WORDS AMY MACKENZIE - PHOTOGRAPHY SAMI WELLER - FASHION DIRECTION & STYLING MAISIE DANIELS - FASHION ASSISTANT JOSEPH PARKER - HAIR ASHLEIGH HODHES - HAIR ASSISTANT REBECCA WILCOX - MUA KAYLA FEENEY
We caught up with the adorably capticvating singer-songwriter Joya Mooi on a recent short visit to London, early in the day, she met with our editorial team to take some beautiful photos and once the shoot was done, we were able to have a relaxed sit down to chat about her music and life in general. Even though Joya grew up being raised by her South African father and a Dutch mother about an hour from Amsterdam, but it is fair to say that she has always felt something of an outsider.
Her music is searingly honest, and in several songs, she explores the concept of identity and belonging. She also writes from the heart about her family and the sadness of experiencing loss, something that we mortals know well. By her own admission, she finds it easier to express her real thoughts and feelings through her music than through everyday conversations and as we discovered while chatting to her, she is able to be more open in her music than in conversations with her own family and friends. Joya was only in town for a fleeting visit, but having met her and listened to her debut album, we are sure she will be back before long.
Amy MacKenzie: Hi Joya. How are you today? Joya Mooi: I’m well. Thank you.
A.M: Good, I’m glad. J.M: Yeah, me too.
A.M: I arrived and saw that you were shooting some pretty cool images with our team. Have you had a good day shooting with them? J.M: Yes, I did! It’s always a bit strange because everyone is on the same board but you don’t know each other but you have to trust the creative directors and people shooting. But it is a bit weird to get your head around it; it is like "yeah that looks fantastic but I don’t know you!" [laughs] But I like it, I like dressing up.
A.M: You looked so cool in literally everything J.M: Thank you, I felt cool [laughs]. Normally I don’t put a lot of effort into how I look from day to day but now with video shoots and with photoshoots, it helps with people telling me what to wear.
A.M: How long are you in London for this time around? J.M: Only until Friday.
A.M: A quick trip. J.M: Yeah, although I could have made it shorter but some friends are here and I wanted to have the time to go and enjoy some nice food with them and it’s a good escape from Amsterdam because I’m really back in making music mode after creating the album so it feels like I can use this as a getaway trip.
A.M: A little holiday! Have you been here before? J.M: Yeah, quite a lot. I love it here, I like the people.
A.M: Whereabouts do you stay? J.M: Mostly Camden, it’s really nice there, really low key. Amsterdam is just like a village so it’s nice to be in a space where you see more characters, different types of people. I love the multicultural feel London has to offer.
A.M: Did you grow up in Amsterdam? J.M: Sort of. I grew up in the East part of Holland, I don’t want to call it the countryside because it’s not but when people from Amsterdam ask where I’m from they’re like ‘oh, that’s far’ [laughs]. It’s an hour away from Amsterdam by train so it’s not that far, but for a lot of people, it feels like it is.
Joya wears choker ROKIT; sunglasses KALEOS; earrings KVK73; blazer and jumper URBAN OUTFITTERS
A.M: What was it like there? J.M: It was a bit strange. Mostly because I grew up with a lot of people who didn’t move back and forth from the area, something I wasn't used to because my parents were constantly moving or adapted to new places easily. At primary school or high school, people would be like ‘my grandfather used to go to this school’ and I found that interesting and different than my reality.
A.M: Were you the first of your family to be there then? J.M: Yeah, and my family is used to traveling. My parents met in Angola but my father is from South Africa and my mother is from the Netherlands. They’re bonded to a place but not historically or culturally, they can move around and adjust quickly so when I saw people living in Amsterdam for centuries, because of their family history, it was a bit 'wow'.
A.M: Where did your love of music really come from? J.M: I would say, my parents, they have a huge collection of jazz music. Music was such a dominant thing in my family so I never thought about why I was listening to this music, it was just part of the house.
