exile, so for sure I didn’t want to ‘complain’ about my life. But those thoughts are very counter productive when you want to cope better with your emotions.

Tell us more about how your collaboration with Pink Oculus and how it came about? Pink Oculus and I have known each other for a while, but never worked together. When I started creating this song I immediately thought of her and wondered if she wanted to share her thoughts. So I sent her a rough draft of the song, and right away she sent me back her verse that ended up on the song.

What is the most vital message from "I Can do Better" that you would like people to walk away with? Somewhere on Instagram I saw the quote: ‘Mental illness is not a personal failure’, and I can only agree. Once I stopped judging and punishing myself for my issues, I had so much more space and energy to actually take care of myself. So take care of yourself people, you deserve it. 

In April you performed at Soweto Blues - The Instruments of Salvation, an event created in conjunction with Santu Mofokeng's exhibition at Foam, honouring the legendary photographer. Can you tell us what are some of the themes in Mofokeng's work that resonate with you and why? What I find so interesting in his work that he can tell a full story with only a few things, and you will know exactly what it is about and where it takes place. I think it’s important that when you paint a picture, that others can listen or see, you fully know the subject and space. I sometimes am a bit abstract in my storytelling, but because I write about my own experiences, my message does get across. At least I do hope so. Mofokeng also made a deliberate choice to follow his own aesthetics, in a time where black people were mostly used as props to explain the extreme circumstances they were living in. That alone is very inspiring and brave. I am aware as a woman of colour in the music industry, people are used to seeing aesthetically, glamorous pictures of womxn with sleek hair and nails to match. Don’t get me wrong, I love to dress up too but I want to contribute to a wider representation of what women of colour can look like. I think we are so used to seeing curtain looks on specific complexions and that causes us to hide our natural way of looking, even in spaces where we can show our true selves.

Your previous release 'Rice in Foil' is about a longing for equality and is influenced by your experiences as a kid of colour growing up in the Netherlands, can you share some of your other experiences growing up that you may have not addressed in the song and how they have helped you become the woman you are? What I’ve heard most growing up is: “You’re different, not like them other brown people”, amongst many other micro aggressions. But the thing that hurt most were the ‘subtle’ actions. Some kids didn’t allow me in their houses because they’re were worried about what others might think, some people were very intimidated by my father because he looked ‘different’ and always those eyes of strangers following me in the bus, walking home or in shops. Sometimes I still feel those piercing eyes. 

What can we expect from your upcoming album? Anything about it that you particularly want to share? I think the album is hopeful, it’s real and it’s soothing. I think it’s great celebrating of my family (some members you can actually see in the I Can Do Better music video), my heritage and my journey so far and I can’t wait for you all to hear it. 


Photographs: Sammy Huijts

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