When listening to Elementality, one is sent directly to the dance floors of our favourite spots in Johannesburg. Mx Blouse’s fusion of Kwaito and Electro music brings an unexpected twist to nostalgia as you are transported to the 90’s and simultaneously taken to the future through beat and lyricism. Released on 24 July, the album deals with themes of love, heartbreak, dance culture and nightlife – a true reflection of the situations and activities Mx Blouse finds themselves in.
Mx Blouse's heavy references to Johannesburg dance culture in songs such as “Third Place” and “Zandla Phezulu”, reveal the complexities of nightlife and reflect on how they navigate a space that may be perceived as impossible to communicate and have meaningful relationships in. “Self Love” is Mx Blouse’s declaration of pride in their Blackness, telling people that the hatred against Blackness cannot deter them from loving themselves. The album closes off with “Candyflossin’” – a flirtatious expression of fondness between two people who have very different body types. Mx Blouse discusses the complexities of body image in a fun and cheeky way. The album is a lively and easy listen that will get heads bopping and if you listen closely, you might find yourself giggling at how relatable the lyrics are.
I asked Mx Blouse some questions about the album’s making, and the influence and preservation of Kwaito music that came with making Elementality:
Can you share a bit of the creative process of making the album?
I didn’t know I was making an album, to be quite honest. I was just recording music with different people, as I always do, but the oldest song on this collection is the Eye-On Feather produced ‘Yesterday’s Nostalgia’. When Papi (the producer) sent me the beat that would eventually become ‘Yesterday’s Nostalgia’ it immediately transported me to the dancefloor, which I see as a meeting space for different people from different walks of life and a place I’ve certainly forged many relationships, others that have stood the test of time, and others that were just a fleeting moment in time. I think that is what laid the foundation for this album, which is essentially about human connection, the desire for it and the memories created through that.
What are some of the pressures that come with making an album that is long awaited after releasing well-received singles and an EP?
It’s kind of nerve wracking, I won’t lie. As an indie artist, there aren’t a lot of mainstream platforms like FM radio carrying my music, and so a lot of what I do is about the audience I’ve built over time and whether I can keep earning their support as I grow. Fortunately for me, I established myself as a genre-defying artist from the word go and so I think the people who have stuck with me through this journey understand and appreciate that about me, so that kind of alleviates the pressure of trying to live up to particular expectations. The only thing I worry about, really, is whether or not the music is good, and I’m pretty much confident that it is, otherwise I wouldn’t release it (LOL).
What was the main message you wanted to share through this album?
I think what’s been most successful about this project is that I wasn’t thinking much about messaging. I just wanted to make dance music that I can imagine blaring out of the speakers, early morning at a music festival, or something I can play while I’m jogging and doing whatever. I wanted to make music that is easy on the ear but not formulaic. I also just wanted to feel the music rather than thinking about it too much. At no point did I think of a message I wanted to convey, I instead thought about what it feels like to connect with other humans and myself: my fears about romantic love, how I’ve shielded myself emotionally, the characters I adorn to mask my feelings, the reasons why relationships fail, and that kind of thing. So, it was more about how I feel about and how I experience connection more than it is about sharing a particular message.
There are heavy Kwaito and Electro references in Elementality. Which artists were your main influences growing up?
This is always a very difficult question for me to answer because I’ve never had a fixed taste in anything. My influences have changed and continue changing over time, but the overarching aesthetics, I think, are still very much present in my output. I don’t listen to hip-hop much, but because some of my earliest influences are artists like Lauryn Hill and Nas my affinity for strong lyricism is evident. Kwaito was also a huge part of my childhood, as it is for many people of my generation, certainly. I listen to a lot of singer-songwriters, so my writing style tends to lean towards that rather than going for mega metaphors and punchlines in a way a rapper would. Overall I’d say the artists that have had the biggest influence on who I became as an artist include Ms Hill, Nas, Bongo Maffin, TKZee, Lebo Mathosa, Roisin Murphy, Jamiroquai and more recently, it’s been artist who make dance-oriented R&B music like Kelela and then a lot of my current and longtime favourites like Little Dragon.
As a member of the LGBTQI+ community, did you feel represented in the realm of Kwaito music, culture and storytelling?
Not at all, but it’s encouraging to see a lot of LGBTQIA+ creators using the internet to establish themselves in the context of an industry that only has space for a few of us at a time. For a long time, we didn’t have the tools to tell our own stories, and so a very particular and very one dimensional representation of queerness has dominated at the behest of an audience that often doesn’t see, or even care to see us beyond what seems to be the designated role of queers as comic relief in popular culture. We now have the opportunity to show the rest of the world that queer people are as complex as everyone else and I’m personally seizing that opportunity to demonstrate, through my work, that there is far more to who we are than mainstream media lets on.
Do you feel a responsibility towards preserving the sounds and lyrical presentation of Kwaito music?
Absolutely. I think it’s important that our artistic output is distinguishable from everything else that’s on offer globally. I appreciate that we’ve adopted and adapted things like hip-hop but you can’t deny that it’s a marker of American cultural imperialism. I think it’s impossible to expect that we won’t assimilate, but it’s important that we don’t become so culturally subservient that our own identity is lost.
Dead or alive: who are some of your dream collaborations with any of our Kwaito greats from the 90s?
That would have been Lebo Mathosa but I’m honestly happy just building on what that generation created. Not that it wouldn’t be an honour, because it would, but I don’t dream about collaborations with legends or famous people at all. I’m more about linking and working with likeminded people regardless of age, level of fame, genre, or discipline.
How important is it to you that your work is an accurate presentation of Johannesburg culture and nightlife?
I think once you strive for authenticity, it becomes evident in your artistic output. I love Johannesburg so I don’t have to try and represent it, accurately or otherwise. The manifestation of my love for the city and who I am within it becomes a reflex.
In “Broken Heart” you express the fear of telling someone that you are in love with them. Do you have any opinions on youth hook-up culture and how that impacts the ways in we interact with love and relationships?
I could write an entire essay just on this subject, tbh.
The song itself is about the fear of letting other people in as a result of a previous heartbreak, and I think this fear of commitment is something that our culture perpetuates. It’s hard to find people who are clear about their intentions, and for me personally, this has made me wary of stating my own and so one is always in limbo, waiting for the other person to clarify things because we don’t want to risk being the one who fell first, or mistook a random hook-up for something real when it isn’t. It’s a lot of games and I find it rather exhausting! But it’s also a never-ending cycle because you never know who is taking who for a ride. I’m so exhausted even thinking about it.
In “Third Place” you speak of the first time you met a beautiful somebody… Is this in reference to the club in Newtown and is it a true story? Can you share the story with us?
Lol. There’s no specific story there but I frequent Third Place a lot, and I’ve had many flirtations with different people there. It’s a place I go to let my chiskop chill and to create memories and so, naturally, it came up when I was writing songs about being a social being seeking connection.
Interview: Thando Khumalo
1 & 3: Photography : Brett von Dort
Clothing: Amanda Laird Cherry
2 & 4: Photography: William Rice
MUA: Palesa Mkwanazi
Clothing: Viviers Studio