A.M: What kind of music was it? J.M: When I was really little Ella Fitzgerald was predominant but then when I was older, about 12, I discovered Joy Division. So I’ve listened to a lot but it was mostly jazz-inspired. I started playing the saxophone when I was 7 or 8, so I was listening to like Charlie Parker and those great musicians.
A.M: Why did you pick up the saxophone? J.M: I feel like I haven’t made a lot of clear decisions in my life [laughs]. I think my parents were like ‘do you want to choose an instrument?’ because they think music is important, and my father plays the trumpet so I guess I just moved into it organically. There wasn't any pressure to do it but it seemed inevitable.
A.M: The saxophone is a cool instrument, though. J.M: Yeah it is! I think I first wanted to play the drums but that would have been too noisy. I’m still a bit shy but back then I was really shy so the drums were not an option. Also, I picked an instrument because I was too shy to say I’d rather be singing. My sister used to sing a lot and she doesn’t sing anymore but when I used to watch her, I would try to copy her and she would encourage me to try and move more and look like I’m enjoying it [laughs]! At some point, I had a band and I was really into music but my body was not into it! [Laughs]
Joya wears top URBAN OUTFITTERS; puffa jacket WOOD WOOD
A.M: Just couldn’t be on stage... J.M: Yeah, just every second I was pulling back a bit more.
A.M: How have you got over that fear now, or is it something that still terrifies you? J.M: It doesn’t terrify me anymore but sometimes I still get a bit uncomfortable because I am very aware that everybody in the audience is looking at me. Performing is a weird yet wonderful thing; especially for someone like me who is still conscious of the people looking at me.
A.M: Yeah, it’s quite weird. J.M: Yeah, I have a band now, but most of the time people are just looking at me. Especially when I see my sister; she sometimes cries when she sees me performing and it can be a little overwhelming because I’m up there trying to do my set but also be in the moment and try to enjoy it, it can be hard. It’s easier for me to be in the studio for the whole day and write a nice song, that’s so much easier than doing a live show.
A.M: So, you released your album very recently, were you nervous to release it? J.M: Not really. It felt like I had to push through, but not in a sense that I was tense or anything, I had just put so much thought and effort into it that I just wanted to share it. I didn’t want to tell people it’s coming in a month, or two weeks, so I was just glad to say it’s out there, you can hear now why I wasn’t calling back for a while, you can hear anything.
A.M: What were you going through in your life that influenced the album? J.M: It started I think a year and a half ago. I went to South Africa with my parents, my sister and her new kid, and my partner. I think being in South Africa after a year or two but especially being with my parents was really weird and emotional. I felt all these weird things and I started writing over there but when I got back to The Netherlands, I thought I need to explore more what it means to me to be Dutch and South African, but also to have a white mum walking around in South Africa with her and have my father who is in the ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela. So all of these things, as well as losing my brother. It felt like the project before was really about the loss of my brother but I felt I needed to focus on color, about my identity, about everything I have experienced until now but I haven’t been vocal about because it’s such a layered concept and it’s really hard to put a finger on what’s bothering me, or what’s enriching me from day-to-day. I wanted to be more vocal about everything that’s been going on, in South Africa, in The Netherlands, in Europe. So yeah that was a huge trigger, the whole world!
A.M: Do you find it hard to be so honest in your music and then put it out in the world? J.M: No, that’s the strange thing. It feels nice that I can put everything out there. But when I meet people, or if I’m with friends, I’m not that open. I like chatting to people and not talking about the things that are putting me down. Throughout the year I’m pretty balanced out but when I start writing I really do just write about anything anywhere and mostly when I start writing it’s something that’s upsetting me or it’s inspiring me to do better, I don’t know, just these little things from day to day that get my attention and I want to get it out. It’s so typical to say this but it’s like therapy, I just write everything down and probably because I write it all down I don’t have to talk to people about it. It only gets weird once I’m on stage because I’m like "why the fuck did I write this song about my parents?" [laughs] "Do I wanna perform this? Am I really sure?!"
