On Friday, the 26th of June, we woke up to the release of Zoe Modiga’s sophomore album “Inganekwane”. The title “Inganekwane” means a Zulu fairytale, often told to children, that features animals, mythology, trickery and lessons that can be drawn from the analogies. The album begins with the introduction “Kwasukasukela” - the Zulu version of “once upon a time” which serves as the traditional opening and beginning of a Zulu fairytale. The song is a chant, created with angelic harmonies. This is followed by “Lengoma” which kicks off the album with an upbeat groove that serves as an ode to music, showcasing Zoe and Tubatsi Moloi’s conscious dedication to the art. We are taken on journeys of Black spirituality and morality in songs such as “Umdali”, “Unembeza” and “Impilo”. Zoe also addresses issues of Black resistance to traumatic experiences such as oppression with songs like “Intsha” and “Sinenkani”, which are a tribute to the youth of the Soweto Uprisings in 1976, where the message is still relevant to the youth of today. Zoe pays homage to Credo Mutwa and her father in “Mutwa” and “Tata” and then shares a beautiful cover of Busi Mhlongo’s “Ilanga lishonile”. She closes off the album with a lullaby in “Umlolozelo” and follows with “Cos Cos Yaphela” which is the traditional sign off for any Zulu fairytale.
Zoe has received great response to the album; it reached number one on Apple Music's world chart and she continues to express her gratitude to her audience for their love and support. We took some time to ask her a few questions about the album’s themes and some of the influential moments and people in its creation:
How did you navigate the process of making such a momentous project during lockdown? And how long did it take to create 'Inganekwane'?
I cannot claim to be the mastermind behind the timing of this album release, so I will leave that glory to God.
We started recording this album from about March to July of 2019, those months were filled with: teachings, tears, disappointments, laughter, excitement and about every emotion a human being can feel. Everything after that was the post production of it and that saw us only being able to release in June after a 3 month internal delay. If I was told the album would come out during a global pandemic, I don't think even I would have believed that. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie.
There are strong themes of identity in this album and you address the experience of living as a Black person in this world. In “Abantu” you speak of the conditions of poverty and violence that we have normalized and desensitized ourselves from. Why do you think it is so important to mention these issues as directly as you have in the song?
Important themes ignite conversation and conversation awakens us to thoughts, reasoning and the core of why things are as they are.
I think it is important to call things out by name sometimes. The fancy frills can get in the way of being able to make things real enough to actually begin to tackle them.
And do you think other artists and society as a whole have done enough to address these issues that perpetuate the traumatic experience of being Black in the world?
I believe so many revolutionaries and artists have been able to document our experiences over the years and they have done their part in reflecting the times and our condition. Some have done this with great self sacrifice and some we'll thank in spirit as we don't know them by name. I think the powers that be would rather brainwash us with themes of "rainbow nation" than deal with the reality that there are colours in that rainbow that aren't seen to begin with. Systems need to be held accountable to actual systematic change, otherwise more young revolutionaries will be doing as their predecessors did and feeling crazy when in fact nothing ever changed to begin with. Lip service has been our greatest deceiver and our oppressors use this to perpetuate our traumas.
When creating the album, there must have been some unexpected moments of spiritual awakening. Can you share one experience that may have happened in studio that confirmed that your intention and execution were aligned?
My spiritual awakening to the alignment of this work was the relentless resistance I dealt with. I can not even begin to describe this but I was sure that I was indeed led by something true and greater than myself because everything was going wrong at every turn and unnaturally so. But the word says, we aren't fighting against flesh and blood but against principality. I can say I saw a page from that book.
You have often mentioned Mam’ Busi Mhlongo as one of your biggest inspirations and musical influences. What lessons have you drawn from her life and music that have directly impacted the creation of ‘Inganekwane’?
The funny thing about Mam' Busi is that I only discovered her when I was likened to her in my song "Inganekwane" on my debut album. I finally dug into her, her discography, her interviews, those she influenced and worked alongside and her philosophies made me feel seen and reminded me of my true self. That was ethereal. It allowed me to dig deeper into the truths I was unaware or exposed to, even of myself and that was empowering. That amongst other beautiful discoveries ushered me into the creation of "Inganekwane" so gently.
It takes a lot of courage and endurance to embark on the journey to manifesting a project that is as personal and truthful as “Inganekwane”. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with anyone who is afraid to speak their truth through their own form of expression?
I have little wisdom to share but I will say, this world opposes the truth but if you live and create in that, it will offer much restoration to you and those that come into contact with it. That alone is priceless. We all have the ability to be true, it just requires you to be teachable and to speak your lessons despite your fears. Fears are just distractions that are meant to derail your path, if you remind yourself of that you'll make a dwarf of all the voices that lie to you. Ultimately, the truth is a calming water and you can't buy that peace of mind but it feels like God in flesh.
Which song on the album feels most personal to you?
All the songs are very personal to me. Right now, "Isegazini" is carrying me through.
‘Inganekwane’ is a Zulu fairytale with mythical characters, trickery and lessons. If you could turn this album into a film, who would you choose as the director?
That is an amazing question. Barry Jenkins, Justice Mukheli...I have no idea. There are so many beautiful story tellers. I'd need to obsess over this one.
Nina Simone once said, "it is the artist's duty to reflect the times", from your perspective how does this album reflect the times and the possibility of humanity's evolution?
This album speaks to the human condition and the realities of black bodies from my perspective. I think this does reflect the times. Human evolution I think is what we do after the times have been seen, reflected and acknowledged.
What are some of the events in your life that inspired the making of the album?
There are so many collective moments that inspired this album, one I can think of now is a child version of myself visiting my paternal grandmother and staring at cows as though they were otherworldly and now realising they indeed were. How the stories of cows are interwoven with how magical we are as a people too. That is cosmic to me.
A prominent feature of the album is that all the songs are in your mother tongue, what role do you think language and communication play in healing Black people?
Language communicates memory to me. The same way I could listen to a Salif Keita record and understand it without "knowing" the language proves exactly that. There's something profoundly healing about being reminded of who you are. In as much effort and time as it took for us to be conditioned for this world I think the same effort and time would need to go into being reminded of what our souls already know. And, oh, we know.
Interview: Thando Khumalo
Photography: Tatenda Chidora
Designer: Nao Serati
Assistant: Larry Asmah