Joya wears puffa jacket, jumpsuit and rollneck WEEKDAY; bag- FILIPPA K; socks STANCE; necklaces and broach ROKIT; sunglasses ILLESTEVA; chain FRAME CHAIN; bracelet and earrings KVK73
A.M: Do you tell people if you’ve written a song about them? J.M: No. [Laughs]
A.M: You just wait until they hear it... J.M: Yeah and sometimes I’m really in the moment and I can be a bit harsh about some events so they probably wouldn’t even recognize themselves; which is fine [laughs]. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone I’ve written a song about them.
A.M: That’s interesting. Throughout your album there are various interludes of family members talking; why did you decide to put that in? J.M: Because there’s this whole actual distance between us. I wanted to bring them closer to me, I wanted to hear their voices. Sometimes when I’m making decisions in my life, I hear their voices in my head so I wanted to add them to the project because they are so very important to me but I also see them only once a year so it’s strange. For the last 10 years, I’ve been visiting them a lot but the first time I went, I was 6 or 7 and it was so strange because all of a sudden I had an entire family that I loved but I didn’t know.
A.M: Oh wow. That's deep. J.M: Yeah. Throughout the years I’ve got to know them and I love them but, weirdly, I have so much love for people I only see through one stretch in a year. There are all these layers I found interesting but I mostly wanted to have them close to me.
A.M: I think this is so cool and such a strong and powerful concept. I’m going to ask about some songs more specifically now; can we talk a bit about ‘Rice In Foil’, the story behind it? J.M: When I walked to my primary school, my lunch box was made out of foil, like aluminum foil, with rice in there, South African food, and I always felt very aware of my food throughout school, especially when you’re not grown up and you fix your own lunch box [laughs]. So that was the starting point, thinking back to when I really felt like I was odd growing up. For me, it is really important to not only share the experiences I have but to look back and see it from a different perspective. I believe that who you are as a child and where/how you are raised will define you as an adult. If you are a child who is constantly being looked down upon by other kids at school and even your family, you will grow up to be an adult who can't engage with people or don't see self-worth. I had to look back to my own childhood and school years and re-access those feelings from back then. I wanted to make space for that feeling that you are easily overseen more than someone else, and it’s horrible.
A.M: What is ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ about? J.M: When I heard the first draft of the beat it reminded me of the music my brother used to listen to and I thought it would be interesting to work with something like that. I made an EP about grief and the loss of my brother, how grief feels like and how it works overtime; and now, almost 5 years of not having him around, I thought it would be cool to have a song or anything about how that feels; to have a longer period between us. I still have a really weird relationship with grief and loss, and everything about my brother, like his children, it is so strange to not have somebody any longer and I felt like there are work and art about sudden, instant grief but not about 5 or 10 years’ space of grief and I wanted to explore that. On the track, I sing from the perspective of myself but also from his perspective.
Joya wears choker ROKIT; sunglasses KALEOS; earrings KVK73; blazer, jumper, and trousers URBAN OUTFITTERS; trainers CAT; belt IETS FRANK
AM: I really love that song. J.M: Thank you.
A.M: From listening to the album from first impressions, my favorite was ‘We Made It’, so I wanted to ask you what that song was about? J.M: It’s a happy song but I started writing it when my grandfather passed away we had the idea to join the ashes of my brother in my grandad's grave. The day we went to the courtyard, we all got in the car and all my aunties and uncles looked really sharp [laughs] with hats and everything! It really is so strange to celebrate the life of someone, and I think he would be so into the idea, so that’s why I wanted to write…happy is maybe not the right word, but I wanted to write an uplifting and joyful song about my family and how fucking strong we are. There are so many events that happen in my family and we can pull up, get pretty, go to a fucking funeral and just be. Have a real connection with each other, be in the moment. So that’s ‘We Made It’.
A.M: It is so interesting that you say that because when I was listening I thought there was a link between ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘We Made It’ I just didn’t know what it was, but in a way, they’ve come from the same place. So I was going to ask about your mental process when writing; is it like therapy? Why do you think it is important to get these feelings out? J.M: It is so important to listen to yourself. I had to learn the hard way but setting healthy boundaries with yourself and with those around you is important. Allowing yourself to fail and not be a bitch to yourself is also another must-do! Sometimes you feel like you just have to push through a year, that job, or you have this or that responsibility and I’m like "fuck that!" If it’s not beneficial for yourself then why keep doing it? Only if it is for practicalities but if it’s genuinely making you suffer, please don’t do it.
A.M: If you’re ever having a ‘me’ day; what is the kind of thing you’d do? J.M: Ideally, I would work out but I don’t, so skip that [laughs]. Then it depends, when I feel low I’m not sure if I’d go out of the house; I would just watch The Great British Bake Off all day. But when I feel about 30% I try to see my cousins, my little cousin is now 2 almost 3 and she is awesome. I know the minute I see her I am stress-free. I don’t care about the situation I am going through or if I am just feeling low for no particular reason. Because I am an independent artist, all of the videos we shot during the last 6 months were a big challenge. It was such a drag to put everything in motion, the weather sucked and we’d have to reschedule so I had a lot of stress but I think I’m good at taking it all in, realizing I can’t change the situation, then going to my cousin’s house. That is basically heaven for my mind. Also, my family members, they are very practical people. They don’t give a shit about appearances, my sister is straight-talking like she will come to you as ask; "what is the problem?" or "What can make it better?" and then she would say; "If you can’t do anything about it just let it go." That is, of course, easier said than done but the practical approach is good.
A.M: How do you see or approach the pressures of the creative side of your job? J.M: I think the whole thing of not being afraid of failing is a big thing. Like, sometimes shit doesn’t work out how you imagined it to be and it’s ok. Maybe that job wasn’t for you, maybe that opportunity you thought was for you, wasn’t for you. I try to put the focus on a lot of people in the industry because at the end of the day I am always going to be independent. Sometimes it feels like they are holding a carrot but I can choose not to because it’s going to feel like shit if it doesn’t work out. I keep my energy close to me.
Joya wears earrings FREEDOM at TOPSHOP; jacket and bag ELLESSE; top and bottoms SPEEDO X HOUSE OF HOLLAND
A.M: What do you want people to take away from your music? J.M: I’m honestly just glad that people are listening to it. People listening to how I’m feeling, sometimes it feels like empathy is lost everywhere on earth so when people come up to me and say they vibe to a track, they don’t have to take anything from the song, I just love that they took the moment to listen to my thoughts, especially because when I write songs - the exact moment I write - usually I’m not feeling myself, I’m not at a shoot, I don’t look cute, so it means a lot to me that they take the time to listen. For me it’s such a strange concept, in South Africa I’m more on the radio so if I’m in The Netherlands and people come up to me, it feels so special.
A.M: Are you planning any live shows? J.M: In London, I’m not sure, we are talking to some people but I want it to be special and intimate because my music is so intimate, so we are working on it. [Laughs]
A.M: And finally, what is your favorite f-word? J.M: [Laughs] I wanted to jump to 'fuck' immediately but…that’s a good question…maybe 'flakey.'
A.M: Has someone been flakey to you recently or are you talking about pastry? J.M: [Laughs] Let’s go for pastry!
A.M: Right well that’s all done now, thank you very much! J.M: Thank you!
Joya wears earrings FREEDOM at TOPSHOP; jacket and bag ELLESSE; top and bottoms SPEEDO X HOUSE OF HOLLAND
Joya wears rings KVK7; jacket ELLESSE; top and bottoms SPEEDO X HOUSE OF HOLLAND
Words: Amy MacKenzie
Photography: Sami Weller
Fashion direction & styling Maisie Daniels
Fashion assistant: Joseph Parker
Hair: Ashleigh Hodges
Hair assistant: Rebecca Wilcox
MUA: Kayla Feeney